Heyang Julie Kae
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
Factual Fictions and Fictive Facts: Race, Sexuality and Age in U.S. literature
The general course description states that this course will investigate “critical interpretation and meaning in fiction.” To this end, this class will require you to develop and exercise critical thinking skills in order to read fiction as a discursive mode that actively engages in social critique. Our interrogation into the possibilities and limits of reading fiction as social critique will contend with fiction’s putative other: the fact. We will ask: How do we engage literary fiction in such a way as to debate the authority of facticity? How does facticity in fiction come to inform how we determine literary meaning making?
Race, sexuality and age, three specific historical categories of difference, will focus and animate our discussions about fiction. We will begin our inquiry with the question of race, which continues to fuel debates around race’s ‘biological’ and socially ‘constructed’ foundations. Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), a novel that speaks to the interplay of Enlightenment rationality and racial discourse, will ground our conversation about race as a particularly expansive category of scientific investigation in the late 19th century. From there, we will look at age by turning to the (im)possibility of childhood and literary realism in Henry James’ What Maisie Knew (1897). In this novel, the child’s perspective invites questions about ‘authenticity’ and knowledge production while anticipating some key questions that U.S. based child studies would pursue in the early 1900s. We will also consider how knowledge about the child has been intertwined with gendered racial discourse. To this end, Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) will anchor our conversations about the intersection of race, sexuality and the child in relation to studies conducted by U.S. urban sociology, which figured the African American family as a national problem. Finally, the fact vs. fiction dialectic will help us discuss the influence of scientific discourse and the power of data in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats (1998). This contemporary polygeneric novel will help us think about the strategic deployment of fact through documentaries, surveys, ratings and of fiction through narratives of consumption and reproduction that together try to reflect coherent social norms along axes of race, gender, sexuality and age. In addition to reading these novels, you will be required to read primary historical materials, literary criticism and theoretical essays that will be compiled in a course packet.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class discussion with some lectures
Class assignments and grading