2019-2020 Catalog

ENGL 365 Contemporary Literature

Topics vary. Major Requirement Met: Group III

The Global Novel

This course will focus on literature and theory produced in the aftermath of the British Empire.  By 1914 the British Empire had colonized almost 25% of the world, bringing diverse cultural traditions under the encyclopedic gaze of Western modernity. If part of the aim of the colonial apparatus was to collect knowledge of the world in ways that bodies, cultures, and landscapes could be understood and ordered by the West, contemporary societies are now negotiating their own means of self-representation in the often violent space of postcolonial rupture.  Throughout the term, we will work with texts and visual images produced out of, and in response to, the history of the colonial encounter.  Drawing on a broad range of literary, filmic, and theoretical materials we will develop strategies for understanding the production and consumption of postcolonial representation, in both local and global contexts.  As consumers of these cultural products within the space of the Western academy, we will be attentive to the function of the stereotype as we consider representations of gender and sexuality, violence and terrorism, class structures, and migration.

Violence and Representation

This course will interrogate Fanon's assertions that the colonized find their freedom only through violence, and that decolonization is always a violent process, by considering the structuring dialectics between violence, the body, and postcolonial narratives of insurgency. If, for Fanon, decolonization is both literally and linguistically an adopted violence, so that militancy against colonialism is an answer back in the imported language of destruction that the colonizer best understands, our goal will be to investigate the complex and shifting relations to violence/violation that postcolonial texts elaborate when they represent insurgent anticolonial practices. By looking closely at how postcolonial narratives represent insurgencies against power and their attendant violence, we will arrive at an analytic for addressing the technologies of pain, trauma, brutality, torture, and repression that conditioned regimes of colonial discipline and control. We will also consider the extent to which postcolonial texts appropriate an apparatus of violence in representing bodies in rebellion, while also articulating alternative visions of resistance and social change that specifically refuse the ethics of extremism. Our inquiry will draw from a critical discourse on corporeality (Foucault, Scarry), the nation (Fanon, Anderson), and gender (Butler, Spivak) to illuminate the peculiar charge in narratives of insurgency between the embodied politics of militancy and the body politic. Finally, the texts that we will be reading, deal, in some way, with the problematic of form (how to represent the urgency of politicized violence as a condition of modernity), and, in so doing, reach beyond realist conventions to reflect aspects of the surreal, the grotesque, the spectacular, and the magically real. We will assess the efficacy of these forms and their overwrought symbolism in managing the economy between the public and the private victims and perpetrators, masculinity and femininity, and whites and blacks, which structured the play of colonial violence itself. Over the course of the term, we will be reading writers as diverse as Roy, Coetzee, Al-Shaykh, Djebar, Salih, and viewing films such as The Terrorist, Bandit Queen, and The Battle of Algiers. Major requirement met: Group III/IV.


4 units


Any 100- or 200-level English course, or junior or senior standing

Core Requirements Met

  • Global Connections