MLA Search Terms: Oscar Wao and Nerd Culture, Oscar Wao and Otherness, Oscar Wao and Power and Race

“History, Hair, and Reimagining Racial Categories in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”  Kunsa, Ashley.

Term: Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory examines culture and society for the connection between race and power, both in interpersonal interaction and legal power. It takes a particular interest in institutionalized racism and determines white supremacy as the primary cause of racial suppression. While CRT developed in the late 1970’s and focused primarily on societal situations. However, present day scholars of CRT have taken an interest in applying CRT to textual manifestations. These critical examinations do not establish racial identity as the sole site for identity, but instead tie to other identities, including class, gender, sexual, and national origin identities. CRT has also expanded from an initial black-white critical examination to scholarships focused on Indian, Asian-American, and Latino identities. CRT takes an interest in transforming racial power structures and uncovering the underlying racial biases in society. Critical race theory applies to Diaz’s novel because the complex class (ghetto nerd), racial (Dominican cultural values), gender (hyper-masculinity), and sexual (virginity as a prison, fantasies) identities present within the novel.


What Is An Author


In What is an Author, Michel Foucault examines what he dubs the “author function,” contradicting the divorce of author and text proposed by the New Critical method. He discusses the role of narrative and discourse, the author as a function of the discourse, how the author affects future moves of the discourse,  and the difference between scientific and narrative discourses.


Author function- casts the author as a function of the textual discourse of writing.

Signifier- the physical manifestation of a sign, separate from the meaning that the manifestation takes

Historicotranscendental tradition


Work- The work is connected to the author and a complicated combination of many factors.


Original: “Giving writing a primal status seems to be a way of retranslating, in transcendental terms, both the theological affirmation of its sacred character and the critical affirmation of its creative character. To admit that writing is, because of the very history that it made possible, subject to the test of oblivion and repression, seems to represent, in transcendental terms, the religious principle of hidden meaning (which requires interpretation) and the critical principle of implicit significations, silent determinations, and obscured contents (which give rise to commentary). To imagine writing as absence seems to be a simple repetition, in transcendental terms, of both the religious principle of inalterable and yet never fulfilled tradition, and the aesthetic principle of the work’s survival, its perpetuation beyond the author’s death, and the enigmatic excess in relation to him.”

Paraphrase: Assigning textual productions as a base human instinct simultaneously imbues it with a divine characteristic and affirms its creative measures. Recognizes that it is subjected to the threat of obfuscation and repression, and assumes that it holds hidden (and therefore interpretable) meaning through implicit meaning, unknown decisions, and hidden designations. Imagining textual production as absence of the author repeats religious unfulfillment and, the aesthetic feeling of the work, its lingering permanence, and components related to him.


What is the primary difference between the authors of scientific discourses and novels? Are there ways this distinction could be blurred or broken down?

How can we see the author function manifested in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? How does the narrative as a means to ward off death apply to Yunior’s hope that his tale will act as a zafa.



In Panopticism, Michel Foucault analyzes the idea of the panopticon  (a gigantic observation based prison) as presented by Jeremy Bentham. He examines how the ideals of the panopticon are acted out through evolving disciplinary structures and through the tools of industrialization, i.e. factories, schools, barracks, and hospitals, and he discusses the role of power and disciplinary systems.


Human multiplicities – The numerous factors that comprise what we conceive of as “human.” In order to achieve maximum control, the state must wrest control of these multiplicities away from the individual and deconstruct them into systems of information, empirically attached to the individual and available for sorting, tagging, searching, and tracking.

System of power- Spheres where power is present. For Foucault, power is everywhere, diffused instead of centralized, a constant negotiation between individuals and structures. The panopticon seeks to simplify the power structure, to reduce the negotiation therein.

Spatial unities


Disciplinary mechanisms – the apparatuses that allow the state to act upon the individual in a punitive manner. This term is significant to the essay because Foucault spends the majority of his essay discussing the ideas behind the panopticon, a disciplinary mechanism that carries far weightier implications for the future of governmental disciplinary action.


Original: “Generally speaking, it might be said that the disciplines are techniques for assuring the ordering of human multiplicities. It is true that there is nothing exceptional or even characteristic in this: every system of power is presented with the same problem. But the peculiarity of the disciplines is that they try to define in relation to the multiplicities a tactics of power that fulfils three criteria: firstly, to obtain the exercise of power at the lowest possible cost (economically, by the lowest expenditure it involves; politically, by its discretion, its low exteriorization, its relative invisibility, the little resistance it arouses); secondly, to bring the effects of this social power to their maximum intensity and to extend them as far as possible, without either failure or interval; thirdly, to link this ‘economic’ growth of power with the output of the apparatuses (educational, military, industrial, or medical) within which it is exercised; in short, to increase both the docility and the utility of all the elements of the system.”

Paraphrase: The disciplinary structures are designed to ensure the control of many diverse human factors, and they are universally faced with similar setbacks. Interestingly, these approaches to power systems attempt to succeed across three separate metrics. Firstly, they look for approaches that involve little cost, either economic through the cost of implementation or political through the cost of lost trust in government, public protest, and resistance. Secondly, to constantly expand the reaches of the disciplinary power structure so as to infiltrate as many aspects as possible. Lastly, to grow the output of infiltrated mechanisms (industry, military, industry, healthcare) in accordance with the growth of power. Ultimately, to bring the multiplicities under control into submission and maximum production.


In what facets can we see the panopticon manifested in today’s culture?

What form does the panopticon transfigure people into? i.e. what metrics are humans viewed by when viewed by the panopticon?

Derrida, Signs, Structure, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences



                In Signs, Structure, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, Jacques Derrida discusses two forms of interpreting the roles of linguistic structure, sign, and play and the way the factor into philosophical discourses. Derrida draws heavily on the work of Levi-Strauss to explain both the limited and yet boundless nature of linguistics.


Bricoleur- One who adapts the materials at hand to the necessary purposes, regardless of traditional           form and usage.


Structure –The ground within which a system is conceived and brought to wholeness. The social structure impacts the linguistic structure, spheres collide, etc.

Nature/Culture Opposition – The divide between the natural (that which is independent of culture, universal, free of the influence of norms) and culture (that which relies on cultural influence and therefore varies from from structure to structure).



Original: “The other choice . . . consists in conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used. No longer is any truth value attributed to them; there is a readiness to abandon them, if necessary, should other instruments appear more useful. In the meantime, their relative efficacy is exploited, and they are employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces. This is how the language of the social sciences criticizes itself.”

Paraphrase: It is possible to retain outdated principles while delimiting them, using them as tools. They no longer are attached to absolute meaning, but instead are relegated to the past should newer tools become more beneficial. Until then, they are utilized to dismantle the structure from which they originated and exist within. This is the recursive nature of the language of social science.

Discussion Questions:

 Which of the two methods of language’s inherently born self-critique do you find most preferable? Why?

How does the view of a center as a supplementation instead of a totalization change the understanding of the nature of language?

Derrida, The Animal that Therefore I Am


                In The Animal that Therefore I Am, Jacques Derrida reflects on the nature of the animal gaze, triggered by his cat viewing him nude in the bathroom. The lecture combines a series of inquiries to interpret the philosophical space between that which is animal and that which is human.

Key Terms:


Animal- One of the main contentions of Derrida’s article, the term animal is man’s imposition and subjection of the voiceless creatures that have been divided from man. It is far too narrow and single-voiced for the wide range of animal species that exist.

Limitrophy- That which exists around or exists because of the limit and yet simultaneously creates, sustains the limit.


Following/Follower/Followed- Derrida’s essay is also greatly concerned with the idea of following and being followed. How does mankind follow animal and also become followed by animal.


Original: “For so long now it is as if the cat had been recalling itself and recalling that, recalling me and remind me of this awful tale of Genesis, without breathing a word. Who was born first, before the names? Which one saw the other come to this place so long ago? Who will have been the first occupant, and thus the master? Who the subject? Who has remained the despot, for so long now?

Paraphrase: The cat draws me back to the naming, the naming in Genesis, without a breath of dialogue or discourse between us. Which originated first, in the liminal space before naming or being named? Who observed the approach

Discussion Questions:

How does Derrida’s assertion that, “The first and decisive question will rather be to know whether animals can suffer,” change an approach to animal rights? Is this change enacted in the modern day?

Is man’s designation of Animalia under a single word/ voice juxtaposed against the voiceless, responseless creature wrong? Why or why not?


Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature


In Marxism and Literature, Raymond Williams examines the role of translation in Marx’s works and critiques overtly narrow views of determinism and productive forces. Throughout the text he explores the role of material things in society’s order and art in superstructure.

Key Terms:

Structure- The underlying basis of a society, in this case the economic or material foundation that a superstructure is constructed on top of.

Superstructure- A construct that overlies the foundation of an economic structure. This superstructure can take the form of political and legal institutions, a consciousness, and a political and cultural mores.

Determinism- The idea that social and economic occurrences are based on a set of fixed factors and therefore already determined by the causal agents.

Social Production

Productive Forces

Passage Paraphrase:

Original: “This is where the full concept of determination is crucial. For in practice determination is never only the setting of limits; it is also the exertion of pressures. As it happens this is also a sense of ‘determine’ in English: to determine or be determined to do something is an act of will and purpose. In a whole social process, these positive determinations, which may be experienced individually but which are always social acts, indeed often specific social formations, have very complex relations with the negative determinations that are experienced as limits.”

Paraphrase: This is where a nuanced and more complex version of determinism becomes evident; determination is not only established limits but also exerted pressures. Similar to the English meaning of ‘determine’ these pressures exerted through social processes, impactful to the individual but always part of larger social acts or structures, have a deep interconnectivity with the determinations of limits.

Discussion Questions:

How do the debates over the role of determinism correspond or contrast to debates between Calvinist-Armenian viewpoints?

How can we see the fluctuation of art movements as an extension of a view of structure and superstructure?

Terry Eagleton, Categories for a Materialist Criticism


In Categories for a Materialist Criticism, Terry Eagleton discusses the role of the general mode of production in influencing literary modes of production. He further examines the general and individual ideological implications of literary production and circulation.

Key Terms:

Literary Mode of Production- A means/ style of literary creation that is simultaneously affected by the producer, the means of production, and the overarching general mode of production.

General Ideology- The societal ideology that inherently affects the outcomes of the literary mode of production. Shares influence with the authorial ideology.

General Mode of Production- The socially determined primary modes of material production. Affects the literary mode of production.

Authorial Ideology



Original: “GI and AI determine not only the process of production but also the process of consumption. The literary text is a text (as opposed to ‘book’) because it is read; with it as with any other social product, the act of consumption is itself constitutive of its existence. Reading is an ideological decipherment of an ideological product; and the history of literary criticism is the history of the possible conjunctures between the ideologies of the text’s productive and consumptive moments.”

Paraphrase: GI and AI influence both the creation and intake of literary works. The text is so because of its position within society; that is, the text exists because it is read or consumed. Reading takes an ideologically infused production and interprets it through an ideological lens. Literary criticism reflects speculation between the ideology of production and the ideology of consumption.

Discussion Questions:

With the revolution of the internet, have LMP’s become more or less detached or distanced from the GMP?

How can we see the influence of Dominican LMP’s on the textual production of Oscar Wao?

Simone De Beauvoir, The Second Sex


                In The Second Sex, Simon De Beauvoir debunks the conflation of women with mythological components and derides the idea of a feminine mystique. Instead, he contends that separating women from myth and treating them as equals allows them to live out a fully human existence free from Othering.

Key Terms:

Feminine Myth- The conflation of women with mythical symbols. i.e. the casting of woman as Cosmos or Gaea

Other- An individual or group that has been relegated to an Othered status. The Other cannot communicate with or perform on the same level in the eyes of the group that is Othering.

Female Mystery- The idea that a woman is possessed of a certain mystique that men cannot understand. Beauvoir contends that women are unknowable only in the sense that every person is unknowable but to themselves.




Original: “Of these myths, none is more firmly anchored in masculine hears than that of the feminine ‘mystery.’ It has numerous advantages. And first of all it permits an easy explanation of all that appears inexplicable; the man who ‘does not understand,’ a woman is happy to substitute an objective resistance for a subjective deficiency of mind. Instead of admitting his ignorance, he perceives the presence of a ‘mystery’ outside himself: an alibi, indeed, that flatters laziness and vanity at once. A heart smitten with love thus avoids many disappointments: if the loved one’s behavior is capricious, her remarks stupid, then the mystery serves to excuse it all.”


Discussion Questions:

How can we see the blend of women at work with sexually flattering clothing in the modern work environment?

Does Oscar Wao attribute the feminine a mystique or go even further beyond that in Othering women?

Lisa Lowe, “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Gender Politics.”


In “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Gender Politics,” Lisa Lowe discusses the intersection of immigrant culture, female gender, and sweatshop labor via capitalism. Lowe demonstrates the complexity of factors and constructs that shape the lives of subordinated immigrant women through the case-study of Asian-American seamstresses.

Key Terms:

Cultural forms- the elements that compose a culture across a broad spectrum of factors. Lowe posits many cultural forms as an important tool for opposing hegemony and transnational capitalistic control.

Transnational capitalism- A form of capitalism that holds complex interactions within the international realms it fills. Often involves the subordination of international or immigrant workers to meet quotas in the mode of production.

Neocolonized world-  Using corporate influence, globalization, or imperialism (or a combination of all three) to heavily influence the decisions of a country.

Political formation



Original: “Forms of individual and collective narrative are not merely representations disconnected from ‘real’ political life; neither are these expressions ‘transparent’ records of histories of struggle. Rather, these forms—life stories, oral histories, histories of community, and literature—are crucial media that connect subjects to social relations. To consider testimony and testimonial as constituting a ‘genre’ of cultural production is significant for Asian immigrant women, for it extends the scope of what constitutes legitimate knowledge to include other forms and practices that have been traditionally excluded from both empirical and aesthetic modes of evaluation.”

Paraphrase: Collections of personal and group narrative are not void of a political relevancy; nor are they empty records of struggle and subjugation. Instead, the forms of personal narrative, communal records, and writing all bridge the gap between the individual and the societal. Asian immigrant women can benefit from the inclusion of testimonial production as a legitimized narrative because it encompasses an area that they could not historically have seen validated as scientifically or artistically sound.

Discussion Questions:

How does the experience of the characters in Oscar Wao correspond or compare to the experience of the Asian-American seamstresses? Do the characters experience similar oppression or subordination?

Is the neo-colonial mode of control more or less difficult to combat than direct military colonial control? Why?


Monica Hanna, “’Reassembling the Fragments’ Battling Historiographies, Caribbean Discourse, and Nerd Genres in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.


In “Reassembling the Fragments’ Battling Historiographies, Caribbean Discourse, and Nerd Genres in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” Monica Hanna examines how Diaz’s novel acts as a counter historiography to dominant Dominican histories. Hanna also connects the novel to Caribbean discourse forms and posits ‘nerd genres’ as more readily accepting diasporic narratives.

Key Terms

Resistance History- A history that seeks to counteract the dominant historiographies e.g. a history that is not written by the victor.

McOndo- A Latin American counter to the magical realism narrative style.

Genre- A flexible narrative that defies traditional narrative modes. For this reason, genre fiction can be apt for diasporic, non-traditional narratives.




Original: “’Genre,’ in the minds of Oscar and eventually Yunior, is a more flexible narrative form than traditional historical narrative. It allows for the exploration of alternative worlds that don’t comply with traditional realism. In this way, it is uniquely capable of addressing the reality of the diasporic subject. The text consistently asserts that ‘authoritative’ history is not an adequate explanation. The heart of the text lies, rather, in the sections that employ fantasy.”


Paraphrase: Genre fiction allows for a deviation from traditionalism and established norms. The author can use this fact to effectively retell the experience of diaspora since the diasporic subject is not subject to the mainstream or established experience. Oscar Wao claims that a universal approach to history is not acceptable or truthful. Instead, the truth lies in fantasy and fiction.


Discussion Questions

What other narratives, cultural or otherwise, might genres also be better suited for than traditional narrative modes?

Based on Hanna’s argument about narrative silences, what can we make of Yunior’s moments of omniscience within the narrative?

Edward Said, Orientalism


In the introduction to Orientalism, Edward Said describes the complex definition of Orientalism, a construct that to him represents an intersectionality between Western hegemonic influence, texts on both sides of the Orient/Occident divide, and the interests and power structures that have poured into creating the Orient as it is.

Key Terms

Orientalism- An intersectional cross between the geographical locality of the Orient, the texts produced about the Orient by both Orient and Occident, the interests of both groups, and a myriad of other factors that reflect the world at large instead of just the Orient.

Hegemony- the dominance of certain ideas and cultural modes In non-authoritarian societies. Said believes Western hegemony lends Orientalism its lasting power.

Strategic Location-




Original:  it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment), power intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative linguistics or anatomy, or any of the modern policy sciences), power cultural (as with orthodoxies and canons of taste, texts, values), power moral (as with ideas about what “we” do and what “they” cannot do or understand as “we” do). Indeed, my real argument is that Orientalism is-and does not simply represent-a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with “our” world.”

Paraphrase: Orientalism is a discourse that is not directly connected to political power but instead holds tenuous and ever-shifting relationships to different kinds of power. It is mediated through political, intellectual, cultural, and moral power sources. Ultimately, the real argument is that the Orient has become a significant part of the modern culture, shifting the meaning away from the Orient and into our culture.

Discussion Questions

Does the same force behind the construct of the Orient apply to other cultures as well? If we are to look at the Dominican Republic, have we applied the same power structures?

How do the concepts of strategic location and formation come into play in Oscar Wao?

Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters


In the introduction and first chapter of The World Republic of Letters, Pascale Casanova shows the connection between national identities and literary authorship. Casanova establishes the concept of literary capital as independent from a nation’s economic status and explores how France and particularly Paris became the global hub for literary capital.

Key Terms

Literary Capital- linked to cultural capital. Made up of material objects (texts) and age. A nation with great literary capital has both a time-honored tradition of literary acuity and a substantial number of texts.

Literariness- The connection between language and its linguistic/literary capital.

National Reappropriation- Borrowing from the literary capital of another nation and transfiguring it into a literary capital of your own. Casanova offers the example of Yugoslavian and Hungarian poets creating their own literary imaginings of Paris.

Literary Space



Original: “Given, then, that literary capital is national, and that there exists a relation of dependence with regard first to the state, then to the nation, it becomes possible to connect the idea of an economy peculiar to the literary world with the notion of a literary geopolitics. No national entity exists in and of itself. In a sense, nothing is more international than a national state: it is constructed solely in relation to other states, and often in opposition to them. In other words, no state—neither the ones that Charles Tilly calls ‘segmented’ (or embryonic) not, after 1750, ‘consolidated’ (or national) states, which is to say the state in its modern sense—can be described as a separate and autonomous entity, the source of its own existence and coherence. To the contrary, each state is constituted by its relations with other states, by its rivalry and competition with them. Just as the state is a relational entity, so the nation is inter-national.” (36)


Paraphrase:  That fact that literary capital is national allows us to connect the uniqueness of literary economy to a literary geopolitical frame. No nation exists alone, but is instead created in connection and conflict with other nations. No nation or state can be considered isolated or self-sufficient. Instead, each nation or state exists within its framework of relations, and inter-national framework.

Discussion Questions

How does Diaz’s novel fit into this Republic of Letters? How can we see the interplay between national heritage and individual identity at work in the novel?

While this view of the Republic of Letters counterbalances the extreme “literature in a vacuum” approach seen in New Criticism, do we risk constructing literature as primarily the result of cultural and inter/national forces, or does Casanova’s theory maintain adequate room for the individual?


Giyatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”


In “Can the Subaltern Speak,” Giyatri Spivak addresses the titular question by exploring the silencing of women and other degrading practices such as sati and arranged marriages and deconstructing the versions of “representing” in Marx. She closes the essay with a case study in the suicide of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, a young Indian woman who used her suicide as a method of “speaking.”

Key Terms

Subaltern- a group of marginalized people who are unable to speak to the dominant majority.

Sati- The Indian practice of widow immolation with the dead husband

Indigenous Dominant Groups- the dominant local peoples. Not necessarily the dominant group if colonized.




Original: “One never encounters the testimony of the women’s voice consciousness. Such a testimony would not be ideology-transcendent or ‘fully’ subjective, of course, but it would constitute the ingredients for producing a countersentence. As one goes down the grotesquely mistranscribed names of the these womn, the sacrificed widows, in the police reports included in the records of the East India Company, one cannot put together a ‘voice.’”

Paraphrase: The female consciousness is silenced in this process. This consciousness would not be fully individual or ‘subjective,’ but it would be enough to provide counter evidence. Instead, one cannot construct a ‘voice’ from the records that do exist. The female consciousness is lost and the subaltern is silenced.

Discussion Questions

Is Oscar’s attempted suicide a form of him trying to “speak?” Is his voice made more or less effective by the fact that he survives the attempt?

After Oscar’s death, do his texts represent him speaking? Or is Yunior doing the post-mortem speaking for him?

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble


In this chapter from Gender Trouble, Judith Butler examines the role of gender roles and gender identity, suggesting that much of the current discourse surrounding gender is a linguistic and ideological base.

Key Terms

Epistemic Regime- The rule of a certain system of knowing. i.e. the framework of gender binary has an epistemic regime.

Juridical Power-The power of the law/ mediation through the court systems.

Masculinist Signifying Economy- a phallocentric linguistic structure that excludes feminine representation.

Gender Identity

Phallogecentric Power Regime


Original: “My suggestion is that the presumed universality and unity of the subject of feminism is effectively undermined by the constraints of the representational discourse in which it functions. Indeed, the premature insistence on a stable subject of feminism, understood as a seamless category of women, inevitably generates multiple refusals to accept the category. These domains of exclusion reveal the coercive and regulatory consequences of that construction, even when the construction has been elaborated for empancipatory purposes. Indeed, the fragmentation within feminism and the paradoxical opposition to feminism from ‘women’ whose feminism claims to represent suggest the necessary limits of identity politics. The suggestion that feminism can seek wider representation for a subject that it itself constructs has the ironic consequence that feminist goals risk failure by refusing to take account of the constitutive powers of their own representational claims. This problem is not ameliorated through an appeal to the category of women for merely ‘strategic’ purposes, for strategies always have meanings that exceed the purposes for which they are intended” (4).

Paraphrase: The nature of the feminine is hindered by the established discourse. Women cannot be grouped into a single homogeneous group, and the nature of feminism is to create beyond the bounds of its own claims.

Discussion Questions

How has the sense of gender trouble become further amplified in the modern day? Will the realm of queer non-conformist identities continue to become more complicated? If so, will it become harder for humans to understand one another and the identities that they hold?

What gender role expectations do we see acted out in Oscar Wao and how the characters mediate/respond to those role expectations?

Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place


In this chapter from In a Queer Time and Place, Judith Halberstam discusses the concepts of queer space and time, analyzes the successes and failures of other writings on queer theory, and suggests that the transgender body becomes a site for new grounds of critique and move towards refreshed modernity.

Key Terms

Queer Time- A chronological concept that falls outside of the heterosexual time markers of marriage, parenthood, etc.

Queer Space- A reconsideration of space outside of heterosexual norms. E.g. our discussion in class of the dining room table as a site for reinforcing a heterosexual normativity.

Postmodern Geography-From a queer stance, a imagining that places sexuality in between “embodiment, place, and practice” (5).


Interclass Connectivity


Original: Queer time and space are useful frameworks for assessing political and culture change in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (both what has changed and what must change). The critical languages that we have developed to try to assess the obstacles to social change have a way of both stymieing our political agendas and alienating nonacademic constituencies.


Paraphrase:  Queer time and space become helpful in analyzing the changes that have occurred and still need to occur in the postmodern era. Unfortunately, the semantics that exist around this field can both hinder political progress and drive away nonacademic communities.

Discussion Questions

Can we see the ideas of queer time and space acted out in Oscar Wao? How does Diaz construct a postmodern geography within the cultural, sexual, and class identities of his characters?

What other spaces reinforce heterosexual norms, space that we might not even consider as sexually privileging at first?

Eve Sedgwick Epistemology of the Closet


In this chapter from Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Sedgwick explores the concept of male homosexual panic, the personal discovery of and wrestling with homosexual feelings and thoughts. She draws a case study in her reading of James’ The Beast in the Jungle.

Key Terms

Male Homosocial Bonds- Social connections between men. Sedgwick suggests that these bonds play in a liminal space between straight relations and homosexual desire.

Sexual Anasthesia- The repression of homosexual desire through fervent heterosexual exploits.

Homosexual Panic- Both the societal derision for homosexuality and the individual worry that they may be homosexual.

Homosexual Secret

Male Heterosexual Entitlement


Original: “such were the speakable nonmedical terms, in Christian tradition, for the homosexual possibility for men. The marginality of these terms semantic and ontological status as substantive nouns reflected and shaped the exiguousness—but also the potentially enabling secrecy—of that ‘possibility.’ And the newly specifying, reifying medical and penal public discourse of the male homosexual role, in the years around the Wilde trials, far from retiring or obsolescing these preteritive names, seems instead to have packed them more firmly and distinctively within homosexual meaning.”

Paraphrase: These terms further pushed homosexuality further into marginalization. This marginalization was further reinforced by the medical terminology that came into use around, and the terms became ingrained within homosexual meaning.

Discussion Questions

Can we see any of the characters in Oscar Wao dealing with a male homosexual panic? Is the Dominican hypersexualized male identity put to use to cover up that panic?

Are there ways we can see Sedwick’s reading at risk of covering up the importance of male friendship (i.e. the stuff on the surface)?

Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees


In Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti suggests that the current mode of literary criticism, case studies of specific texts, excludes a much larger literary history. He demonstrates the rise of the novel and other literary trends using, you guessed it, graphs, maps, and trees.

Key Terms

Literary History- The big picture movements in literature: publishing statistics, form shifts, etc.

Temporary Structures- Genres, impermanent shifts in mode that leave a mark on time but do not last long.

Literary Cycle- The move through repetitions in literary movements. A consistent return to similarities in the past.




Original: “But graphs are not models; they are not simplified versions of a theoretical structure in the way maps and (especially) evolutionary trees will be in the next two articles. Quantitative research provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations, I said earlier, and that is of course also its limit: it provides data, not interpretation. . . . Quantitative data can tell us when Britain produced one new novel per month or week or day, or hour for that matter, but where the significant turning points lie along and the continuum—and why—is something that must be decided on a different basis.

Paraphrase: The nature of quantitative data is limited, given that it can only provide data. What to then do with this data falls subject to another decision, another analysis.


Discussion Questions           

How might Diaz’s novel fit into a larger literary history? Would this time period show an increase in immigrant authorship?

What might we risk losing if we adopt more of Moretti’s approach to literature and less of the individual case study format?

Stephen Greenblatt “Resonance and Wonder.”


In “Resonance and Wonder,” Stephen Greenblatt examines the two titular modes of viewing art, offering examples of museums that apply one mode or the other and then offering a suggestion that wonder and resonance can go hand in hand, that one can lead to the other.

Key Terms

Resonance- The power of a work to connect an observer to a larger surrounding context (i.e. a painting draws the viewer into a greater understanding of the dress/culture of the period).

Wonder- The power of a work to inspired the sublime, to capture a viewer in awe.

Resonant Museum-A museum that seeks to contextualize the works it displays. Generally less focused on wonder in favor of information.

Wondrous Museum

New Historicism



Original: “This understanding, by no means autonomous and yet not reducible to the institutional and economic forces by which it is shaped, is centered on a certain kind of looking, the origins of which lie in the cult of the marvelous and hence in the artwork’s capacity to generate in the spectator surprise, delight, admiration, and intimations of genius. The knowledge that derives from this kind of looking may not be very useful in the attempt to understand another culture, but it is vitally important in the attempt to understand our own. For it is one of the distinctive achievements of our culture to have fashioned this type of gaze, and one of the most intense pleasures it has to offer.”


Paraphrase: This understanding, not essentially the resonant, springs from looking with wonder, looking for the sublime. In this way art becomes a mirror, allowing us to understand the nature of the constructed wondrous gaze.

Discussion Questions

Should culture prefer one way of looking to another? Or can wonder and resonance go as handily together as Greenblatt suggests?

What elements of wonder can we see in Oscar Wao? Of resonance?