Topic: The Terrain of the Present in South Asian Literature
The contemporary moment is nothing if not defined by social activism and movements. Inventing new ways of seeing, ways commensurate with the urgent issues that activism seeks to make legible, is crucial to the success of this endeavor. South Asian literature is replete with texts urging readers to own (not just recognize) issues at the doorstep–environmental degradation, water security, economic, social, and political violence, gender violence, the megacity, and more. While immersed in the local, these texts do not forget the global. Indeed, you might say they invent ways for articulating the view that the local and global intersect in complex ways, circulating and creating the conditions for a seemingly inexhaustible set of economies–cultural, social, economic, and political. This course will explore contemporary works of different genres–the novel, short story, graphic narrative, and essay–whose ambition it is to suggest ways in which literature focused on India and Pakistan rises to the challenge of engaging the knotty present.
Topic: The Future of Literary Culture
The purpose of this seminar is to study literary forms, sites, and practices that emerge in conditions where support for cultivation of the traditional literary sphere is waning. Indebted, prolonged austerity governments are busy managing the fallout from decades of economic decline and are disinclined to back the social programs they once did, including higher education and library and other arts and culture funding. For readers, contemporary conditions include rising tuition, stagnant wages, fear of joblessness, underemployment, and insecure work, and a reordering of leisure time and mental energy that shapes how people are inclined to spend shrinking entertainment budgets. The golden age of retail literary fiction – and the traditional English department – may thus be behind us. With the rise of digital platforms, we’ve seen falling book prices and diminishing possibilities for making one’s living by writing. Yet, though making it as a professional writer is becoming more difficult, the ease of digital self-publishing has led to a rapid increase in sheer numbers of published, if seldom read, fiction. With new social conditions come new forms of literary expression and experience. What are these forms? What will they be? In the spirit of the inquiry, there will be no extended research essay for this course.
Topic: Culture and the Text: Strangers in a Strange Land
The ambiguities of the figure of the insider-outsider have been extensively considered in terms of social science researchers. This course considers the insider-outsider in terms of the authors and narrators of literary texts. Drawing on texts written by authors with first-hand experience of dramatic historical developments of the 20th century, we will formulate and address questions of history, narrative, and authority. All of the texts involve the occupation of one country by another, sometimes in specifically imperial settings, others in time of war. All were written by observers and employ narrative perspectives belonging to outsiders in the occupied country but who also consider themselves to be insiders by virtue of their presence and their sympathies. How reliable are these seemingly ambivalent creatures in terms of the historical claims their works advance? Rather than consider the texts from a post-colonial point of view, we will consider them in terms of the relationship between narrative and history and in terms of the effectiveness and reliability of the literary imagination in conveying social and political thought.
In the absence of seminar and background presentations, all students are expected to conduct research into the historical contexts of the texts. This research may simply involve reading Wikipedia entries on the history of the Belgian Congo, Czechoslovakia, Burma, and Viet Nam, but students should be familiar with the condition of the countries during the time periods covered in the texts, for example, Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Viet Nam in the years just prior to the Viet Nam War.