Introduction to Comparative Literature
“if a book is locked”: Fictional Diaries and the Writing of the Self
In the age of social media, it can be difficult to remember that not so long ago the practice of narrating the self was often closely tied to intimate, private, and even secret forms of writing. In this course, we will consider a number of literary texts that experiment with such forms of writing, focusing in particular on the genre of the diary novel. Whether these texts present themselves as diaries, trouble the lines between diaries and related forms of intimate writing, or simply tell stories in which diaries figure prominently, they all explore the relationship between writing and subjectivity. Reading comparatively, we will try to understand why authors from different historical, cultural, and geographic locations have turned to fictional diaries to explore the interplay between identity and difference, subjugation and freedom, and private and public selves. Over the course of the semester, we will be especially attentive to the complex relationship between writing and the self in literature emerging from colonial and postcolonial contexts.
Specific readings are subject to change, but will likely include Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; Françoise de Graffigny, Letters of a Peruvian Woman; J. M. Coetzee, Foe; Ferdinand Oyono, Houseboy; Mongo Beti, The Poor Christ of Bomba; Mariama Bâ, So Long a Letter; M. G. Vassanji, The Book of Secrets; and Helen Oyeyemi, “if a book is locked there’s probably a good reason for that don’t you think.”