World Literature in English

Ann Rea, World Literature in English, Fall 2016

Course Description:

The term “World Literature” has come to describe literary texts that circulate outside the country of their origin, and has two different forms of usage. This course will use texts from each of these kinds of “World Literature” categories. The first usage indicates texts from many different cultures, written in many languages, many of them ancient or from the past. Some high schools teach Virgil’s The Aeneid, for example, and often do so in a course called “World Literature.” Another use of the term has developed in more recent decades and denotes literature, mostly from former British colonies, written in English even though it originates in countries where English is not the first language. Writers in these countries choose to write in English either because that ensures a wider reading audience outside their own country in a “world literature” market, or, in the case of India, English may ensure an additional wider reading audience inside their own country where people speak many languages. Salman Rushdie, the novelist and essayist, writes that English has become India’s national literary language.

The circulation of literary texts changes according to the historical period and circumstances in which the texts were written. An example of this is that in the nineteenth century, European writers would expect that their works would be translated and circulated throughout other parts of Europe, so that a novelist writing in France would influence writers in other parts of Europe and perhaps beyond, at least in Russia. Charles Dickens, for example, who depicted life in industrializing, urbanizing England, influenced one of the writers we will read in this class, the Russian Fyodor Dostoyevsky who also portrayed Russian cities and poor city dwellers. We will read Crime and Punishment in translation since Dostoyevsky wrote in Russian, in addition to English translations of some of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories, which also influenced Dostoyevsky. Russian writers in turn exerted enormous influence over writing in India in the twentieth century, when India underwent these kinds of changes and became an industrial nation with growing cities. We will read two texts that show that Russian influence on contemporary Indian writers, Aravinda Adiga’s The White Tiger and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. While each of our readings offers merit in itself, we will also have the opportunity to trace influences and lines of development across cultures and historic periods. This means, in turn, that we will move across the usual constructs of what “World Literature” means, perhaps even moving outside what that term usually denotes, since The Namesake often appears on reading lists for American literature courses and describes immigration to the United States by an Indian family, yet still may be see as “world literature.”

Within colonized countries such as India, literary influence worked differently than influence between various European cultures, since European and especially English writing exerted cultural power that imposed economic and linguistic force. English was introduced to India under British imperialism and while it was the language of the oppressors, English also became steeped in Indian culture in a highly complex way. As the language of literary study and also of legal authority, it exerted a power that marked it off from the native Indian languages; yet for many contemporary writers English is their literary language. For them to write in English is to gain access to an international literary community and marketplace that the use of their Indian languages would not provide.

Clearly the concept of English as a literary language is highly complex then, and yet the Indian writers on our list also show influence from Russia which worked in a different way. Historians have often remarked that India never became communist, even though some Indian political thinkers looked to Russia as a model of a vast, highly populated country whose modernization created great upheaval and poverty among its lower classes. A literary comparison with Russia alerts us to a different strand of political and cultural influence that allows us to see an India that we might not otherwise see. Reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment will influence our view of Adiga’s The White Tiger, set in the commercially aggressive city of Bangalore, raising the question of modernity and its relationship to traditional culture throughout these huge changes in economic practice. After reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “The Interpreter of Maladies” that encourages readers to think of fiction writing as interpretation, we will finish the semester with Amitav Ghosh’s novel, The Hungry Tide, which explores ideas about translation and the difficulties of understanding cultures that are different from our own.

Reading List:

- Nikolai Gogol, The Overcoat and Other Short Stories, Dover (various translators)
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment Penguin edition, translated by Oliver Ready
- Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
- Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
- Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide
- Please make sure that you buy the listed editions of the Gogol and Dostoyevsky texts so that we all have the same translations.

Syllabus: 

Ann Rea, World Literature in English, Fall 2015

Course Description:

This course examines contemporary literature, primarily in English, written in Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, etc. It pays particular attention to its depiction of social, political, and moral concerns. Prerequisite: ENGCMP 0004 or ENGCMP 0006.

Required Texts:

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
Eavan Boland, Object Lessons
Doris Lessing, The Grass is Singing
J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
Nadine Gordimer, The Pickup

Syllabus: 

Ann Rea, World Literature in English, Spring 2013

Course Description:

This course examines contemporary literature, primarily in English, written in Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, etc. It pays particular attention to its depiction of social, political, and moral concerns. Prerequisite: ENGCMP 0004 or ENGCMP 0006.

Required Texts:

-Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
-Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
-Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
-Eavan Boland, Object Lessons
-Doris Lessing, The Grass is Singing
-J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
-Nadine Gordimer, The Pickup

Syllabus: 
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