English | Topics in Current Literature
W664 | 22071 | Miller


W664  22071  AL MILLER
Topics in Current Literature

11:15a – 12:30p TR

PLEASE CONTACT HEATHER STEELE (855-9539) FOR PERMISSION.

TOPIC:  ASSUMED IDENTITIES: IMPERSONATION, REPRESENTATION, IDENTITY,
AUTHENTICITY, APPROPRIATION, AND “HOAX.”

Writers of all stripes have always “assumed identities,” but
contemporary writers face particularly interesting challenges.  Look
what happened to James Frey! This is a literature course for anyone
(MFA, MFA, PhD and others—writers, literature majors, or the simply
curious) interested in exploring the roles of imagination, persona,
voice, experience, and language in literature (poetry, fiction,
memoir, you name it!). The publishing industry’s “salability”
tactics, as well as readers’ expectations of “genres,” and
conflation of the material writer with the writer’s material make
for a complex stew. What is it that readers want, and how
does “expectation” affect what writers produce, or how they “pose”
themselves? What does it mean to “know” and represent “experience”?
What makes up “identity”?  What signifiers determine “authenticity”?
Can a writer appropriate his or her own
culture/ethnicity/experience? Samples of readings will most likely
include provocative excerpts from and articles about such
intriguing “impersonations” as young gay male writer J.T.Leroy,
Holocaust survivor Benjamin Wilkomirski; war criminal descendent
Helen Demidenko; journalist Janet Cook’s “Little Jimmy,”; “Native
spiritualist” Sun Bear; and Danny Santiago, etc. Most recently we
had Margaret B. Jones, claiming to have been raised in South Central
by a black foster mother. Award-winning Aboriginal writer Wanda
Koolmatrie was “unmasked” as white cab driver Leon Carmen who
cynically remarked that he invented Wanda in order to get published.
Each week will come with a title like “Real Fakes and Inauthentic
Others”; The Mythobiography or Biomythography and What Is
Testimonio?”; “Multiple Ethnicity Disorder”; “Can I Get A
Witness?” “Meta-Morphing”; “The Tragic Mulatto”; “Cultural
Homeovestism”; etc. “The Doubled Flowering” controversy adds to this
fascinating terrain. Books we are likely to read may include:

Education of Little Tree, Forrest Carter
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
I, Rigoberta Menchu, Rigoberta Menchu
Six Degrees of Separation, John Guare
Doubled Flowering, Notebooks of Araki Yasusada
Caucasia, Danzy Senna
By Myself: An Autobiography, David Trinidad and D.A. Powell
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine

Likely Assignments: A 20-minute critical presentation on a topic of
your passion, a 12-15 page critical paper (on the same topic) which
will further develop your ideas, and a creative assignment in which
each of you will invent, execute, and present  your own “assumed
identity” (a la Fernando Pessoa), including personal bio and a small
body of work (poetry, memoir, etc.).