ENGL 680 A1: Race, Literature and the Colonial Subject

O. Okome

This course pairs and critically analyzes literary texts from Europe and Africa, paying due attention to reading the literary strategies employed by European authors writing about Africa since the 17th century beginning with the now famous case of the South African woman, Saatja Baartman. A key aim of this course is to read the debates and subsequent construction of the popular idea of the African continent and its people in this category of European literature. Mobilizing the social and cultural context in which this literature flourished, this course will examine the concerns of African writers in the 20th century who respond to the image of Africa inscribed in this category of European literary text. Basing this study on a theoretical synthesis of the leading voices of literary theorists such as Franz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Amilcar Cabral and Edward Said, the pairing of these texts enables a reading of two categories of texts that have attained canonical status for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are all intricately tied to discourses of race, literature and the idea of the other. Featuring William Shakespeare's Othello and Tempest, Charlotte Bronte's famous novel, Jane Eyre, and the equally canonical but controversial short novel by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, students who take this class will be encouraged to re-read these Europe texts from the perspective of writers such Jean Rys, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Aime Cesesire. Insisting as Elleke Boehme does that the heyday of the European colonial enterprise "…was conceived and maintained in an array of writings… and inspired by the exercise of reading," students will study the texts mentioned above as works of literature defined not solely by their aesthetic merits but by the careful insertion of the race politics of Europe since the 17th century. Shakespeare Tempest will be read side by side Aime Cesaire A Tempest and Conrad's Heart of Darkness will be studied from the perspective of Chinua Achebe's work as a theorist and novelist, and with particular reference to his African canon, Things Fall Apart. Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, will be paired with Jean Rhys' rendering of the Caribbean creole woman of the 20th century. What, for example, was the profit in creating and disseminating an exotic and primitive Africa and its diaspora in the so-called canonical European literature of adventures and other forms of the travel novel since the 17th century? Was it merely for Europe to "settle unto itself" as Edward Said concludes? What do the narratives about Africa and the African character reveal about racial attitude in Europe of that period? By reading Chinua Achebe (1958) and Wole Soyinka (1971) against Joseph Conrad; Jean Ryhs against Charlotte Bronte and Aime Cesaire against William Shakespeare, this course interrogates the trope of race as an indispensable part of the European canon, tracking the uses of the discourses of blackness as signs of racial inferiority.


A selection of literary and film text will be made available before the commencement of this class.