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Postcolonial Literature




Admission requirements

  • Classes of 2013-2016: similarly-tagged 200/300-level courses or permission from the instructor.

Course description

Discourses of racial and ethnic difference, though existing since time immemorial, have perhaps never been more powerful than in their justifying of colonization since the ‘discovery’ of the Americas. Literature, including travel, autobiographic and popular scientific writing, has played a major part in creating images of the ‘other’ that produced and sustained global relations of power. If the ideology of colonialism has nowadays largely dissipated, racializing and ethnocentric thinking is still part of everyday life, reproducing structures of domination in our postcolonial age.

What role does literature play in maintaining or overcoming these ways of thinking? How does literature called ‘postcolonial’ reflect on the legacies of colonialism? We will explore modes of writing and reading that interrogate the histories and the presence of colonial mentalities and ways of life in a variety of postcolonial locations. The journey will start with Tony Morrison’s grappling with traumatic memories of slave trade and trace re-explorations of the transatlantic route in stories by Afro-Brazilian writers; from there, we will progress to South Africa and the struggles of growing up as a young ‘coloured’ woman during apartheid; our focus will then switch to Europe in order to engage with intertwining historical narratives of Jewishness and blackness; the politics of race and nationalism, seen through the eyes of protagonists straddling the ‘multicultural’ worlds of India, Nigeria and the US, will be the subject of the next part; following the route back to America, we will conclude by discussing 12 Years a Slave and the possible shifts in contemporary culture this film designates.

Since this is a reading-intensive course (a novel and a short theoretical text a week), students are encouraged to make the books listed below part of their summer readings or at least read a few of them prior to the course.

Learning objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • developed a good understanding of ‘race’/’ethnicity’ as discursive constructions and an awareness of how these paradigms of identity interact with ‘gender’ and ‘class’;

  • familiarized themselves with historical discourses of race and ethnicity in a variety of colonial and postcolonial contexts (North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe), including comparative perspectives;

  • learnt about the ways in which literature shapes our ideas about society and social identities in interaction with other discourses (history, politics, science);

  • enhanced their skills of critical reading, oral presentation and analytical writing.

Compulsory literature

Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
Women Righting: Afro-Brazilian Women’s Short Fiction, ed. by Miriam Alvares and Maria Helena Lima (2004)
Zoë Wicomb, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (1987)
Caryl Phillips, The Nature of Blood (1997)
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (2006)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013)
12 Years a Slave, film (2013)