“Going away is what you do to see yourself plain,” writes Don DeLillo in Libra. But for Americans abroad, “seeing themselves” is often a secondary goal or unexpected consequence of their travels. In this course we will read novels by and/or about Americans living in other countries, and examine the collisions between U.S. cultural, psychological, and political values and those of the countries in which they’ve made their new homes. Along the way, we will interrogate the concept of expatriatism: What explains the urge to leave one’s country of origin? How have perceptions of the American expatriate evolved as the role of the U.S. in the world has changed? What is the difference between an expatriate and a tourist, or an immigrant, or a refugee? How do expatriates change their environment, and how are they changed by it? The syllabus will feature novels set in or near several of the semester’s destinations, and may include works by Paul Bowles, Geoff Dyer, Graham Greene, Moshin Hamid, Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, Ben Lerner, Anchee Min, Lynne Tillman, and Edith Wharton. Students will write short analytical responses to the reading and personal explorations of encounters at various destinations. The final project will ask them to reflect upon their own semester-long expatriate experience.
Field WorkCountry: Vietnam
Date: November 14, 2018
This field class takes students on a trip through sites in Ho Chi Minh that figure prominently into the plot of Greene’s novel, as well as having relevance to the French and American military conflicts. To orient students to the historical underpinnings of Greene’s novel, the class will begin at the War Remnant Museum, before undertaking a walking tour of several other prominent locations from the novel, including the “Bot Catinat” building where political prisoners were held and tortured; the Hotel Continental and/or Majestic Hotel, where the novel’s expatriate characters spend their evenings drinking; the U.S. consulate, on the site of the former U.S. embassy which was evacuated in 1975; City Hall and the Municipal Theater. Finally, students will visit the Saigon Skydeck, for an overview of modern Ho Chi Minh City.
The second of the semester’s three papers will require students to consider the complicated questions raised by Greene’s novel about colonialism, American exceptionalism, and the origins of the Vietnam War. As one of the course’s themes is the way that expatriates unwittingly (or, sometimes, wittingly) alter the countries and cultures to which they have come, students will be asked to draw on their visit to Saigon in discussing the way Greene and other authors may fall vicitm to the same errors of perception and judgment they diagnose in their characters. The paper is worth 20% of students’ final grade.
Learning Objectives: 1. Students will familiarize themselves with modern Ho Chi Minh City and its relationship to the Saigon of Graham Greene’s era. 2. Students will gain an understanding of how the French and U.S. wars in Vietnam affected the city’s residents. 3. Students will further consider the impact of U.S. foreign policy and military intervention in foreign societies and cultures.