Spring 2015

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo

“Traditional Modernity and Globalization: Return and Heritage Migrant Narratives”
Department of Comparative Literature

This interdisciplinary course draws on world literature and a wide range of theory to examine two primary concepts: cultural globalization and what we will provisionally call “traditional modernity.” We will study these two contemporary phenomena by reading the (emergent) genre of return and heritage migrant narratives.
We usually think of transnational migration as a stream of people leaving impoverished developing countries for the wealthier industrialized nations of the global North. These movements have created diasporas which write and consume immigrant/diasporic/ethnic literatures in countries of immigration like the United States, Canada and France. However, in the era of globalization, increasing numbers of the African and Asian diasporas are returning from the US to countries they had left (return migrants) or to countries their parents/ancestors had left (heritage migrants). These return and heritage migrants are documenting their experiences in contemporary novels, short stories, memoirs and narrative nonfiction books.

By comparing this contemporary literature with earlier texts on return from the 18th to 20th century, we will try and understand if and how cultural globalization changes their experience of return to Asia and Africa.

As globalization intensifies, is it possible these return and heritage migrants are going back to quickly changing places that do not only embody their ancestral “traditions” but also what we call “modernity”? Is there such a thing as traditional modernity?