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World Literature




Admission Requirements



What is world literature? Is it the literature of our shared humanity, an aesthetic and ethical practice that expresses universalistic humanistic values? Can it therefore function as the invaluable bridge between cultures, and as the much needed tool to forge a truly global community? According to some of the reports of the Nobel Prize Jury, it can. But the concept of world literature has also been used to celebrate the superiority of certain national literatures over others, of certain cultural values over others. This course begins by tracing the paradoxes in the history of the concept of world literature. On the one hand, world literature allows us to understand, and relate to, the world’s diversity; on the other hand, some approaches to world literature result in the very erasure of that diversity. This course adopts the two key-concepts of ¬_diversity_ and power to analyse the dynamics that curtails literature’s potential to promote intercultural understanding.

The course is organised around six themes: maps, voice, travel, orientalism, translation, and globalisation. Each theme invites us to ponder the productivity of a specific cultural approach to the world’s diversity. Which cultural codes are shaping the world’s travel narratives? Which of these codes allow for intercultural contact, and which do not? Does the western fascination with authenticity enhance the understanding of cultural otherness, or not? Is translation a means to approach one’s cultural others, or does it deny otherness? Should we accept the other’s incomprehensibility? Or should we begin by accepting our own incomprehensibility? What power dynamics decides our perception of self and other?
One of the ways to respond to these questions, is by acknowledging the inevitable syncretism of almost all cultures and literatures. Through close reading and discussing a variety of creative master pieces, we will learn to negotiate between the different arts a global citizen should master: the arts of imagination and affinity, and the arts of social, cultural, and political analysis.

Course Objectives

After this course, students will:

  • understand different approaches to (world) literature, in different regions of the world, and in different historical periods, and be able to differentiate different culturally and historically specific perceptions of language and identity;

  • have obtained a basic understanding of several influential discourses that have shaped the (predominantly western) perception of cultural others (e.g. orientalism, primitivism, racism), and be able to give an account of the critical debates on these discourses;

  • have obtained different theories and concepts of the interrelatedness of the literatures of the world (mimicry, hybridity, globalisation, Relation, etc.);

  • be able to evaluate the (lack of) productivity of these discourses (see ii), theories and concepts (see iii) for global intercultural understanding; thus, they will also have developed a critical awareness of their own received opinions and ideas on cultural otherness;

  • have read and analysed a variety of literary texts from esp. Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, within the framework of the debates on identity, alterity, and globalisation

Mode of Instruction

The core of each session is an intense interactive debate on the analysis and interpretation of a literary text, performance, or artwork, within the framework proposed by the reading materials and the lecture of that session. Discussions of the reading materials (and, if necessary, close reading) and introductory lectures will serve as the theoretical and historical preparation for that group interaction. An interdisciplinary theoretical frame will be used to explore each theme. This form of interdisciplinarity (which is common to the field of cultural analysis) will also demand a critical, ethical self-reflection on the students’ own received ideas and notions of ideas of cultural otherness.


  • Each student will be asked to open the interactive debate of one session, by presenting his/her opinion of the main points in the reading materials, and a question that will provoke debate.

  • After each session, students will post (on Blackboard) their account of the key insights that sprang from that session.

  • Students will select two out of five proposed literary texts as the topic of two short analytical essays (800 wrds each), which will be framed by the debates of the relevant sessions. For each literary text, the teacher will provide a research question that will serve as the point of departure.

  • Finally, students will write a longer essay on a literary text/performance/art work (either of their own choice, OR suggested by teacher), in which they will frame their reading within one of the theme-related debates of the course (2500 wrds).


Assessment: Postings on Blackboard
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Within 24 hrs after each session

Assessment: Offer an introduction to open class debate
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Once during course

Assessment: Short (1000 wrds) analysis of (aspect of) literary text 1 (student selects text)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Once during course, to be submitted by mail by 17h, the day before the course on that text

Assessment: Short (1000 wrds) analysis of (aspect of) literary text 2 (student selects text)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Once during course, see above

Assessment: Individual essay (2500-3000 wrds) that testify of critical awareness of debates on interrelatedness, identity, alterity, and globalisation
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: End-term (Discussion of possible topics in week 6)


J.M. Coetzee. Foe. Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1986. (157 pp)

David Damrosch. How to Read World Literature. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Orhan Pamuk. Benim Adim Kirmizi. Istanbul : Iletisim, 1998. Translated as: My Name is Red. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. (other editions allowed) (417 pp).

Jamaica Kincaid. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988.

John McLeod. Beginning Postcolonialism. Manchester: Manchester U.P., 2010. (2nd edition)

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1, Mapping
Week 2, Voice
Week 3, Travel
Week 4, Orientalism
Week 5, Translation
Week 6, Globalisation
Week 7

Preparation for first session