Fall 2005

HUMS 634
Major Authors of the Postcolonial World


09/12/2005 - 12/17/2005
Monday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

285 Court Street

This course will meet over two weekends: February 22-24 and March 29-30.

Literature is often seen, in the First World, as separate from the public sphere of politics and knowledge. In the Third, or Postcolonial, World, writers have a much more significant impact on public life. In this course, we will study three writers who hold celebrated status in the Third World, where they influence and even create public policy. Aime Cesaire (Martinique), V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad/England), and Salman Rushdie (Pakistan/India/Britain) are enormously well known and well read by the literati and the masses alike, to great praise and great blame.

This class will attempt to understand what these authors mean and what they stand for, both in the First World and in the Third. In order to comprehend the sometimes radically divergent responses to and interpretations of these authors, we will look closely at their writings, and will examine literary criticism and journalistic discussion of these writers. Our goal will be to analyze how the Western and the postcolonial reader respond differently to these authors: What makes these authors so powerful in the Third World? What is the nature of the West's reception of them, which varies from praise to indifference? How do these writers define themselves and their goals?

Cesaire, an essayist, poet, and playwright, is also a powerful and provocative politician, and a major figure of politics and aesthetics in the Caribbean. We will discuss his seminal poetic epic, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, which raises important questions about the responsibility of the artist to his community, nation, and race. What is the relationship of that responsibility to the manner of writing? Can surrealism, usually considered a "European" literary style, serve anti-imperialistic, nativistic uses? We will also examine Cesaire's political career, read his interviews, and study one of his plays, A Tempest. This play deliberately refashions Shakespeare's The Tempest to serve the ends of the Third World, addressing historical, racial, and class domination and injustice in a style that incorporates Shakespearean grandeur, Creolisms, and delirious flights of surrealism.

Unlike the revolutionary Cesaire, Naipaul is often vilified in the Postcolonial world for his politics: he accepted knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature, and has served as an authority on all things non-European for the West. How are his politics and his aesthetics connected? We will read and discuss his two best known novels, A House for Mr Biswas and A Bend in the River. Mr Biswas, written early in Naipaul's career, follows the life of an Indo-Trinidadian, an insignificant man who attempts to claim a place and an identity for himself, to "accommodate himself," as he says, in a land that manifests either contempt or indifference for this descendant of Indian indentured servants. Naipaul uses both the realistic novel form and the powerfully symbolic desire for home ownership to convey the pathos and the significance of this fictional life story. His later Bend in the River, set in an African nation plagued by political instability as well as First World humanistic and research organizations, explores the dilemmas faced by a man of Indian descent in a newly independent country. Where does he belong? What is his proper role in a newly "Black" nation? Here, Naipaul raises the issues of race, nationalism, and the long-term consequences of imperialism in ways that will strike many of us as disturbingly contemporary.

Salman Rushdie may be the best known Postcolonial writer. He is famous in the West for the Iranian fatwa calling for his death after publication of his novel Satanic Verses. This political response to a fictional work is unimaginable in our world, and we will attempt to understand the nature of the responses from both his defenders and his detractors. Reading portions of this novel and documents about the controversy, we will ask: What was considered so offensive? On what grounds can a writer justify (allegedly) defaming a religion? What license does a fiction writer have to tamper with history or to critique his society? What is the author's responsibility to the public? Does an author enjoy autonomy from such obligations? We will also read his earlier novel Midnight's Children, which, memorializing the birth of the Indian nation, also, in one (in)famous formulation, gave it a "voice." In what way can a particular novel and its aesthetic style be or create the "voice" of a nation?

Readings include the texts discussed above plus relevant literary criticism, interviews, and journalism.

Students will be responsible for six response papers of 1-2 pages each, one class facilitation with an accompanying paper of 3-5 pages, and a final research paper of 10-15 pages.

Indira Karamcheti B.A., M.A., Ph.D. University of California, Santa Barbara) is associate professor of English and American Studies. Her teaching and research interests include postcolonial literature and theory, the literature of the South Asian diaspora, and the writing of ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. She has written on such authors as Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Simone Schwarz-Bart, and Aime Cesaire. Click here for more information about Indira Karamcheti and click here for more information about her work.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Aime Cesaire, NOTEBOOK OF A RETURN TO THE NATIVE LAND (Wesleyan University Press), Paperback

Aime Cesaire, A TEMPEST (Theatre Communications), Paperback

V.S. Naipul, A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS (Vintage), Paperback

V.S. Naipaul, A BEND IN THE RIVER (Vintage), Paperback

Salman Rushdie, MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN (Penguin), Paperback

Salman Rushdie, SATANIC VERSES (Picador), Paperback


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