World change occurs when many people alter their viewpoints and decide to act, but the real question is where this altered perspective comes from.
Personally, every single class here at Gonzaga has positively impacted me. From core classes to my major, even the ones I initially wasn’t interested in helped to shape me.
Some emphasized our personhood over our ability to show up for class or complete homework, others enabled me to unpack biases and stereotypes or to learn from societies in the past. And still others gave me courage in my own abilities to create and communicate.
But the class that impacted me the most was ENGL 466: Global Modernisms taught by Yasaman Naraghi, a teaching fellow of English, is a wonderful professor hired as part of the Underrepresented Fellowship Program and who designed her own classes.
Some preconceptions I entered the class with were:
I thought modernism was simply an American-British movement during the interwar period of World War I and World War II and a reaction to the war and against Romanticism.
As an English major and avid reader, I’ve experienced many, many novels and short stories and certainly have an ever-growing list of works I want to read. I felt confident in claiming I had at least heard of the most influential or important pieces of literature.
Simple words such as tradition, form and style I could define easily enough; I had been using these words for the majority of my life and assumed I had a strong enough grasp on them. I thought I knew my place in the world and more or less how the world worked, and that while in many respects I come from a place of privilege, that I was aware of this and its impact.
My assumptions were utterly wrong.
Misconceptions and ignorance were corrected each class, and during each discussion I marveled at how my worldview was being reconstructed, bit by bit.
Through the novels, supplemental readings and class discussions, I discovered that modernism instead is a worldwide movement, inspired by different political and cultural events. Many of the novels and characters we read emulated the identity crises of their respective countries because of the effects from World War I, but not all.
This complicates the definition of modernism. What are the characteristics that link these global movements, and how we do acknowledge that often modernism in other countries wouldn’t exist without the Anglo-American version?
These are just a sampling of some of the questions we tried to answer.
Looking at the characteristics, we turned to supplemental readings defining words like tradition or style in a modernism context but found that these readings even when actively trying to not, have Eurocentric biases still did.
One essay looked at the modernist movement in Mexico, specifically viewing several female artists, all of whom were white and in fact appropriating the Mexican culture. If that is the example for tradition, then many traditions need to be reexamined.
We also struggled to define these simple words, such as “form” and often went so abstract it was difficult to ground ourselves, and settled with a definition by example, which still isn’t perfect.
Each author and culture do something a little different in terms of tradition, style and form, and the threads connecting these are difficult to discern, even with a greater knowledge of where works come from.
We read novels I had wanted to read, novels I read before and novels I never would have experienced. Even the ones I was familiar with we explored in an entirely different way.
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison follows a nameless young black protagonist through the societal and cultural racial injustices of early 20th century America. “Cosmos” by Polish author Witold Gombrowicz revolves around two young men in the countryside as they seek pattern and meaning in seemingly random occurrences.
“No Longer Human” by Osamu Dazai is a Japanese novel that chillingly explores the nature of humanity and human connection.
Each of these and more worked to slightly alter my worldview, showing a new culture, new perspective, new way of engaging with the world while at the same time revealing universal truths about humanity.
I’ve realized that my view of the world was very Eurocentric and that there’s so much more I don’t know than I previously thought. I encourage the GU community to similarly question their own beliefs and discover what they don’t know; then we can grow from a place of more understanding and compassion.
I started Global Modernisms with a clear statement of what that meant, then left with more questions than answers and a complicated definition. But the confusion is truer and clearer than a simple statement and is a start to changing structural issues caused by Eurocentrism.
Now I must determine what I want to do with this knowledge.