English and Film Studies

ENGL 223 A1: Reading Politics: Empire and the Postcolonial

Reflecting upon life in British Kenya, the anti-colonial activist N’Gugi Wa’Thiongo wrote: “The night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard.  The physical violence of the battlefield was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle.” This course invites students to consider the relationship between culture and imperialism, introducing key critical concepts developed by literary critics seeking to explain the ways in which texts help manufacture consent. Though imperialism has always existed in one form or another, our particular interest will be the British Empire, the political and military force that laid the groundwork for, among others, the settler nation of Canada. Together we will read texts published at the height of the British Empire in order to appreciate the diverse ways empire is represented in culture. Then we will turn to postcolonial reflections upon the uncomfortable and unresolved legacies of European imperial practices. Along the way we will become familiar with the seminal theoreticians from the field of postcolonial studies (Achebe; Bhabha; Said), but also their influential precursors (Marx and Engels; Gramsci) as well as successors (Chibber; Hardt & Negri; Khanna; Laclau and Mouffe).

Texts (subject to change)

Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
J.M. Coetzee. Waiting for the Barbarians 

Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness"
Homi Bhabha, from The Location of Culture
Patrick Brantlinger, from Rule of Darkness
Aime Cesaire, from Discourse on Colonialism
Vivek Chibber, from Postcolonialism and the Spectre of Capital
Franz Fanon, from The Wretched of the Earth
Antonio Gramsci, from Selections from the Prison Notebooks
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, from Empire
Ranjana Khanna, from Dark Continents
Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, from Hegemony and Socialist Strategy
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, from The German Ideology
Edward Said, from Culture and Imperialism
Raymond Williams, from Marxism and Literature