Thursday, July 31, 2008

Qualifying Exam Logics, 1st attempt

So the PhD program I attend in Literary & Cultural Studies requires that after coursework has been completed (roughly 2-3 years into the program, depending on whether or not you have a masters degree) you must complete a qualifying exams in order to continue onto the dissertation stage of your PhD. This involves not only choosing a nation and a period (e.g. 17th century British, 20th century American, etc.) but also compiling three lists upon which you will be examined after 12 months of reading. These lists include your primary texts (novels, poetry, drama, memoirs, short stories, radio broadcasts, films, etc.), secondary texts (criticism and histories, although the status of this list is largely uncertain, dare I say "liminal"), and an approach list (postcolonial theory, feminist/queer theory, Marxism/cultural materialism, Cultural Sociology, etc.).

The fact that our department requires that we come up with the lists is somewhat unusual in our field where often lists are just handed to students depending on their interests. While our approach has the benefit of tailoring our lists so that their cohere is not a problem, i.e. when the approach is feminist theory then the primary texts may largely treat upon issues that are germane to such theories, etc., it also has the effect of producing a distinct and sometimes profound sense of indirection for those compiling their lists and in the reading process in general.

I am at the early stages of compiling lists. Initially my advisor suggested that I consider looking into Latino Lit. in the U.S. in order to specialize for the purposes of marketing myself once I have completed my PhD. Moreover, I would have the benefit of being a "native informant" on the subject as a first generation immigrant myself. Although, I have read very little U.S. Latino Lit. my initial fears were that a great deal of this literature would somehow be the horrors of hybrity and alterity as embodied in the work of the late Gloria Anzaldua's works. However, I decided to give it a deeper look as a final semester of course work reignited my interest in the types of questions that literature poses to the social and political.

I actually discovered some very interesting possibilities with regard to the canon of Latin American Literature in the United States: there is a strong class critique throughout as well as a focus on urbanity. Cubano Jose Marti (I believe one of the founders of the Cuban Communist Party), for example, spent some time as a journalist in New York City writing critiques at the turn of the century about American imperial power. However, the questions posed by Marti and others get displaced with the discussion of hybrity and the emphasis on subaltern subjectivities, political ontologies, "otherness,"etc. I have to admit that I initially found these discussions to be rather compelling when I was an undergraduate, but my two years in Portland Oregon's anarchist political scene and my first three years of graduate education has moved me toward much more vulgar versions of Marxism--class isn't as central as a politico-economic critique, the relationship of base/superstructure, materiality, and the problem of the totality. So my first inclination (which will most likely change) is to think about these celebrations of subjectivity as the rise of the neo-liberal subject, as the 1990s coincides with the rise of the There Is No Alternative (TINA) mentality. I hope to read Cold-War American Literature (both Latino and Gringo) through the present in order to explain this cultural metamorphosis.

This shift is what interests me more than the literature itself. My ultimate interests are the ways in which Globalization represents a profound shift in notions like the autonomy of culture, the relationship of superstructure to base, and the universal situation it demands and produces.

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