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Academia in Literature: Campus Novels and Theorists as Novelists


Admission requirements


Course description

Today, in a globalized world dominated by information technologies, in which knowledge is produced, stored, and transmitted through a plethora of channels and media, the status of Academia and the (privileged) status of the Humanities seem to be changing and have become the object of debate. Trying to envision the future of the Humanities calls for revisiting its functions in the past and reassessing its current strengths and weaknesses. In this attempt, literature can play a significant part. This course will tackle this timely topic by focusing on the genre of the “campus novel” or the “academic novel”: novels set in colleges or universities, and focusing primarily on the life, politics, and relationships of academic faculty and students. By putting the focus on Academia within literature, this course will probe what happens when universities, academics, and academic discourses become the object of literature. We will read and discuss a number of academic novels written in English from the 1950s to the present, including works by Kingsley Amis, Malcolm Bradbury, David Lodge, Philip Roth, J.M. Coetzee, and Githa Hariharan, which in different ways hold a mirror up to academic life and academics. These novels present us with a multifaceted and often contradictory portrait of Academia, at times as an ivory tower, narcissistic, self-absorbed and impervious to the “outside world,” and at other times as a microcosm for society. As such a microcosm, the university accommodates contradictory forces: racism and anti-racist struggles, gender discrimination and feminism, class inequalities and Marxist projects. The objectives of such novels also vary, ranging from complete ridiculizations of the university and academics, to social and political critique or critical reassessments of the role of Academia. Campus novels employ several styles and narrative modes: satiric, parodic, absurdist, romanticized, serious, theoretically and philosophically invested, meta-fictional, self-reflective, realistic or even fantastic. In order to gain insight into the historical development of the genre, the concerns and objectives of works attributed to this genre, as well as the ways they relate to broader socio-political forces, we will read several theoretical essays that chart, and critically reflect on, the genre of the campus novel. At the same time, our readings will include broader theoretical texts on Academia, the (future of the) Humanities and academic research in a globalized world, as well as on literature as an institution by, among others, Danielle Bouchard, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. As a challenging “addendum” to our reading of academic novels, we will also read a few novels written by famous literary scholars, philosophers, or theorists, such as Julia Kristeva. In these novels, the discourse of theory infiltrates literary discourse, either resulting in new, creative discursive forms or, sometimes, in theoretically overloaded works of literature. How do these novels written by theorists “do theory” (or philosophy) in literature? Is the literary form in these novels reduced to a mere coating for philosophical and theoretical ideas? Does their self-conscious intellectualism make them less convincing as works of literature? Or can literature open up new, alternative modes of doing theory that may even help us imagine alternative futures for the Humanities? Related to the above questions, the course will explore hybrid modes of writing that result from the intermingling of literature and theory (as, for example, in J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello). The course will scrutinize the interrelation of literary and academic or theoretical discourses both thematically (campus novels) and performatively (through literature that “does” theory).

Course objectives

Students will gain insight into the development of the genre of the campus novel from the 1950s to the present and the ways campus novels relate to their socio-political contexts. Students will be trained in the critical reading of academic novels, their thematic and ideological concerns, objectives, narrative techniques, and wider philosophical, social, and political implications. More generally, through the study of campus novels, novels written by theorists, and related theoretical writings, the course will stimulate critical reflection on the past, present, and future of the university and the Humanities in particular, our roles as academics and our shifting position in society.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Mid-term assignment (30%); Final paper (60%); Group presentations and student contributions on blackboard (10%)


Blackboard in use

Reading list

Our readings include:
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1954)
Malcolm Bradbury, The History Man (1975)
David Lodge, Small World (1984)
A.S. Byatt, Possession (1990)
Hanif Kureishi, The Black Album (1995)
Philip Roth, The Dying Animal (2001)
J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (2003)
Githa Hariharan, In Times of Siege (2004)
Julia Kristeva, Murder in Byzantium (2008)


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Mw Dr M.Boletsi