Terror and the Text
ENGL 191 at Pitzer College
Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Spring 2023
The first modern use of the word “terrorism” in the English language refers to the Reign of Terror in France, and specifically characterizes acts “carried out by the party in power during the Revolution of 1789-94.” Over time, terrorism has transformed from “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation…used by a government or ruling group” to “practices used by a clandestine or expatriate organization as a means of furthering its aims.” While contemporary usage tends to conjure images of 9/11, acts of terrorism—by governments and clandestine groups alike—have a much longer history. This course draws from the archive of Anglophone literature to trace the way authors and their texts have imagined and represented acts of terrorism across the twentieth century to the present. Our aim will be to explore the global and historical contexts of terrorism, and to situate the contemporary moment through works of imaginative fiction, which mediate the relationships between state and insurgent, just war and terror, and ultimately self and other.
Growing Up Postcolonial
ENGL094, Pitzer College
Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Spring 2023
This world literature course will survey global Anglophone fiction, with a focus on coming-of-age stories. We will study the genre of the bildungsroman (German for “novel of education” or “novel of formation”) in postcolonial fiction, with attention to the ways the genre is adapted or modified, and we will assess the utility of child narrators to comment on socioeconomic conditions and historical events. We will analyze childhood as a historically-contingent category, and we consider the ways that postcolonial contexts—including economic, historical, cultural dimensions—shape the development and integration of the individual protagonists of these “formation” texts.
Our goal, with such a narrow focus on the bildungsroman and other texts that utilize child narrators, is to address broader intercultural questions, such as: What conditions and circumstances might we include as postcolonial? How does Joe, the narrator of The Round House who lives on an Ojibwe reservation in America, fit into this framework? How does coming of age compare across a variety of contexts: from Zimbabwe after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, to the contested Ogaden territory in present-day Somalia during civil war? How do writers use experimental forms or postmodernist aesthetics to contest the idea of the unified subject that undergirds the conventional bildungsroman? How do the intersections of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity categories inflect the process or possibility of self-determination in a variety of contexts? In what ways can a child narrator especially highlight the relationship between identities and social contexts?
As a seminar and survey of world literature, this course will rely on frequent, thoughtful, and respectful discussion among students and the instructor. Seminars will be framed both by required student-led discussions as well as instructor lecture on important literary, historical, and cultural contexts.
World Literature in an Oceanic Context
Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2022
The practice of national literature departments and canons has been to separate texts based on the author’s national identity; Charles Dickens is an ‘English’ author, Nathaniel Hawthorne is American, and Nadine Gordimer is South African. But issues of belonging and citizenship are more complicated; where do we place someone like Joseph Conrad, who was born in Russian-controlled, present-day Ukraine to Polish parents, wrote in English (his third language), and whose experiences as a sailor shaped his fiction?
A focus on world literature in the context of the world’s connected waterways will give us an alternative approach to the sustained continental focus on landmasses, states, and nations. How might rivers, not just as settings or metaphors, but also as analytics, help us to see the world’s geography and communities differently? What connections and histories are more visible if we shift our geographical parameters to, say, the Horn of Africa or the Indian Ocean?
Course Goals and Student Outcomes:
This course explores both national and global awareness by shifting our focus from continental landmasses to the waterways that connect them. By the end of this course, students will not only have read a diverse selection of texts from the global Anglophone literary world, but also will have assessed the continental framework that tends to dominant literary categorizations. Our goal is not only to analyze the fictional texts, but also to apply pressure to the frameworks through which we tend to analyze and compare.
ENGL194, Pitzer College
Spring 2020 (crosslisted with Africana Studies), Fall 2020
This course will introduce students to South African literature, and will focus on novels written by Black South African writers after the transition to black-majority rule. We will examine and interrogate the cultural work of novels and narratives to challenge and to change South African society and history, to remember and to grieve, to witness and to represent. We will begin with Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying, a novel published just prior to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed to facilitate restorative justice after apartheid. The subsequent texts, all published after the first democratic elections, will grapple with the challenges of truth and reconciliation, economic disparities, discrimination, and histories of racial violence.
South Africa has a vibrant and sustained history of literary production—oral and written. Although we will focus on post-apartheid novels, we will situate these texts in the context of South African literature more generally, and class discussions and papers will ask students to consider the texts’ engagement with South African history, culture, politics, and literary history. The literary texts will focus on 1995-present, but supplementary material and lectures will move from the 1970s Black Consciousness Movement to Njabulo Ndebele’s call in the 1990s for South African literature to “rediscover the ordinary.”
Decolonial Futures (Formerly Postcolonial Studies for the 21st Century)
ENG 181.1 at Pitzer College
Fall 2017, Fall 2019 (revised), Fall 2020
From removing confederate monuments on the US American college campuses, to removing Cecil Rhodes from the University of Cape Town; from #Blacklivesmatter to #Rhodesmustfall; from the repatriation of stolen colonial artifacts currently housed in European museums to the very foundations of higher education—this course asks, “What is the relevance of decolonial and postcolonial approaches to the present now, and to the futures we might still imagine?”
The course will be organized around five units: (1) Introduction and backgrounds (2) Decolonizing Postcolonial Studies (3) Making Manifest: Decolonial Museums and Colonial Histories (4) Taking it to the Streets: Postcolonial/Decolonial Protests (5) Postcolonial Studies and Climate Change. Each week will pair theoretical readings, fictional texts, and commentaries.
Course Goals and Student Learning Outcomes:
This course’s design is influenced by learner-center pedagogy and active learning techniques. At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to explain, in their own words, some of the major ideas and concepts in postcolonial studies and decolonial approaches. Students will also create a dialogue between theoretical concepts, fictional texts, and contemporary issues/debates. Students will reflect on new ideas and how they might use them, combine what they know already with new information, and decide which assignments to complete in order to meet the course goals of collaboration, synthesis, connection, and question/critique.
Unruly Women of World Literature
First Year Seminar, Pitzer College
Fall 2018, Fall 2022
Troublemakers. Witches. Nasty women. Mad-women. Deviants. This course will explore representations of “unruly women” in world literature and pop culture—women who in their unruliness illuminate the politics of gender and behavior, race, sexuality, and class, and around whom discourses of madness, discipline, punishment, and morality dovetail. Our texts will include short stories, novels, films, and essays. Questions we’ll discuss include: How do the texts address, critique, and expose notions of femininity and appropriate womanhood? How do characters limn the demarcation between good girl and dangerous woman? Under what circumstances can the attribution of “unruly” be embraced, defied, and/or declaimed?
Intro to Literary Theory
ENGL 001, Pitzer College
Fall 2021, Fall 2022
This course offers an introduction to current approaches and debates within literary scholarship. Through the lens of an academic field of inquiry commonly known as “literary theory,” this course examines such theories in connection with cultural documents from novels to poems and other forms of literature or cultural production. Our emphasis is 20th century, Continental, North American, and Transnational fields of inquiry. This course is required for the EWL major and minor at Pitzer College. By the end of this course, students will be familiar with and able to employ various lenses of literary theory to interpret and analyze texts, ranging from New Criticism, Marxism, Postcolonial Theory, Gender and Queer theory, among others. Each unit will focus on a cluster of schools of literary theory, with an emphasis on their historical emergence and context, what it allows us to see better, and its limitations (and overlaps with other approaches to literary analysis). The apparent separation of each school of literary theory into discrete weeks will be undone throughout the semester through our fictional texts—to which we will continue to refer and apply these theories long past the unit in which they appear—and the theoretical excerpts themselves, which often bridge and build on multiple literary theories.
Intro to World Lit: Texts on the Move
ENGL016, Pitzer College
Spring 2018, Fall 2019
This course is an introduction to world literature, with a focus on global Anglophone fiction and its engagement with colonialism, postcolonialism, and the globalized world. We will examine texts from a range of geographical locations in the world with a unifying focus on texts and figures who move: wanders, exiles, laborers, emigrants, and “been-tos.” Students will appreciate the similarities that link world literatures as well as the differences and historical specificities that inform the contexts in which texts are read as well as the events they depict. We will trace transnational movements, the imbrication of mobilities and immobilities in individual and global movements, and the ways that movement reconfigures ideas of home and belonging. Students will analyze, compare, and contrast a range of texts that comment, examine, critique, and expose the unevenness of movement as depicted in contemporary global Anglophone literature. By the end of the course, students will not only have read a diverse selection of texts, from Zimbabwe to South Africa, India, and America, but they will also articulate the kinds of movements characters and texts take (and cannot take) and the conditions that shape their movements. The course will demand that students read with an awareness, understanding, and sensitivity to the diverse cultural perspectives and contexts that the texts engage.