LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature

2015 Course Objectives

Terms and Objectives

(terms index)

Most US readers are schooled in reading national literatures (American literature, English literature) or occasionally World Literature as "Great Books" of Western Civilization (with occasional visits to non-Western sources like Confucius, Gilgamesh, etc.).

Therefore international terms for World Literature like colonialism and postcolonialism may be unfamiliar.

  • Unfamiliarity rises partly from postcolonial studies' rise in British Commonwealth or French and other former European colonies.

  • Americans may resist thinking in postcolonial terms because many resist regarding the United States as an empire or an imperial nation, preferring instead to emphasize the USA's origins as thirteen colonies throwing off the British Empire.

  • Post-structuralism emerged simultaneously with postcolonialism, contributing to shifting terms or unfamiliar interpretive strategies.

  • In contrast to the plain style of Anglo-American scholarship and fiction, postcolonial criticism and fiction may perform extravagantly or confrontationally, sometimes flouting but other times imitating the neutral style affected by imperial cultures.

(Course objectives 1-3 = primary objectives for seminar discussions and exams)

1.  To bring classic literature of European colonialism and emerging literature from the postcolonial world into dialogue—either conscious debates between authors or exchanges arranged by later readers, or dialogues between colonizing and colonized characters in a single text.

1a. To mediate the “culture wars” between the “old canon” of Western classics and the “new canon” of multicultural literature by studying them together rather than separately.

1b. To extend the colonial-postcolonial transition to a contemporary third wave of transnational migration. (Alternative terms: post-national, post-racial, postmodern.)

2. To theorize the novel as the defining genre of modernity, both for colonial and postcolonial cultures.

2a. By definition, the genre of the novel combines fundamental representational modes of narrative and dialogue.

  • dialogue as formal but humanizing encounter of self & other

  • narrative as personal and cultural trajectory, direction, or history

  • Can Colonizers be understood as other than villains? Must the Colonized be cast as victims? Does dehumanizing the other automatically dehumanize the self, or may it be liberating? (Moral opposition increases drama, but moral relativism cultivates relations.)

  • Can literary fiction instruct students’ knowledge of world history and international relations? Compared to nonfictional discourses of history, political science, anthropology, economics, etc., how may colonial & postcolonial fiction help more people learn world history, contemporary events, and the global future?

2b. To extend genre studies to poetry and film (esp. Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, West Indies [b. 1930; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1992]).

3.  To account for Americans’ difficulties with colonial and postcolonial discourse.

3a. Is America (USA) an imperial, colonial, or neo-imperial nation? Or an “empire in denial?”

  • Compare and contrast "settler" and "non-settler" colonization

    • settler colonies: USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Israel

    • non-settler colonies: India, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Philippines

    • in-betweens: Latin American countries like Mexico

  • USA as last “superpower”: resemblances to and differences from previous empires like Rome and England.

  • Issues of American ignorance of larger world and alternative worldviews

3b. Does American resistance to or ignorance of postcolonial criticism react to this discourse’s development from outposts of the former British Empire and French / Francophone traditions? 

3c. How may colonial-postcolonial discourse fit into American nationalist and multicultural curricula? If this is your only colonial-postcolonial course, how may it serve your scholarly or teaching interests?

(Secondary Objectives)

4. To observe representations or repressions of gender in male-dominant fields of cross-cultural contact.

5. Periods & movements: tradition and modernity; colonialism, postcolonialism, and postmodernism. (The latter two co-emerge in later twentieth century with some shared styles.)

6. To develop environmental thinking: demographics, population dynamics (esp. Demographic Transition), immigration, climate change, and other global environmental issues often occur in terms of developed and undeveloped nations, or modernization.

+ issues of "space & place": Compared to traditional cultures of the “Third World,” modern cultures of “global culture” or the “First World” usually have little attachment to particular places. Sense of “place” or “rootedness” gives way to abstract space: modern airports, hotels, or malls.

7. To register the persistence of millennial or apocalyptic narratives, symbols, and themes as a means of describing the colonial-postcolonial encounter.

7a. Two prevailing narratives of modernization: Oedipal conflict and millennialism (as reaction to creative destruction)

8. Morality or ethical issues: How reconcile that people like ourselves advancing or participating in Western Civilization have acted (or written) inhumanely toward others?