13/10/2022 Rodrigo Andrés  « On Reading Literature, On Reading American Houses »

Rodrigo Andrés is a senior lecturer at the University of Barcelona (Universitat de Barcelona) and the principal investigator of the research project: “(Un)Housing: Dwellings, Materiality, and the Self in American Literature” (see: https://www.ub.edu/adhuc/en/research-projects/unhousing-dwellings-materiality-and-self-american-literature), which follows from the project “Troubling Houses” (2016-2018) and gathers an international team of 16 scholars.

 It aimed at knowing how American literature presents troubled and troubling houses. Rodrigo Andrés attaches importance to the fact that a domestic space is not necessarily a house. Having worked on Melville’s Moby Dick, Rodrigo portrays the whaleboat as a house. He invites the audience to consider convents, prisons, mental health institutions, or the street as habitations, as domestic or undomestic spaces.

During the seminar, where he endeavoured to present the trends explored by the scholars in these collective projects, Rodrigo Andrés reflected on the relationship between history and narrative with houses, how houses bring memories to the characters inhabiting those spaces, and how dwellings can become characters, like the haunted houses in Gothic Literature. It is noteworthy to see how we invest in those places. Rodrigo Andrés underlines the possibility for us to be troubled by other habitations we used to reside in and our attempt to replicate them. Andrés linked the “trouble” with houses in American literature to the foundational importance of private property and ownership in U.S. culture where owning a house is associated with the American Dream itself. Andrés called attention to the ways Black Americans were excluded from this dream, Black access to private property is extremely problematic. For African Americans, the house was the plantation, it was a nightmare. The African American reality, which we connect with the ghetto, with renting, jail and the prison industry, is haunting American literature.

Rodrigo Andrés also mentioned the work to be done on Queer housing. He wonders where the house starts and finishes, and how dwellings can be places of exclusion. 

Finally, questioning ‘unhousing’ is a part of Rodrigo Andrés’ thought. Based on Burning Down the House: Home in African American Literature, written by Valerie Sweeney Prince, Rodrigo Andres reflects upon the necessity of getting rid of the house. This “house” can be understood as America and Andrés studies how fiction makes it unliveable. Transcending housing does not rest only upon the denial of the house but eventually on the possibility of joining the community. Finally, questioning the self in housing is even more essential nowadays, especially during the COVID pandemic, when almost everyone turned their homes into their offices. Bringing work at home has become a fixture.

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