LITR 447: Narratives of Survivance

LITR 447: Narratives of Survivance

James J. Donahue

Spring 2016

Course Description

Although the term “survivance” has multiple definitions, it has taken on a particular meaning in Native American/First Nations communities. As defined by novelist, poet, theorist, and cultural critic Gerald Vizenor, survivance connotes an active sense of presence on behalf of Native Americans and First Nations people, a positive process that goes beyond mere survival and suggests a celebration of the wide variety of cultural forms and productions. In this course we will read works of contemporary fiction that embody Vizenor’s conception of survivance, both in theme and – more importantly – in narrative form. Along the way we will study certain key concepts in contemporary narrative theory, and how they may be useful in the study of these novels.

Upon successful completion of this course, you will have:

– Gained a more thorough understanding of ethnic American literary studies

– Developed your skills in reading, writing, and speaking about literature

– Engaged with current discussions in professional literary scholarship

– Built a solid base for continuing advanced literary study and engagement with the profession


Short (10 minutes) presentation on a key concept in narrative theory (10%)

Short (5 pages) paper applying that key concept to one of the novels (10%)

Brief annotated bibliography (10%)

Final Paper, including abstract (10 pages minimum) (30%)

Midterm and Final Exams (20% each)

Course Policies:

Attendance and participation are expected. Class is more interesting when everyone participates. Also, being absent does not excuse you from the work of that day. You are responsible for keeping up with the readings and for turning your work in on time. Unannounced late work will not be accepted for any reason. Any arrangements must be worked out with me in advance. All due dates are noted below. Students requiring special accommodations must see me as soon as possible, with proper documentation. All student athletes who will miss class time for approved activities must give me a schedule by the end of the first week of classes.

This material can be very difficult, as can I. My expectations are high, and I promise you the rewards will be as well. Upon successful completion of this course, you will be more familiar with a wonderfully complex movement in twentieth-century American literature and culture. I love this material, and promise to share my excitement. In return, I ask that you devote the proper time and effort to the readings and writing assignments.

Final note: In this course we will be reading works that address adult themes, and often do so by employing adult language. These themes and this language may also become a part of our own intellectual discussions. Some of the issues and language choices may be offensive to some readers. It is important to remember that our methods are analytical, and our goal is a greater understanding of the materials. Further, there are multiple avenues for interpretation, and part of our goal will be to explore as many of them as we can. When discussing these issues and/or analyzing the language of the text, we must remember to be respectful to all. Intolerance of any kind will not be allowed in this classroom, and has no place in education. If you have any thoughts, comments, questions, or concerns, I invite you to speak to me.

Course Calendar

Week 1: Introductions

M 1/25: Course introduction

W 1/27: Introduction to Native American/First Nations survivance

F 1/29: Introduction to key concepts in Narrative theory

Week 2: Gerald Vizenor, Native Liberty: Natural Reason and Cultural Survivance

M 2/1: “Introduction: Literary Aesthetics and Survivance”

W 2/3: “Unnamable Chance” and “Native Liberty”

F 2/5: “Survivance Narratives” and “Mister Ishi of California”

Week 3: James Welch and Structuralist Narratology

M 2/8: from Mieke Bal, Narratology; James J. Donahue, “Cosmopolitanism, Focalization, and Ethics in James Welch’s Fools Crow” (handouts)

Student presentation(s) on focalization (papers due by Wednesday)

W 2/10:Fools Crow (Part 1)

F 2/12: Fools Crow (Part 2)

Week 4:

M 2/15: Fools Crow (Part 3)

W 2/17: Fools Crow (Part 4)

F 2/19: Fools Crow (Part 5)

Week 5: Leslie Marmon Silko and Feminist Narratology

M 2/22: Susan Lanser, “Toward a Feminist Narratology,” Robyn Warhol, “Toward a Theory of the Engaging Narrator: Earnest Interventions in Gaskell, Stowe, and Eliot” (handouts)

Student presentation(s) on feminist narratology (papers due by Monday)

W 2/24: Gardens in the Dunes (Parts 1 and 2)

F 2/26: Gardens in the Dunes (Parts 3 and 4)

Week 6:

M 1/29: Gardens in the Dunes (Parts 5 and 6)

W 3/2: Gardens in the Dunes (Parts 7 and 8)

F 3/4: Gardens in the Dunes (Parts 9 and 10)

Week 7: Spring Recess

Week 8: Midterm Exam

M 3/14: Midterm Exam

W 3/16: NeMLA Conference

F 3/18: NeMLA Conference

Week 9: Thomas King and Possible Worlds Theory

M 3/21: from (handouts)

Student presentation(s) on possible worlds theory (papers due by Wednesday)

W 3/23: Green Grass, Running Water (1-107)

F 3/25: Green Grass, Running Water (111-193)

Week 10:

M 3/28: Green Grass, Running Water (194-250)

W 3/30: Green Grass, Running Water (253-361)

F 4/1: Green Grass, Running Water (365-469)

Week 11: Unnatural Narratology

M 4/4: Maria Mäkelä, “Realism and the Unnatural” (handout)

Student presentation (paper due Friday)

W 4/6: Brian Richardson, “Representing Social Minds: ‘We’ and ‘They’ Narratives, Natural and Unnatural” (handout)

Student presentation (paper due Friday)

F 4/8: Jan Alber, “The Social Minds in Factual and Fictional We-Narratives of the Twentieth Century” (handout)

Student presentation (and paper due)

Week 12:

M 4/11: April Recess

W 4/13: Brainstorming session for final papers

F 4/15: Open discussion about research annotated bibliography

Week 13: Joseph Boyden

M 4/18: The Orenda (Part 1, 1-75)

W 4/20: The Orenda (Part 1, 76-150)

F 4/22: The Orenda (Part 2, 153-233)

Week 14:

M 4/25: The Orenda (Part 2, 234-317)

W 4/27: The Orenda (Part 3, 321-404)

F 4/29: The Orenda (Part 3, 405-487)

Annotated Bibliography due

Week 15: Eden Robinson

M 5/2: Monkey Beach

W 5/4: Monkey Beach

F 5/6: Monkey Beach

Final Paper due

Week 16:

M 5/9: Monkey Beach

W 5/11: Monkey Beach

F 5/13: Monkey Beach

The final Exam will be given at the day and time assigned by the university.


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