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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Balbir K Singh
ENGL 316
Seattle Campus

Postcolonial Literature and Culture

Readings of major texts and writers in postcolonial literature and culture. Surveys some of the most important questions and debates in postcolonial literature, including issues of identity, globalization, language, and nationalism. Cultural focus may vary; see professor for specific details.

Class description


In his Keywords essay on Orientalism, Vijay Prashad writes: “The analytical category ‘Orientalism’ enables an analysis of the ambiguity of imperialism, which is driven by the twin goals of supremacy and liberation…The urge to liberate is as fundamental as the requirement to subordinate. What is forbidden in the Orientalism of our period is for the “native” to speak in its vital variety—and, because that voice is muted, the native might choose means that are unspeakable. That is the price of Orientalism.”


This course explores postcolonialism through current configurations of orientalism and racial discourse. We will examine postcolonial literature and theory through a critique of what Prashad calls the “twin goals of supremacy and liberation”, goals inherent to the logics of the U.S. security state, imperial exploits, and various wars on ‘terror’. In order to explore what I call Orientalism’s afterlife, this course will approach postcolonial material historically through a literary and cultural studies-based examination of colonialism, imperial war, and terror in the modern world. As such, the course locates and divides, though not very neatly: we begin with a short survey and study of the concepts of orientalism, colonialism, and race through literature, art, and theory; move to a study of Algeria during the anti-colonial revolutionary movement of the early 1960s; and conclude with the present Global War on Terror.

This reading-intensive course will introduce students to the field of postcolonial studies. Our goal is not to survey the field of postcolonial studies, though students will learn many of its key concepts, but rather to understand the way in which postcolonial studies speaks to Orientalism, empire, and race. At its core, our task is to consider the following: gendered and sexual dimensions of the colonial project; the concern over revolutionary violence; neo-colonial conceptions of liberation; and the relationship between race and religion in contemporary Orientalist discourse, specifically on Islamophobia.

Furthermore, we will not focus on any one literary or artistic form, rather exploring historical and contemporary Orientalist discourse in the novel, drama, film, visual art, theoretical writing, and critical thought. Our tentative reading/viewing list includes work by: Prashad, Edward Said, Ania Loomba, Benedict Anderson, Gyan Prakash; Frantz Fanon, Gillo Pontecorvo, Jean Genet; Tayeb Saleh; Daisy Rockwell, Patrick Porter, Jasbir Puar, and Junaid Rana.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

This class will focus on the practice of close reading, and the subsequent translation of our analyses into well-crafted long and short essays that make clear arguments based on evidence found in the text and other sources. Class time will be dedicated to comprehension, examination, close reading, and application of the texts we have read. Daily attendance, active participation, and a clear engagement with class materials are vital for your success in this course.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Balbir K Singh
Date: 08/25/2012