Even though postcolonialism is said to have come to an end by the turn of the third millennium, its focus around the multiple implications of centre-margin relationships as they continue to develop in our global transnational world is still highly relevant. A variety of other “isms” – such as late postmodernism, late poststructuralism, post-communism, post-feminism, post-imperialism, transnationalism etc. owe postcolonialism a critical focus on margins and minorities, as well as the context-specific cultural artefacts they produce. After the turn of the new millennium, we tend to talk less about postcolonialism and more about trends of thought that are, to a certain extent, outcomes of certain strands of postcolonial thinking, such as, on the one hand, transnationalism and transculturalism and, on the other hand, ecocriticism and environmental studies.
Since Homi Bhabha’s 1994 The Location of Culture, cultural acts have been approached in context-specific ways. Against the background of late postmodern identity crisis and further into the third millennium, Indian culture provides one of the most representative bodies of fictional and theatrical work. Why is this the case? Is it because India was the most cherished possession of the British Empire, “the pearl in the British crown”, one of the main economic sources of its power in the Victorian Age or because it has produced a literature in English of significant consequence in the last several decades? Or, rather, because it has brought a most desired well-told, well-written storytelling practice, which reads the present through the lens of a rich body of narrative and performance tradition, into the fragmented landscape of today’s world?
The course sets out to approach postcolonialism as a way of thinking about today’s world and explore the current relevance of postcolonial critique, using contemporary Indian fiction in English as a case study. Whilst recent Indian fiction in English will be our main focus (approached from a thematic rather than chronological perspective), narrative texts will be read in conjunction with the tradition of theatrical performance going hand in hand with storytelling in Indian culture. We will discuss the significance of writing in English and focus on the continuous opening-up of Resident and Non-Resident Indian writing to a worldwide readership. This goes beyond the postcolonial centre-margin dichotomy towards a cultivation of specific individualities that draw inspiration from storytelling, performance and myth. The purpose of the course is to open up the students’ horizon of literary and contextual knowledge to an important body of writing that addresses the legacy of postcolonialism in different ways and to ask questions regarding its situatedness on the common ground between the literary traditions of British culture, Indian traditions and the various identity and environmental crises of today’s post-postmodern, late-postcolonial, post-pandemic world.
Instructor: Dr Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru
Schedule and Readings (starred texts are optional)
Week 1: Introduction. Postcolonialism within Cultural Studies and its relevance to today’s world. Why India?
Bill Buford, ‘Comment: Declarations of Independence’, in The New Yorker, June 23 &30, 1997, pp. 6-11.
*Robert J.C. Young, “Postcolonial Remains”. New Literary History 43, 1 (Winter 2012). 19-42.
*Neil Lazarus, “Introducing postcolonial studies”. The Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies, ed. Neil Lazarus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 1-16.
Week 2: Colonialism and postcolonialism. Western colonialism, India and climate change
Amitav Ghosh, from The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021 (Chapter 1: “A Lamp Falls” and Chapter 3: “The Fruits of the Nutmeg Have Died”)
*Robert J.C. Young, “Colonialism” and “Postcolonialism”. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. 15-24 and 57-70.
Week 3: From English literature on India to Indian literature in English
Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden”, “Lispeth”
Raja Rao, Foreword to Kanthapura (1938), Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. V-vi.
*Amit Chaudhuri, ‘The Construction of the Indian Novel in English’, in The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature. London: Macmillan, 2001. xxiii-xxxi.
*A. K. Ramanujan, “Is There an Indian Way of Thinking? An Informal Essay”. Amit Chaudhuri (ed.), The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature. London: Picador, 2001. 420-437.
Week 4: Salman Rushdie and the personal biography/ national history allegory
Fredric Jameson, ‘Third World Literature In the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, Social Text 15 (Fall), 1986, pp. 65-88.
Salman Rushdie, ‘“Errata”: or, Unreliable Narration in Midnight’s Children’, in Imaginary Homelands, ed. cit., pp. 22-25.
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, London: Vintage, 1995.
Screening of Deepa Mehta’s 2012 film Midnight’s Children
Week 5: Postcolonial literatures. Writing back to the centre
Salman Rushdie, “The Empire Writes Back with a Vengeance”. The Times, 3 July 1982. 8.
Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, Introduction to The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, London and NY: Routledge, 1989, pp. 1-13.
*C.L. Innes, “Alternative histories and writing back”. The Cambridge Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 37-55.
Week 6: Stories, theories and the world
Salman Rushdie, “The Firebird’s Nest”. The New Yorker, June 23&30, 1997, pp. 122-127.
Homi Bhabha, “The Commitment to Theory”. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. 19-39.
*Homi Bhabha (ed.), “Introduction: Narrating the Nation”. Nation and Narration. London and New York: Routledge, 1990.
*Aijaz Ahmad, “Jameson’s Rhetoric of Otherness and the ‘National Allegory’”, Social Text 17 (Fall), 1987, pp. 3-25.
Week 7: Rewriting history, myth and tradition. Re-definitions of Indian storytelling and the novel genre
From Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?”, Representations 37 (Winter 1992). 1-16.
*Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru, “Alternatives to the Novel Form: Oral Storytelling and Internet Patterns in Vikram Chandra’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain”. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 43.3, 2008. 45-60.
Vikram Chandra, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, London and Boston: Faber & Faber, 1995.
Week 8: Storytelling and performance in Indian literature
Ralph Yarrow, Introduction to Indian Theatre: Theatre of Origin, Theatre of Freedom. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2001. 1-31.
*Girish Karnad, ‘Author’s Introduction’ to Three Plays: Naga-Mandala, Hayavadana, Tughlaq. Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1994, pp. 1-18.
Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, London: Viking, 1999.
Weeks 9-10: Intercultural theatre, performance and film. Telling contemporary stories through performance across borders
Readings and viewings:
Peter Brook, ‘The Mahabharata’. The Shifting Point: Forty Years of Theatrical Exploration 1946-1987, London: Methuen, 1988. 160-165.
From David Williams, Peter Brook and the Mahabharata. Critical Perspectives, London and New York: Routledge, 1991.
*Azadeh Sharifi, from “Theatre of Migration: The British Theatre Scene”. Independent Theatre in Contemporary Europe. Ed. Manfred Brauneck. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2017. 321-332 and 353-355.
Peter Brook, The Mahabharata (1985) (video screening)
Vishal Bhardwaj, Omkara, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello (2006) (video screening)
Gurinder Chadha, Bride and Prejudice (2004) (video screening)
Week 11: Diasporic India. Reinventing home
Homi Bhabha, ‘Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of the colonial discourse’, in The Location of Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1994, pp. 85-92.
Hanif Kureishi, ‘Hanif Kureishi on London’, interview with Colin McCabe, Critical Quarterly, 41:3, Autumn 1999, pp. 37-45.
Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia. London: Faber & Faber, 1990.
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland. New York: Knopf, 2013.
Week 12: Women, the keepers of stories: écriture feminine and the new Indian exotic
Graham Huggan, Introduction to The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. 1-33.
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, London: Flamingo, 1997.
Githa Hariharan, The Thousand Faces of Night, London: Viking, 1992.
Jhumpa Lahiri, from Interpreter of Maladies. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. (“The Third and Final Continent” or “Interpreter of Maladies”).
Week 13: From rhizomatic narrative to ecocriticism in Indian fiction
*Huggan, Graham and Helen Tiffin. Introduction to Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment, 2010. 1-26.
—. “Green Postcolonialism”. Interventions, 9 (1) 2007: 1-11. DOI: 10.1080/13698010601173783.
Amitav Ghosh, Gun Island. London: John Murray, 2019.
Week 14: Creating an online community of readers: Indian literature and the cyberworld. Round-up and discussion of essay topics
*James O’Sullivan, “Authorship and Reading in the Digital Age”. Towards a Digital Poetics: Electronic Literature and Literary Games. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 61-75.
Vikram Chandra, “Virtual Reality on Infinite Bandwidth”: Vikram Chandra interviewed by Maria-Sabina Alexandru, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 40:2.5-21.
*Vikram Chandra, Geek Sublime. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2014.
Requirements and evaluation
- A minimum of 50% attendance
- Students are expected to read compulsory (unstarred) texts and one full novel of their choice (see titles in red). The length of readings for every class can be negotiated, but please make sure you read something for every class!
- Participation in class discussions and a presentation on a topic of your choice (ideally related to your broader individual research interests), counting for 40% of the final mark
- An end-of-term written essay on a comparative topic, using two primary sources (one being the novel you have read) and a minimum of three secondary sources (of which at least one should be from the course reading list), counting for 60% of the final mark