Thursday, December 2, 2010

Exam #3: Postcolonial Play-Acting

Even though this is being assigned early, treat it like a normal final exam: sit down and give yourself 1-2 hours to complete it.  Of course, you can do it early or work on it on and off during the week.  However, the exam is due by on Tuesday.  Just don't look at this as a paper per se; it's not a paper, just a long-answer question on a typical exam. 

Choose ONE of the following scenarios to write a developed response, approximately 3-4 pages double spaced…

1.          You are a high school teacher, and want to teach Kim to your advanced English Literature class.  Unfortunately, the administration, which only knows Kipling from the poem “The White Man’s Burden” (, claims he is a politically incorrect, racist writer who has no place in a modern classroom.  Defend Kim as a colonial text that is critical of colonialism and plays into many important postcolonial ideas and writing.  Use the book for support and be as persuasive as possible—and don’t give in, even if it does cost you your job! 

2.         You are the director of the Indian Ministry of Tourism, and V.S. Naipaul’s book, An Area of Darkness, has just been released to tremendous acclaim.  A great danger of this book is that it can hurt tourism and make the country synonymous with caste injustice and excrement.  Write a response to specific passages of Naipaul’s book challenging his biases and national identity.  For example, many have accused Naipaul of being too “English” and seeing India as simply not English enough.  As an Indian, what cultural arguments can you make against his work that could not only promote tourism, but challenge his indictment of India’s “medieval mind”? 

REMEMBER, make a persuasive argument for Kipling or against Naipaul, and support this with a close reading of the text.  Don’t generalize or gloss over tricky issues; try to confront them head-on using Kipling or Naipaul’s actual language.  Also consider who you are as you write this: an educator who believes in the power of Kipling’s thought…or a government official who is outraged when an “outsider” tells the world the “truth” about India. 

Good luck! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For Tomorrow: Gracefully (or not) Wrapping Up the Course

Instead of reading more of Naipaul's An Area of Darkness, let's end at Chapter 7 and use tomorrow's class to wrap-up some of the course's ideas.  While I can't hope to provide a last word to the colonial/postcolonial debate, I want to suggest a general sense of what we can take away from the readings and where the issues of a postcolonial society remain to be explored.  I hope to avoid the common misconception that classes are taken "for a grade" and are simply a series of questions and answers; this class, like many of your English classes, is real...the ideas literally shape who writes and how they write, and how other people (in this country, in others) understand what is read.  Any book written in the 21st century can be arguably considered a 'postcolonial' text, as issues of identity, nationality, and power run through every word, character, and chapter.  So we'll do our best to sum up this immense and never-ending debate. 

REMEMBER: your paper is due on Friday IF you want comments by our final exam date; otherwise, it's due ON the Final Exam day, next Tuesday. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For Tuesday: An Area of Darkess, Chs. 6 & 7 (The Medieval City & Pilgrimage)

We're rapidly approaching the end of our class and our journey through colonial and postcolonial literature (though we've barely scratched the surface!).  Here are a few ideas to consider with the following chapters....

* How does Naipaul define the "medieval mind"?  Why might this be his greatest critique of Indian and many related postcolonial societies? 

* What view of history (both ancient and recent) is expressed by the people he meets in Chapter 5?  Why does this upset Naipaul?

* Why does Naipaul write that "religious enthusiasm derived, in performance and admiration, from simplicity, from a knowledge of religion only as ritual and form"? 

* Why is Naipaul continually unable to find the "Trinidadian India" in India itself?  What has changed from one world to the next?  What does he expect to find in India, and does he feel one is more "real" than another?  Is Trinidad more pure because it exiled itself from the mainland and stayed true to its values? 

* How does Naipaul feel about the other tourists--particularly American--that he meets on his travels?  How does he distinguish his travels from theirs?  Are they "tourists" in the perjorative sense? 

* Why does Naipaul go on the pilgrimage to see the sacred "lingam"?  What does he hope to see/experience there?  What does he experience?

Friday, November 19, 2010

For Tuesday: An Area of Darkness (Chs.3-5)

Naipaul today, signing a book...
Some ideas to consider...

* How does Naipaul understand/analyze Gandhi's legacy in India?  Why does he write, for instance, "“He looked at India as no Indian was able to; his vision was direct, and this directness was, and is, revolutionary.  He sees exactly what the visitor sees; he does not ignore the obvious" ? 

* According to these chapters, does Naipaul believe the tradition-bound world of India can make a transition to the 20th century?  Can a postcolonial society use its cultural past to forge links to the modern (and perhaps, Western) world? 

* Why is shit important in India?  How does it help Naipaul "read" India? 

* Where does Naipaul find colonial relics and outright British behavior in India?  What does India 'mimic' from Britain and why? 

* In general, how does Naipaul appreciate such fundamental Indian texts such as The Bhagavad Gita, the Kama Sutra, etc.?  Does he respect the cultura/spiritual authority of these texts?  Or do they, too, create an "area of darkness" for those who read/follow them? 

* What is the significant of the servant, Aziz, to Naipaul?  How does it help him understand Indian culture and the power dynamic of colonialism? 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For Thursday: V.S. Naipaul, An Area of Darkness (pp.9-67)

NOTE: V.S. Naipaul won the Noble Prize in Literature in 2001, and is one of the most famous (and to some, most hated) of "postcolonial" writers.  He is originally from Trinidad (in the Caribbean), but comes from an Indian/Hindu background.  As a young man he successfully passed exams to obtain a scholarship to study in Oxford, where he recieved a BA degree (studying under Tolkein, among others!).  He quickly became a famous novelist through his works about Trinidadian society, particularly with his most famous book, A House for Mr. Biswas, a semi-autobiographical novel about his father.  After this he turned to writing about the world at large, exposing the postcolonial world's tendency to cling to tradition and imperialist beliefs.  Naipaul became increasingly interested in non-fiction, focusing on works of travel writing (such as An Area of Darkness) which mix travelogue, history, and fiction into a new and exciting genre.  In the last ten years he has returned to novel writing, reworking many old themes into a shorter, more focused critique of the postcolonial world.  His collected papers and manuscripts are deposited at the University of Tulsa (like Rhys!), and he has visited TU to give talks in the past (where I was lucky enough to attend one).  So he has a bona-fide connection to Oklahoma! 

When reading An Area of Darkness, consider some of the following...

* Does Naipaul seem "Indian"?  How does the narrative betray his own issues of identity?  (think of Kim!)

* How does India remind him of his upbringing in Trinidad?  Consider the following passage: "And in India I was to see that so many of the things which the newer and now perhaps truer side of my nature kicked against—the smugness, as it seemed to be, the imperviousness to criticism, the refusal to see, the double-talk and double-think—had an answer in that side of myself which I had thought buried and which India revived as a faint memory (35-36). 

* How does the opening Prelude allow him to examine issues of caste in modern India? 

* Where does he find vestiges of colonialism in his travels? 

* How does the traveler's perspective allow him to see or experience India from a unique perspective?  Why might this technique be more suitable for a postcolonial writer than, say, simply writing a novel about India? 

* Why is the work called "An Area of Darkness"?  Is the same "darkness" we find in Conrad's Africa?  Consider the following quote, "And it was clear that here, and not in Greece, the East began: in this chaos of uneconomical movement, the self-stimulated din, the sudden feeling of insecurity, the conviction that all men were not brothers and that luggage was in danger" (10). 

Monday, November 15, 2010

For Tuesday: Finish Kim if possible!

Tomorrow will be our last day on Kim.  I want to focus specifically on what happens in the end, how other critics view this, and how we read Kim's ultimate "career"--as a chela (Indian) or as an agent (Sahib).  Consider how some of the previous questions are resolved--or not--in these final chapters.  Also note the appearance of the 'Woman of Shamleigh,' who resembles ' 'Lisbeth' from Kipling's earlier story...what is her role in the plot?  What role/voice do women have in this predominantly male adventure narrative? 

I plan to start Naipaul's An Area of Darkness on Thursday, so make sure you have it handy.  A lot of Naipaul will speak to issues in Kipling, and indeed, in a later chapter he even talks about "Kipling's India" and makes references to Kim and other stories.  Indians have a long and very ambivalent relationship to Kim, with some writers more or less admiring his achivement (such as Rushdie, Narayan), while others are critical of the man but find selected truths in his fiction (Naipaul). 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Paper Assignment: "The Great Game": The Colonial/Postcolonial Audience

In Reader-Response Criticism, critics often refer to an intended reader that is implied by the narrative voice.  This is a reader who is more or less created by the text, and who we must in some sense become to understand the work.  As Ross C. Murfin explains in “What is Reader Response Criticism?” (in our edition of Heart of Darkness):

“Only “by agreeing to play the role of this created audience,” Susan Suleiman explains, “can an actual reader correctly understand and appreciate the work”…Gerard Genette and Gerald Prince prefer to speak of “the naratee,…the necessary counterpart of a given narrator, that is, the person or figure who receives a narrative,”…Iser employs the term “the implied reader,” but he also uses “the educated reader”… (120). 

Using your take-home exam as a basis (I fully expect you to incorporate this reading into the final paper) I want you to choose one colonial work (Oroonoko, Heart of Darkness, Kim) and one postcolonial work (Wide Sargasso Sea, Kim, An Area of Darkness) to analyze on the level of writer & audience.  Who is he/she writing to?  What is the implied audience the author creates, and that we, in a sense, have to become (or reject)?  What things are supposed to be understood to this audience, and what is supposed to stand out as exotic and/or disruptive?  This is especially interesting with postcolonial writers, who are often writing within native traditions and languages, yet are being published in England and read by an English/American audience.  How does this audience shape the work and the author’s material (the plot, characters, denouement, etc.)? 

  • You MUST use two books from class.  You can bring in another book as support, but the focus should be readings of one colonial and one postcolonial text.
  • The books can be from different regions; for example, Oroonoko and The Palm-Wine Drinkard.
  • You should have 2-3 critical sources in addition to the primary sources.  Critical sources could include handouts such as Ngugi’s “The Language of African Literature” and Freud’s “The Uncanny,” or books and articles found via the library or JSTOR, etc. 
  • Close reading is very important!  Don’t skim, don’t summarize more than necessary, and don’t generalize.  Cite all sources according to MLA documentation.
  • AT LEAST 4 pages, though more is welcome.  Remember—you have a good 2 pages written already!  Try to develop your take-home essay with sources and perhaps a closer reading (if necessary). 
  • DUE FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3rd (if you want it back with comments by exam day); OR EXAM DAY (if you don’t want it back until next semester). 

Good luck!  Please e-mail me with questions or concerns.