Exile and Voyage - Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Exile and Voyage

Crédits ECTS : 6.0

Volume horaire CM : 12.0

Volume horaire TD : 12.0

Effectif maximal : 25

Code ELP : MIA1Y21

Composante : UFR Langues et Civilisations

Période de l'année : Automne

Formes d'enseignement : Non accessible à distance


This seminar deals with the way one gazes at the Other and the way he/she gazes at us, in the context of travelling, exile or migrations between Europe and North America. This gallery of writers from the XXth and XXIst centuries (immigration novels, autobiographies, travelogue) will take us from Europe and Asia to the United States and back. Whether they emigrate to escape the Tsar’s cruelty, or the Irish famine, or seek the American dream in the land of plenty, or embark as war-exiles from the East to the West, or else decide to roam the seas to go back to the cradle of Western civilization to satisfy their eager curiosity, those travellers give us complementary, sometimes contradictory views, not only of the world they discover, but of their own identities. This exploration also leads us to examine what being a foreigner, or being a stranger to oneself, entails.

The novels cover generations, blend personal, family history and the history of a nation. They involve the interface of different religions, languages, ethical values, they imply in-betweenness as a result of belonging to two cultures and having to accommodate to the new, hesitating between integration or assimilation, at the risk of acculturation. Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers is the story of a Jewish Eastern family, whose female heroine, an alter ego of the author, emancipates from the weight of an oppressive religion and a misogynistic patriarchate through education and the power of writing, while keeping faithful to her roots and loyal to her ancestors. Frank Mc Court’s autobiographical work ’Tis—a sequel to Angela’s Ashes, which grew into a popular movie—narrates the paradoxical return of an American-born Irishman to the land of his birth, and shows how the Irish earth clings to his boots and his tongue, he has “the map on his face” and must strive to be re-adopted by America, and find himself. Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club – for which a movie was shot, supervised by the author, and available to students at the library –, is also centered on generations, but this time focuses on four mothers and four daughters. Antagonism between generations matures into an understanding of one’s debt to one’s forebears, and the need to lean on their support, and their cultural and moral legacy. Fiction sometimes blends in with legend, and myth, China sometimes appears in the haze of a long-gone past, or else in a disappointing, disillusioned crude reality. Hybridity, which is the possible plight of not choosing, is best illustrated in Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, for which in-betweenness is symbolized by gender, namely hermaphroditism. Incest, the result of an instinct of survival in times of war, appears as the original “sin”, and becomes engrained in the family plot. A pattern of repetition from the old to the new world shows the cyclicity of events, the difficulty of escaping a fate which history writes for the immigrant generations before their birth, long before the passage to America, and the 1922 “Great Catastrophy”. Being a minority in the United States originates in being an ethnic, endangered minority in Asia Minor. Students are strongly advised to watch Elia Kazan’s cult movie, America, America.
Voyage per se had to be restricted to one book, and a Greek counterpoint was chosen, Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi, which takes place before World War II. The author gazes at the cradle of Western civilization, a country where stones speak, are eloquent of Antiquity, and reflect the traveller’s culture. However some characters are also colossal, and time is counted differently.
The identity of America itself is gaged through its manifest multiculturalism and pluri-ethnicity. These Odysseys will thus conjugate to find their unity: humor, derision, will never be far. This approach of American Literature via a less well-known aspect will allow one to delve into the heart of what it is made of, and to better apprehend what creates its unity. Any literature student will find in this polyphony keys of understanding for further readings and other literatures. Bridges can be created with other cultural cross-breedings, other identity hybridations, other migratory adventures. Travelling, a prelude to exile, is a way of rediscovering the other in oneself.

Informations complémentaires

Distant students, and MEEF students are welcome.

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