Topic: Social Justice and the Graphic Narrative in Contemporary South Asia
The graphic narrative turn, in South Asian nations, has brought contemporary histories of violence, the global south megacity, precarious lives of the dispossessed, inter-regional politics, gender discrimination and violence, and more into prominence in the sizeable market of South Asian popular culture. There are limitations that form part of this story: publishers routinely market titles exclusively in South Asia, making it difficult to access these titles globally; English language production of graphic narratives dominate the market; and India dominates the scene, in terms of numbers of titles, in English, and circulation. The graphic narratives we will examine in this course have been chosen in large part because they are available in Canada (judging by Amazon Canada). They are, in the main, published by small, independent presses in India, and show the influence of local and global at every level—from the focus on social justice issues, that are a blot on the nation’s ambitions, and a de-normalizing of social and cultural norms to the ways in which the global south city is visualized and social, economic, and political facts are treated, these texts offer readers an opportunity to grapple with the specific ways in which global influences and approaches on the one hand and local traditions, cultural and social logic inform the leading works of the genre. Finally, it is worth noting what the texts have in common, other than the capacious genre of the graphic narrative: they are performative in the sense that they do what they demand of the civil and political spheres of South Asian nations—a historicizing of forms of violence.
While the course will focus on the titles listed below, other titles not available in Canada will be made available in class and will, I hope, offset some of the limitations described earlier. Some seminal critical works—on the graphic narrative in India—will also be made available for consultation and will form part of the required reading. Evaluation will be based on: (i) 5 one-page responses (on different texts; details to be provided later); (ii) 2 essays; and (iii) a seminar presentation (on a topic common to one or more of the assigned texts).
Kurian, Priya, Larissa Bertonasco & Ludmilla Bartscht. Eds. Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back. New Delhi: Zubaan Books, 2015.
Ghosh, Vishwajyoti. Delhi Calm. Deli: HarperCollins, 2010.
Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefevre & Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. Trans. Alexis Siegel. New York & London: First Second, 2009 (fifth edition).
Sajad, Malik. Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir. Great Britain: Fourth Estate, 2015.
Anand, S., Srividya Natarajan, Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam. Bhimayana: Incidents in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana Publishing Ltd., 2011.
These texts are available on Amazon Canada. Other graphic works will be made available in class for the purposes of consultation.
Topic: Making Settler Colonial Modernity
By moving back and forth between 19th century and 21st century literature, this course provides background for understanding the settler-Indigenous relationship in Canada today and for thinking about the role of discourse, narrative, and metaphor in projects of (re)conciliation and Indigenous resurgence. We look at some of the narrative genres through which settler colonialism naturalized itself, including the 19th century emigrant’s tale, travel literature, the historical novel, captivity narrative, and sensation fiction. Alongside those, we read Indigenous auto-ethnography, petition, and short stories from the period. Our focus is on a trans-Atlantic and continental space of discourse within which ideas of liberal progress, capitalist political economy, civility, property and ‘propriety,’ and racial difference circulate, but also on Turtle Island as a contact zone in which transplanted and deeply rooted epistemologies meet. In the last third of the course, we turn to current writing reflecting on the inheritances of this past and on the time-space of unsettlement and Indigenous resurgence. We read an experimental novel by the Montreal writer, Gail Scott, and songs and stories by the Nishnaabeg writer and theorist, Leanne Simpson. Literary texts will be supplemented by theory and criticism.
ENGL 5900S/ ENGL 4115A: Selected Topic in English Studies I
Prof. Patricia Whiting
Topic: Culture and the Text: History, Oppression, and the Literary Imagination
In this course, we will read novels written between 1900 and 1950, each dealing with historical situations of oppression, specifically, worker exploitation, revolution, imperialism, racism, and political imprisonment. Because all were authored by someone personally involved in these events and situations, the novels present an insider perspective that is ideologically inflected. Nevertheless (and this is the interesting part), they set out a view of history that is in some ways extraordinarily balanced, rejecting the reductive tendency to situate people and events on either one side or the other of an assumed binary situation. Though the settings and contexts differ widely in time and place, the novels all conclude that oppression is bad for everyone. They are unanimous in teasing out the implications of terms such as “dehumanization,” and they are consistent in relentlessly interrogating the implications of being human, for better and worse. The governing questions of the course focus broadly on the contribution literature makes to the study of history. More specifically, what advantages does the novel offer those who want to chronicle historical events based on personal experience? What happens when the literary imagination meets historical truths? Why, when each of these authors is known to have a distinct political agenda, are they so uniform in highlighting contradiction and complicity in ways that deny readers the easy answers we desire from troubling books and situations? Finally, can we postulate a unique and important role for the novel in current discourses of human rights, one not limited to bearing witness, truth-telling, or confessing guilt? In keeping with the aims of each author, we will undertake to understand as fully as is possible in a seminar the historical and political contexts of each novel, the author’s relationship to events, and the author’s aims in writing the novel, and to examine the books within these contexts. Research will involve arguments primarily based on grounds other than theory and literary criticism, using evidence from not only history, but law, biography, letters, newspapers, and other contemporary sources.
Below are the required texts from last summer’s class. These are for information only and are likely to change. Much will depend on the number of students enrolled in the seminar and on the availability of texts.
Azuela, Mariano. The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution (Penguin Classics)
Kogawa, Joy. Obasan (Penguin Canada)
Sembène, Ousmane. God’s Bits of Wood (Longman)
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle (Penguin Classics)
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Signet Classics)