ENG 484: Seminar in British and Postcolonial Literature

Aesthetics, Literary Value, and the Postcolonial Novel
Spring 2016 / Dr. Comorau / Sturges 105/ Wed 6:30p-9:30p
nacomora@owu.edu / Sturges 304/ x3580
Office hours M 3-4, T 1-2, W 3-4 and by appointment

This senior seminar addresses the intersection of aesthetic theory and postcolonial novel. For most of the history of English literature, there has been an assumption that the best literature, in fact the only literature worth reading, has come from the First World—from England and its settler nations. As Third World literature gained popularity and (some) literary recognition, postcolonial literature began to wind its way into the academy and the canon. For some time, postcolonial literature was most often read in terms of its political and anthropological value, for the window it provides into cultures and worlds often ignored by authors in the traditional canon. The rise in popularity of the postcolonial novel on academic syllabuses and the shortlists for literary prizes should ask us to reconsider traditionally-held notions of literary value and aesthetics. If “beauty is truth, truth beauty,” as Keats would have it, how do we reconcile the postcolonial novel’s political truths with its aesthetics? How do we determine the literary value of works that do not represent the traditions of the canon? How do we read works in ways that do not separate their politics from their beauty? Questions we will address this semester include: how can we determine literary value? Should we privilege the political or the aesthetic (and is this a false choice)? How do the different novels we read theorize aesthetics? We will explore these questions and more during a reading-intensive semester filled with theory and great novels.

GraceLand, Chris Abani (978-0312425289)
The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam (978-0307388742)
Free Enterprise, Michelle Cliff (978-0872864375)
Ways of Dying, Zakes Mda (978-0312420918)
The Holder of the World, Bharati Mukherjee (978-0449909669)
The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie (978-0679744665)
On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry (978-0691089591)
On Beauty, Zadie Smith (978-0143037743)

Reading Schedule:
While the schedule for primary readings is set, your secondary readings are subject to change. I would like to add some readings as we go, partly in response to the interests of the class. Please remember that you must bring a copy of your books to class, and you must download, print, and bring to class the secondary sources posted to Blackboard (denoted with a BB). In theory, we will do two secondary readings per week, so expect readings to be added to those weeks that are short.

W 1/13         Introduction to course and key concepts; Discussion of Howards End and                                “The Ideology of Form: Notes on the Third World Novel”

W   1/20        On Beauty, pp. 1-271; On Beauty and Being Just pp. 1-33 & 46-53; “An                                     Aesthetics of Blackness,” bell hooks

W   1/27        On Beauty, pp. 272- 464; On Beauty and Being Just, pp. 54-124

W   2/3          Free Enterprise, pp. 1-120; “Contingencies of Value”

W   2/10        Free Enterprise, pp. 120-213; “‘Object into Subject’: Michelle Cliff, John                                                Ruskin, and the Terrors of Visual Art.”

W   2/17        Ways of Dying; “African Aesthetics”

W   2/24        GraceLand, pp. 1-153; “The Aesthetics of Vulgarity”

W   3/2          GraceLand, pp. 154-321; “Chris Abani and the Politics of Ambivalence”

W   3/9          Spring break—no class

W   3/16        Under African Skies, Screen in Beeghly before class; readings from Music,                               Modernity, and the Global Imagination            

W   3/23        The Moor’s Last Sigh, ch. 1-12; “Art and the Postcolonial Imagination”

W   3/30        The Moor’s Last Sigh, finish; “Art and the City: Salman Rushdie and his                                               Artists”

W 4/6                       Holder of the World; readings from Native Intelligence

W 4/13         The Wasted Vigil; secondary readings TBA

***Tuesday, 4/19 Frame by Frame Screening at the Strand***

W 4/20         Frame by Frame

W 4/27         The Wasted Vigil; secondary readings TBA

Grading Breakdown:

Participation 15%
Reading Journal 15%
Abstracts 15%
"The Aesthetics Of" Paper 20%
Film Response Paper 10%
Final Paper 25%

The following is just a brief overview. I will prepare and post detailed assignment sheets for the abstracts and papers.

Participation: Much of your grade this semester will be based on your participation in class. To earn a good participation grade you must, at minimum: complete the reading before class, bring your texts to class, show up to class with passages marked and discussion points/questions prepared, refrain from using cell phones, laptops and the like, and, most importantly, engage your classmates in thoughtful discussions about the novels and secondary sources. I expect much of your learning to come from vigorous discussion and debate.

Reading Journal: You will post a reading journal for each week of class. Your journal will respond to the one or more texts (including film) for the week. Your reading journals must be posted by 10pm the night before class. I will post a more detailed assignment sheet on Blackboard.

Abstracts: You will write abstracts for any two of our secondary sources. You may choose which ones, but the first must be turned in by Monday, 2/8 and the second by Monday, 2/22. I will post an assignment sheet on Blackboard. If you have never written an abstract, please spend time with the assignment sheet and reviewing some abstracts so you are familiar with the form.

“The Aesthetics of” Paper: This short paper will ask you to make an argument about what sort of aesthetics are offered in a particular novel. It will be 4-6 pages in length. This paper will be due Monday, 2/29.

Film Paper: This short paper will be a response to the artistic, political, and ethical dilemmas posed in the documentary Under African Skies. We will view the film before class meets on 3/16, and discuss the film in context of our broader aesthetic and political discussions on that date. This paper will be 2-3 pages in length and due Monday, March 21st.

Final Paper: Your final paper will address 1 or 2 novels, engage at least one theorist, and a total of at least three secondary sources. In order to help you prepare for your final paper, you will compose a formal paper proposal, which must be accompanied by preliminary bibliography of at least 6 sources. You will also be expected to conference with me at least once after I’ve commented on your proposal and preliminary bibliography. You should bring a partial draft to our conference. Proposal and preliminary bibliography due Monday, April 11th.

Due dates:
All assignments are due at 5pm via email

Monday, Feb 8           Abstract 1
Monday, Feb 22        Abstract 2
Monday, Feb 29        “Aesthetics of” Paper
Monday, March 21    Film paper
Monday, April 11      Paper proposal and annotated bibliography
Friday, April 22nd       Detailed outline of paper
Wednesday, May 4th             Final paper due