This seminar studies the encounter between different cultures and different worlds in 20th century literature in the following contexts: transatlantic (Jean Rhys), East and West (E.M.Foster), colonial and postcolonial (Rushdie, Zadie Smith). Today, in the era of economic and cultural globalization, we need to reassess modernism, the aesthetic response to the changed realities of modernity, as an international and cosmopolitan, rather than simply national, phenomenon. Cosmopolitanism, which so defines the transnational quality of modern writing, centers on the clash between a provincial life in the locality of “home”, and a more international life experience abroad. In the novels we will read, the displaced, and often dissident, protagonist leaves the homeland in search of cultural, political or racial freedom. If she remains in the country of origin, she will struggle against, or at least critique, the narrow notions of nation and of nationalism that limit her freedom (see Joyce’s The Dead, or Arundathi Roy’s novel The God of Small Things). In other texts the emigrant character’s search for freedom gets reterritorialized by the racist views of the host country, as happens in Nella Larsen’s novel Passing.
In the second part of the 20th century the cosmopolitan aspirations of the travelling modernist will change into the search for survival of the migrant, the political exile, and the refugee. The novels of 2017 Nobel Prize Kazuo Ishiguro, of Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and Mohsin Hamid will lead us to discuss the condition of the second generation immigrant and of the undocumented migrant trying to pass borders after leaving behind wars and an insecure life.
Readings: Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark, James Joyce, The Dead, E.M.Forster, A Passage to India, Nella Larsen, Passing, Kazuo Ishiguro, The Artist of the Floating World, Arundathi Roy, The God of Small Things, Salman Rushdie’s short stories in East/West, Zadie Smith, White Teeth, and Mohsin Hamid, Exit West.