The Idea of Europe

One of my favorite seminars to teach at Hampshire is a close study of the contemporary European novel. Of course, I have to be very selective and attend to the limitations on text length imposed by a 14-week semester. Each time that I have offered this seminar, I switch up the novels. It keeps me on my toes and it also energizes me around new subtexts emerging from European literature. I always begin with Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. Students can immediately engage with Karim Amir’s announcement that he is “…a funny kind of Englishman.”

We’ve moved around quite a bit in this seminar since 2009. Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles. Caryl Phillips’s Foreigners. Andrea Levy’s Small Island. Christoph Ransmayr’s The Last World. W.G Sebald’s The Immigrants. David Grossman’s See Under: Love.

The current reading list for the seminar has been quite stable. Apart from Kurieshi’s novel, I’ve included  Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher, Imre Kertész’s Fatelessness, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Orhan Pamuk’s The White Castle. 

Future novelists that I want to include will expand what we  understand as European literature. In this case, I am thinking about the paucity of women writings in the seminar. One of my lazy reasons relies on the extravagant page count of many novels by women writing Europe:  Zadie Smith, A.S. Byatt, Sarah Waters, Anita Desai, for example. In the next offering, the seminar will focus on how women writers conceive of Europe. This brings me into territories that allows a deeper historical sensibility to emerge – one that is gendered, raced and classed.