Novel Project Graduate Seminars Reckon with the Global Novel

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Faculty sponsors: Nancy Armstrong, Roberto Dainotto, Anne Garréta

If the global circulation of novels has increased in numbers, reach, and importance during the period from 1990 to 2020, we figured, then it stands to reason that critical work on this body of fiction should increase in these respects as well.  With this as an article of faith, three members of the Duke faculty developed and co-taught a sequence of five graduate courses focused on various aspects of what, for lack of a better term, we are calling “the global novel.” The most recent of these courses aimed at increasing the scholarly range and professional versatility of graduate students in the literary fields by training them to think, research, and write collaboratively.  

With this aim in mind, we made a practice of reserving the last three meetings of the semester for workshops to decide on the cluster of critical terms to which each graduate student will contribute a “concept paper.” These concepts are likely to begin as terms from a critical lexicon that prior generations were trained to bring to the critical reading of novels classified as works of realism, modernism, science fiction, and so forth.  As products of the culture industry, it was once safe to assume, novels engaged a set of issues and debates that exposed the conditions of possibility, both practical and imagined, defining their moment in literary history.  What happens to a critical vocabulary built on those assumptions when novels take over the critic’s role and mount a critique of the very form in which they are written? They suggest that this, under present conditions, is what a novel must do in order to become a novel. As student-scholar-critics of the novel, its history and theory, it would seem to fall on us to determine how the traditional conditions of possibility have changed and revise our critical vocabulary to account for that change.  

As to how novels perform this service for an international readership and do so with increasing international appeal, that is the overarching question our project addresses.  The syllabus for each course in the sequence followed by entries selected from papers submitted in fulfillment of the writing requirement for each course is available on this website under The Novel Project.