Professor Steven Kruger
This morning I woke up in another part of my brain…
The “I” of my self had crawled through the thickness of
memory and consciousness to some other place in the
structure of the brain and emerged within a new gray coil.
– David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives
I have become a problem to myself.
– Augustine, Confessions
One of the central problems of literary texts in the Western tradition is defined in an early and influential form in Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions: how can one be one’s self and at the same time experience a radical change within that self? What does it mean to have an established identity and yet undergo a conversion? Is it possible, even, to have an identity whose main feature is that it lives its history as non-self-identical? Would this be the identity of the convert, a conversion-identity?
This seminar considers the ways in which a wide range of literary texts engages with such questions about identity, conversion, and their interrelationship. While conversion experience in the tradition initiated by Augustine is often conceived strictly in terms of religious change, we will also consider texts where other categories of identity (race/ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexuality) stand at the center. And we will consider the ways in which a change in one of these identity categories is thought to impinge upon the others: does, for instance, a change in religious status also alter how one’s race or gender or sexuality is conceived?
The seminar will consider primary texts in close relation to a set of theoretical/ critical readings that take up questions of identity: recent work on religion by such writers as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Jean-François Lyotard; feminist and queer theory; postcolonial and critical race theory. Primary texts will include poetry, drama, prose fiction, and memoir and will be drawn from a number of historical moments and from American, British, and Anglophone traditions.
The course will be organized around three broad rubrics: (1) “Confessions (?)” – writing that plays with the first-person confessing voice of the Augustinian tradition, (2) “Dramatic Turns” – texts that represent conversion experiences on stage, and (3) “The Art of Losing/Finding the Self ” – narratives of lives in “identity crisis.”
Readings will include some of the following (texts listed here that don’t ultimately end up on the course syllabus might provide students with ideas for their individual projects):
Confessions (?): The Book of Margery Kempe, Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life, David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives, Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders
Dramatic Turns: The Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Samuel Beckett, Endgame, Tony Kushner, Angels in America
The Art of Losing/Finding the Self: The Middle English Pearl, Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions
Contact Professor Jason Tougaw for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org).