Seminar There used to be a time when fiction had opinions, some would call them prejudices (and they’d be right). These days literary fiction is often rich with personal revelation, or it may display a broad command of various schools of knowledge—from molecular biology to bird watching—but when it comes to sometimes wildly inappropriate opinions about peoples or places or entire belief systems, well, literary fiction has gone sort of mum. This is to the good, mostly, nobody needs new novels arguing the validity of phrenology as a science or trying to prove the inherent inferiority of southern Italians. But maybe we’ve come to mistake a non-confrontational approach for an enlightened one; as a result we create fiction that is bloodless rather than hopelessly honest. In this seminar we’ll read works, both fiction and non-fiction, by authors who just couldn’t help saying much more than they should have. We’ll consider the ways this pitfall imbues each work with an enviable kind of vigor. Purposefully or not, these authors expose their flawed beliefs, their weaknesses and blind spots as they encounter the world, and the work is only better for it. We won’t be reading work that labors to shock, instead we’ll try to understand the unintentional insights these authors offer, and see if we can learn a little something from their admirable frailty.
Among others, we’ll read work by Mark Twain (Innocents Abroad), Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea), Gayle Jones (Corregidora) Kenzaburo Oe (A Personal Matter), Paul Theroux (Fong and the Indians), and Richard Wright (Black Power).