According to Wendell Berry, “You don’t know who you are until you know where you are.” Yet, for other people in our history and in our own day, the lived experience of place that Berry rightly values varies according to who other people think you are and where they think you should live. Theirs is likely to be a lived experience of (dis)placement as profound and formative as the placement based on personal choice that Berry celebrates.
In order to understand how these experiences have also been shaped by transformations of physical and social spaces under pressure of modernity in the United States, we will examine the complexity and variety of the relationship between knowledge, identity, place, and displacement in a selection of fiction and literary non-fiction published between 1850 and the present. Besides Berry, our authors could include, William Faulkner, Bobbie Ann Mason, Leslie Marmon Silko, Karen Tei Yamashita, Sandra Cisneros, Willa Cather, James Baldwin, Sarah Orne Jewett, Zitkala-Ša, Henry Thoreau, and Herman Melville.
Assignments will include the usual literary analyses, final exam, and individual presentations. In addition, students will write their own literary nonfiction in the form of a personal “place” essay.