Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Spotlight On: Paul Jay

Paul Jay, PhD, has recently published a new book entitled Transnational Literature: The Basics

Paul Jay, PhD, Professor Emeritus of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago, has recently published a new book entitled Transnational Literature: The Basics (Routledge, 2021). The book describes various ways in which literature can be understood as being "transnational," explains why scholars in literary studies have become so interested in the topic, and discusses the economic, political, social, and cultural forces that have shaped its development.


Jay explores a range of contemporary approaches to the subject of transnational literature, highlighting how topics like globalization, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, history, identity, migration, and decolonization are treated by scholars and the writers they study. He discusses literary works that range across the globe and include fiction, poetry, and drama by writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jenny Erpenbeck, Aleksandar Hemon, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Derek Walcott, Louise Bennett, Xiaolu Guo, Sally Wen Mao, Wole Soyinka, and many more.


Professor Jay’s work over the past few years has centered on tracking the contemporary historical changes that are reshaping humanities disciplines such as English. He came to focus in particular on globalization, the euphemism he says we have come to employ for characterizing the complex transnational flow of economies, commodities, people, and artistic expression across increasingly porous national borders. From national economies to film, from the food we eat to the identities we experience, from the art we consume to the TV shows we watch, nearly everything we experience is now shaped by global forces working intersectionally to shape familiar things into new forms.


One key takeaway from Jay’s book transcends its subject matter, and that is the extent to which teaching, research, and writing are interdependent on one another. He asserts that the myth of the solitary research professor who eschews teaching in order to write and do research is just that: a myth. Research and writing flow into the classroom, and a professor’s engagement with students in the give-and-take of classroom discussion is essential when it comes to producing the books he writes.


“Paul Jay’s latest book represents the culmination of his illustrious career as a teacher-scholar,” says Peter J. Schraeder, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago. “It reflects the international scope of literature studies today and synthesizes the essential connection between scholarship and teaching. His career exemplifies the Jesuit method of thinking about how we teach and what we teach, and how that is informed by our research and writing, as we seek to provide an outstanding Jesuit-inspired education to our students.”


Now that Jay’s book has been published, and he has retired from teaching, he has come full circle in his own writing, back to the topic of his first book, Being in the Text, published by Cornell University Press in 1984. In that book Jay analyzed how memory and imagination intersect in autobiographical writing, stretching from St. Augustine’s Confessions to more modern writers including William Wordsworth, Marcel Proust, and T. S. Eliot. The twist is that he is now writing about his own life and memories, exploring the extent to which we tend to use memory not only to recall what actually happened to us, but to reimagine the past over time in ways that give it a kind of mythic shape.