Laura H Chrisman
Survey of current issues confronting literary critics today, based on revolving themes and topics. Focuses on debates and developments affecting English language and literatures, including questions about: the relationship of culture and history; the effect of emergent technologies on literary study; the rise of interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities.
States of Emergency. This course considers aesthetic strategies associated with political crisis. It focuses on South Africa whose system of rigid racial segregation erupted into open confrontation during the 1980s, as anti-racist, communist and black community activists coalesced to challenge the racist state. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and authorizing extreme force. Accompanying political agitation was an explosion of literary creativity and fervent critical debate about aesthetics, among academics, activists and creative writers. This course engages with these debates and considers them within a broader context of Marxist, nationalist and postcolonial approaches to literary production, social domination and resistance. Four major and contrasting novels, by black, white and ‘Coloured’ writers Mongane Serote, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee and Zoe Wicomb, published during this turbulent decade, provide the literary components of the course and serve to anchor the aesthetic-political debates. Among questions to be explored are: does realist fiction reinforce the politics of liberal reformism, or can it promote social revolution? Does metafictional experimentation promote individualism at the expense of collective values and agendas? What types of racial ideology are embedded within these aesthetic strategies? What kinds of anti-colonial resistance and solidarity become possible to imagine during a state of emergency? Do black and white writers differ in their deployment of narrative forms?
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