Spring, 2013
English 56:350:595:01/56:606:611:04
M 6:00-8:40
ATG 222
M.A.R. Habib
Armitage 425
Tel: 856 225 6121
Office Hrs: M 4.10-6.00 or by appt.

A. Required Texts:

  1. David Damrosch, ed., The Longman Anthology of World Literature: Volume F: The Twentieth Century. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004. ISBN: 0-321-05536-5 (WL)
  2. Material posted on Sakai under “Texts” under “Resources.” Please note that some of these files are large and will take some time to download.
  3. Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. New York: Random House, 2003. ISBN: 0-8129-7106-X.

B. Recommended Text:

M.A.R. Habib, Modern Literary Criticism and Theory (Blackwell, 2007). ISBN: 9781405176668. This contains fairly thorough introductions to the major critical thinkers and movements of the twentieth century, including post-colonial theory and its backgrounds.

C. Objectives of this Course:

Through taking this course, the student should:

  1. acquire a thorough knowledge of the issues involved in the concept of “World Literature”;
  2. foster habits of associative, comparative, and contextual thinking and reading, in order to situate a literary text in both local and global settings;
  3. develop an ability to read and understand difficult theoretical essays;
  4. understand the cultural limitations of various modern literary theories, as well as of our classical (and Romantic) literary-critical assumptions;
  5. be familiar with the global significance of “translation,” its potential gains and losses, and its fundamentality to the interpretative process;
  6. improve her ability to write a lucid, focused, and coherent analysis of a literary text, informed by a detailed awareness of form, theme, history, and ideology;
  7. enhance her capacity to engage in collaborative learning.

D. Course Requirements:

  1. one paper [8-10 pages, double-spaced type; 20% of course grade]; topic and deadline to be discussed in class;               
  2. two class presentations (5% each); each class will begin with two students jointly presenting on a text and its background, and jointly leading a discussion on that text for 20 minutes;
  3. a journal [30%] in which students are to write regularly. You should write a minimum of two pages (double-spaced type) for each text, answering a question of your own construction. The journal will be submitted twice, on March 11 and April 29; each entry should be dated and typed. The journal will be graded on:
    1. thoroughness: each entry must show that you have carefully read the text;
    2. quality of thought and critical engagement with the text;
    3. using brief quotations or citations from the text, giving page numbers;
    4. promptness: you must have your journal entry ready at the beginning of class, and   you must post it on Sakai, under “Blogs” before the beginning of each class;
    5. please also see the guidelines for “Journal Writing” on my web site.
  4. a  final exam [30%], Monday, May 13, 6-9 p.m.
  5. the quality of class participation counts for 10%;
  6. attendance: any unexcused absence will lower the student’s grade by one point, e.g. from D to D-. The use of  phones or notebook computers during class is not allowed.
  7. Please note that plagiarism – the representation of someone else’s work, from whatever source, as your own – carries severe penalties. The University definition and policy are available at:

E. Course Description:

A study of post-colonial literatures in the twentieth century by authors from various parts the world, focusing on the Middle East, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. These texts will be examined in their historical contexts, with due emphasis upon their interrelations. Rather than trying to cover a sampling of texts from many cultures, this course focuses on a more in-depth treatment of salient literary, philosophical, and ideological issues in two or three cultures, from a variety of analytical perspectives. The themes and issues to be pursued include:

  1. the problematic status of language;
  2. the problems of identity: definition of self, world, and other;
  3. revolutions in literary form and theme;
  4. notions of exile, hybridity, migration, nation and cultural schizophrenia;
  5. race and imperialism, including Western views of the “Orient”;
  6. the notion of “empire” as defined by recent theorists;
  7. the treatment of gender and feminist revaluations of mainstream philosophical assumptions;
  8. the connections between “post-colonial” thought and Western postmodernism and Western literary/cultural theory;
  9. the concept of “World Literature.”

A basic assumption behind this course is that World Literature is not comprised by mere content or by mere coverage of any variety of texts. Rather, it is a way of  reading, of approaching texts from any given cultures in their profoundest interconnections in a global setting where aesthetic and ideological perspectives are constantly shifting. Hence, what furnishes the unity of this course is not a selection of texts according to geography or history but rather a sustained focus on an internal core  — the interplay between Western and Eastern visions as shaped by imperial and post-colonial history – which is refracted through diverging and layered narratives of empire, gender, religion, literature, aesthetics, and media. It is in their mutually challenging capacity that these narratives may prove to be equally illuminating; in their mutually limiting dialectic, they might point toward not a synthesis but a productive sublation, a broadening and deepening of both perspectives which yet retains their distinctive merits.

F. Weekly Class Assignments:


In this unit, we will look at various influential attempts to define “World Literature” beyond the naïve understanding of this term that has until recently underlain survey courses. Why is “World Literature” such an important concept today? What does it mean to situate a text in a global context? What kind of curricular and pedagogical rethinking is required here? We will look at statements made by some of the spokespeople for Western imperialism, such as John Ruskin and Rudyard Kipling. We will also examine closely a debate concerning the characteristics of so-called “Third World” literature. To illustrate its thesis, Fredric Jameson’s essay uses as an example a text by a Chinese writer, Lu Xun. Hence we will read this text before analyzing Jameson’s essay and Ahmed’s response to it. We will also analyze a short story by the Indian writer Premchand, which takes an ironic view of colonial education.

Week 1: Jan 28: Issues in Defining World Literature:

  1. David Damrosch, “World Enough and Time,” in What is World Literature? (Princeton University Press, 2003) (Sakai)
  2. Pascale Casanova, “The World and the Literary Trousers,” in The World Republic of Letters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004) (Sakai)
  3. M.A.R. Habib, “World Literature” (Sakai)

Week 2: Feb 4: Empire Writing, and Writing Back:

  1. John Ruskin, Conclusion to Inaugural Lecture (1870) (Sakai)
  2. Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) (Sakai)
  3. Lu Xun, A Madman’s Diary (1918) (Sakai)
  4. Premchand, “My Big Brother” (WL)

Week 3: Feb 11: A Debate about the “Third World”: Part I:     

  1. Kirk A. Denton, Review of  Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun, translated by William Lyell (Sakai)
  2. Fredric Jameson, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism” (Sakai)

Week 4: Feb 18: A Debate about the “Third World”: Part II:

Aijaz Ahmed, “Jameson’s Rhetoric of Otherness and National Allegory” (Sakai)


Much has been said in the Western media about the status of women in Islam. Over the last two decades a number of female Islamic writers have attempted to correct misapprehensions on this issue. They have endeavored to show how much Western feminist theory is misconceived in extrapolating Western assumptions into other cultures, effectively perpetuating strategies of cultural imperialism. Others have argued that the very notion of Islamic feminism is an oxymoron. We will look at a number of female writers from the Middle East, and an essay which takes a critical look at both Western and Islamic feminism. Finally, we will examine an essay written by one of the foremost spokesmen for Islam in the twentieth century, the Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal, whose analysis of religion is conducted at an intellectual level far removed from the facile characterizations of Islam today which permeate both Eastern and Western cultures.

Week 5: Feb 25: Women’s Memoirs, Fiction, Poetry:

  1. Fatima Mernissi (Morocco), “The Harem Within” (WL)
  2. Hanan al-Shaykh (Lebanon),  “A Season of Madness” (WL)
  3. Farough Faroghzad (Iran), “A Poem for You  (WL, 1051)

Week 6: Mar 4: Theorizing Feminism:

Shahrzad Mojab, “Theorizing the Politics of ‘Islamic Feminism” (Sakai)

Week 7: March 11: Theorizing Religion:

Theorizing Religion: Muhammad Iqbal, “Is Religion Possible?” in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 1984) (Sakai)


The importance of translation in understanding literature – at both local and global levels – is now perhaps more deeply appreciated than ever before. While it is a cliché, inspired by Frost and others, that much is lost in translation, many theorists and writers today acknowledge the central role of translation, not only in fostering connections between cultures but, in its capacity as self-conscious act of interpretation, illuminating the very process of reading itself, drawing attention to both local elements of form and larger cultural presuppositions as shaping the hermeneutic process. In this unit, we will consider some theories of translation, as well as translations (in two fields where I  happen to have some experience) of Urdu poetry and Qur’anic scripture. This unit is continuous with the previous one on feminism and Islam inasmuch as it will involve examining various translations of the Qur’anic passages on women, as well as the work of feminist and modernist poets in Urdu, whose work, informed judiciously by Western influences, was subversive of indigenous literary traditions.

Week 8: March 25: Translating the Arabic of the Qur’an:

  1. Jeremy Munday, “Main issues of Translation Studies” (Sakai)
  2. Passages from the Qur’an concerning women’s rights, duties, and status (Sakai)

Week  9: Apr 1: Translating Urdu Poetry:

  1. Fahmida Riaz (Sakai): a feminist voice in Pakistan
  2. N.M. Rashed (Sakai): treatment of love and sexuality
  3. Faiz Ahmed Faiz (WL and Sakai)
  4. Jeremy Munday, “Postcolonial Translation Theory” (Sakai)
  5. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “The Politics of Translation” (Sakai)


When Azar Nafisi’s novel Reading Lolita in Tehran came out in 2003,  it became a best-seller for a long time. Notwithstanding its popularity, the book was subjected to sharp criticism on account of its portrayal of Iranian life and politics. This unit will provide us an opportunity to analyze the connections between literature and ideology from various vantage points. The debates here are very heated and involve issues such as exile, hybridity, and the internal connections between cultural and political imperialism. We will first read the novel itself, and then a specific reaction against it, followed by an essay which attempts a broader contextualization of its wide appeal.

Week 10: April 8: Writing Iran in Fiction and Poetry:

  1. Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)
  2. Reza Baraheni, poems (WL)

Week 11: April 15: Reactions:

  1. “Native Informers and the Making of the American Empire” (Sakai)
  2. “Why Americans Love Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran” (Sakai)


The Arab “Spring” or revolution is far from finished; it began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen. It is still raging in Syria and has been resurrected in Egypt. In the West, we have grown accustomed to aestheticist notions of literary autonomy, inculcated with the idea of reading literature as literature. But this notion is relatively recent; it began (in systematic formulation) with Kant and would not have been recognized by Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare or any other writer before the late eighteenth century. The Arab Spring is testament to the continued power of  poetry and the newly-minted power of digital media to inspire political change. The words of a Tunisian poet  resounded on the streets of Tunisia, and the words of previous  generations of Arab poets such as Nizar Qabbani and Mahmoud Derwish have persisted in their motivational force. In this unit, we will look at the role of  both traditional (revolutionary) poetry and of the revolutionizing media. We will also read an essay that approaches aesthetics from an Islamic philosophical perspective. Issues to be considered include the connection between literature and politics, and between literature and new media, as well as the need to reconfigure our notions of literary theory in a global setting.

Week 12: April 22: Poetry of Revolution:

  1. “Islamic Aesthetics: An Alternative Way to Knowledge” (Sakai)
  2. Nazim Hikmet, “Regarding Art” (WL)
  3. Nizar Qabbani (Syria), “Footnotes to the Book of the Setback” (Sakai)
  4. Poetry: Fadwa Tuqwan, Mahmoud Derwish (WL); Abul-Qasim al Shabi (Sakai)
  5. Yehuda Amichai (Israel), “The Diameter of the Bomb” (Sakai)

Week 13: April 29: Media and Revolution:

  1. “The Arab Spring and the Role of ICTs”
  2. “The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation: a Case Study of the January 2011 Egyptian Uprising”

Week 14: May 6: Review

Selective Bibliography 

Recent Articles of Interest:

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change,” New Literary History 43.1 (2012): 1-18.
  • Halverson, Jeffry R.  and Amy K. Way, “Islamist Feminism: Constructing Gender Identities in Postcolonial Muslim Societies,” Politics and Religion 4.3 (2011): 503-525.
  • Lau, Lisa. “Re-Orientalism: The Perpetration and Development of Orientalism by Orientals,” Modern Asian Studies (2007).


  • Boehmer, Elleke, ed. Empire Writing: An Anthology of Colonial Literature: 1870-1918. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
    (Contains some interesting essays and poems on conceptions of empire by figures such as Ruskin, Kipling, Tagore, Joyce and Yeats).
  • Ross, Robert, ed. Colonial and Postcolinal Fiction in English: An Anthology. New York, 1999.
    (A selection of major writers from around the globe, with introductions).
  • Thieme, John, ed. The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. London and New York: Arnold/Oxford University Press, 1996.
    (A comprehensive anthology but deficient in adequate introductions to each section).
  • Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse/Post-Colonial Theory. New York, 1993.
    (Includes the major theoretical texts, with introductions).

Primary Theoretical Texts:

  • Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London, 1992.
    (A Marxist perspective on Post-Colonialism).
  • Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London, 1994.
    (Essays on post-colonial issues).
  • Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. C. Farrington. Middlesex: Penguin, 1961.
  • Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Black Literature and Literary Theory. Routledge: London, 1984.
  • Said, Edward. Orientalism: Western Concepts of the Orient. Routledge: London, 1978.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. Routledge: London, 1988.
  • Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race. London, 1995.

Critical Studies:

  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.
    (A comprehensive introduction to post-colonial theory and practice, dealing with issues of language (English versus english), identity, marginality, and the connection of post-colonialism with feminism, modernism and postmodernism — all on a very basic level).
  • Barker, Francis, Peter Hulme and Margaret Iversen. Colonial Discourse/Postcolonial Theory. Manchester, 1994. (Essays on central postcolonial themes such as “nationalism” and “hybridity”).
  • Benjamin, Andrew, et al, eds. Postcolonial Cultures and Literatures: Modernity and the (Un)Commonwealth. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.
    (An interesting collection of essays centred on the notions of British and Colonial identities, focusing on a wide range of authors spanning the Reformation, Romanticism, contemporary British poetry and a number of Post-Colonial authors such as Jean Rhys and Nirad C. Chadhuri).
  • Benson, Eugene, and L.W. Conolly, eds. Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. London, 1994. (An indispensable resource).
  • Childs, Peter, and Patrick Williams. An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. Hemel Hempstead, 1997.
    (Useful summaries of works by theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak).
  • Jansohn, Herausgegeben von Christa. Companion to the New Literatures in English. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2002.   (An extremely useful introduction to various national literatures (South African, African, Indian, West Indian, Australian, Canadian).
  • Ousby, Ian, ed. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. (Biographical articles on a wide range of writers).
  • Stringer, Jenny, ed. The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).(Entries on writers and texts in English from around the world).
  • Young, Robert J.C. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
    (A large, authoritative study, with accounts of anti-colonial struggles in various parts of the world, useful applications of post-colonial theories to the particular situations of various countries, and insightful commentaries on liberalism, Marxism and feminism).

Some Useful Essays:

(All contained in Modern Literary Theory, ed. Philip Rice and Patricia Waugh (London and New York: Arnold/Oxford University Press, 2001).

  •  Homi Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” pp. 380-386.
  • Georg Lukacs, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (extract),” pp. 108-113; a classic statement concerning modernism.
  • Luce Irigaray, “Sexual Difference (extract),” pp. 236-238. Short and bittersweet; and powerful.
  • Gayatri Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic (extract), pp. 387-393.  An interestingly hostile interview with Spivak.
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” pp. 329-337. Readable.
  • Patricia Waugh, “Postmodernism and Feminism?” pp. 344-358. An interesting historical overview.