Terror and the Text
ENGL 191 at Pitzer College
Spring 2018, Spring 2019
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.
Course Goals and Student Outcomes:
Our aim is to read terrorism historically and globally, and by the conclusion of the course students will have analyzed works from a variety of perspectives, some of which take US American experiences of terrorism as their focus, and others which shift conversations and histories of terrorism to other terrains and experiences. The ethics of representation will be central to our class conversations; rather than asking only whether terrorism can be narrated, we will ask whether it should, and to what end? Does fiction facilitate or impede national and personal mourning? Are there limits to what fiction should attempt to imagine?
Students will develop both historical and comparative approaches to the study of terrorism and literature. At the conclusion of the class, students will have a critical understanding of political violence and terrorism beyond US-centered representations of 9/11 and the War on Terror, and will be able to articulate the advantages and limitations of imaginative representations of terrorism—in short fiction, novels, and essays. The texts themselves, through inventive narrative strategies, will challenge students to consider worldviews different from their own (an EWL learning objective). This course will ask students to confront issues of genre and categorization: Should we view terrorist fiction as a subgenre of world literature? Is it a useful category to put diverse texts into dialogue with one another? Given the course subject matter, students will be challenged to make meaningful connections not only across the texts themselves, but also to the world outside the classroom.
At the end of the course, students will have discussed and distilled arguments in secondary sources and literary criticism as they relate to literature and terror, and analyzed the merits and usefulness of these approaches in their framing paper assignment. Students will practice incorporating secondary sources into an original argument in their final papers. Through formal and informal writing assignments and class discussions, students will hone the following skills: close-reading and analysis, logical organization and development, integration of primary and secondary evidence into thoughtful and original arguments, and precision and clarity in writing.
As a seminar, 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 lectures on important literary, historical, and cultural contexts.
Growing Up Postcolonial
ENGL094, Pitzer College
Spring 2019, 2020
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
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.
The class format will largely follow a seminar-style, and student-driven with presentations throughout the semester. Short lectures will frame each text and author, and introduce relevant literary and historical terms throughout.
ENGL194, Pitzer College
Spring 2020 (crosslisted with Africana Studies)
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)
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. Our class texts will range from Zakes Mda’s Heart of Redness to Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc. and Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. Our films will include Martin Thomas’s and Béatrice Bijon’s Etched in Bone, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain. 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
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?
Colony, Diaspora, Nation: Images of Africa in World Literature and the Atlantic World
ENG144: World Literature at UMass Amherst
This course is a survey of world literature with a focus on representations of Africa and Africans peoples across both time and space in the Atlantic World, ranging from England to Africa, America and the Caribbean. This unifying focus on images of Africa will allow us to explore the major events that have shaped the world in literature, as well as literatures of the world: trade, slavery, colonialism, revolution, and Independence. The historical time span will allow us to see how terms like race, progress, civilization, democracy, freedom, and rights have been used and developed, mobilized and critiqued. This class will encourage making connections across texts, but we will also emphasize the specific geopolitical contexts each of the literary texts engage.
Home and Away: Literatures of the World, Worlds of Literature
ENG222: World Literature
Fall 2014 at Westfield State University
This course is an introduction to world literature, with a focus on twentieth century fiction, colonialism, postcolonialism, and the globalized world. We will examine texts from a range of geographical locations in the world with a unifying focus on travelers: wanders, exiles, laborers, emigrants, and “been-tos.” We will seek to answer the question, “How does literature construct, represent, and create “worlds” through narrative?” Through this focus, we will explore the major events that have shaped the world in literature, as well as literatures of the world: globalization, colonialism, revolution, partitions, and Independence.
This course satisfies the Common Core requirement of Literary and Philosophical Analysis, and Global Diversity. Primarily, it addresses two fundamental questions: what is literature and why do we read it, especially outside our own culture? In addition, and no less important in terms of the goals of the Common Core program, the course also encourages a diverse outlook on culture, promotes the ideal of lifetime learning, and develops through discussion and writing the important skills of critical thinking and communication, among others
May It Please the Court? Scenes of Justice and Fairness in Contemporary Literature
ENG131: Society and Literature, at UMass Amherst
In what ways can literature depict, challenge, modify, and nuance our conceptions of what is just and fair? What are the conditions by which we judge an outcome or situation to be fair? This course will explore these questions through a survey of contemporary literature that foreground issues of justice, fairness, and representations of “law.” In the process, we will pay attention to various gender, racial, and cultural contexts that challenge justice and consider for whom and for what purpose is “justice” served. The scenes of justice under consideration will range from the American legal system to the town of Ayemenem in India, to rural Zimbabwe and to apartheid South Africa.
Major British Authors: Colonial Engagements
ENG202: Later British Literature
Summer 2015, Online, UMass Amherst
This survey of British literature from 1700-1900 is organized around British society and culture and its increasing colonial engagements over the span of these 200 years. Through the work of Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Olaudah Equiano, and Rudyard Kipling, we will explore changes and developments in British society and literature through these texts’ references, depictions, and allusions to the geopolitical of British imperial expansion. Topics will include criminal transportation to colonies, plantations and trade, travel narratives critiques of domestic government, and slavery. While many canonical authors of British literature are represented here, our aim will be to examine them as authors in an expanding global context; to this end, we will consider the historical and socioeconomic contexts of the works in tandem with literary analysis.