Postcolonial Literatures and Theory

Postcolonial Literatures and Theory



Postcolonial Literatures and Theory

1. In “Post-colonial Critical Theories,” Stephen Slemon suggests that “[p]robably no term within literary and critical studies is so hotly contested at present as is the term ‘post-colonial’” (100). Discuss, using at least four major theorists, the central debates within postcolonial studies. What is at stake in these different definitions or positions? How do you situate yourself within them? In other words, how do you define “postcolonial”? Why?

2. In your proposal for your special topic exam you note the need for a “better” discourse for discussing nation and religion. Describe the failure of current discourse as you see it. How can postcolonial theory help construct an alternative discourse, especially given its reputation at times as an elitist and exclusionary discourse potentially at odds with its political aims?

3. The category or trope of “nation” in postcolonial studies has conflicted status. Discuss the central debates around theorizing national identity or the nation. How does the status of the nation as a subject of analysis change alongside the development of the field of postcolonial studies? Please situate your own reading of the nation among these debates or within this history. You might want to discuss, for instance, how your approach relates to trends toward transnational studies (e.g., cosmopolitanism, globalization, transnational feminism) and/or subaltern studies.

4. Using examples from more than one theorist, please analyze the way in which religion and faith figure in contemporary postcolonial studies. Who talks about religion and faith, in what ways, for what purpose? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches?

5. In the essay, “In Good Faith” (1990), Salman Rushdie writes, “The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs.  It rejoiced in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure.  Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.  It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace it.  The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining.  It is a love-song to our mongrel selves.”  Keeping in mind the socio- and geo-political (one might even say “postcolonial”) context (the fatwa was declared in 1989) of this quote, discuss two sets of theoretical and literary approaches to “difference.”  You must use Rushdie and Bhabha as one combination (choose one additional theorist and literary author you think work well together).  Be sure to situate your combinations in the field – i.e., what problems or histories are your combinations addressing?  How do these authors/theorists fit within the field?  What do they yield?

6. In The Post-Colonial Exotic, Graham Huggan, distinguishing between postcolonialism (as an “ensemble of loosely connected oppositional practices”) and postcoloniality (as a “value-regulating mechanism” within late global capitalism), argues that “the globalization of commodity culture has confronted postcolonial writers/thinkers with the irresolvable struggle between competing regimes of value.  This struggle, I have been suggesting, plays itself out over the value of cultural difference.”  Discuss how one postcolonial theorist and two literary authors (at least one should not be a novelist) respond to this struggle.  What “regimes of value” do they support and to what ends?

7. In “The Institutionalization of Postcolonial Studies,” Benita Parry charges postcolonial studies as a field with “an insufficient engagement with the conditions and practices of actually existing imperialism.”  She attributes that lack to a predilection for poststructuralist theory as well as the “privileging of novelistic styles which animate postcolonial identity as fissured, unstable, and multiply located.”  Discuss one theorist and two literary authors whom you believe do engage deeply with “actual existing political, economic, and cultural conditions.”  What about their work situates it in this way?  How does the work (theory or literature) fit within the field?  What challenges does it pose for you as a literary critic?

8. At the end of “Globalization and the Claims of Postcoloniality,” Simon Gikandi writes about the relationship between global Anglophone literatures and postcoloniality.  He concludes that “the more one listens to this invocation of the new English literature as one of the most powerful signs of global culture, one wonders whether globality has become a supplement, or even alibi, for prior categories of national culture such as Englishness.  Is the global culture of professional émigrés the same as that of those who cross national boundaries in dangerous circumstances?  What, indeed, is the consensual community shared by these two groups?  The questions need to be addressed if postcolonial theories of globalization are to be something more than a passing fad.”  With respect to one theorist and two literary authors, discuss the future of postcolonial studies.  How do these intellectuals potentially shape the direction of the field?  What traditions or histories in the field do they draw on and how do they enact change?  In other words, what should be the goal of future postcolonial studies and how do they bring us closer to that goal?

9. Design an undergraduate course in postcolonial literature.  Write the rationale you would include on the syllabus, and then expand upon it.  Discuss your choices for at least five texts.  Describe at least one assignment (if this is a course with different kinds of assignments, please describe more than one).  Please be sure to reflect on a) how your pedagogy relates to the course content and rationale, and b) how your course fits into an English Department (you may use UNCG or another school with which you are familiar as an example, or you may briefly describe the kind of department you have in mind).

10. “Hybridity” has been an important concept in post-colonial theory for a number of years and has been applied in multiple ways and in very different contexts.  Discuss the origins of this concept and your understanding of its significance.  Then, choosing three primary texts from your list, analyze the appropriateness or usefulness of the notion of hybridity for understanding these texts.  In what contexts do you find the concept helpful? In what contexts might we see the limitations of the notion?

11.  Although this is a post-colonial reading list, there are a number of texts on your list which are not written by authors we would ordinarily consider as having come from a post-colonial situation in the usual sense of the term.  Moreover, we might more properly consider the current Japanese situation as “post-imperial,” not “post-colonial.”  And people generally speak of contemporary Japan as a resolutely “post-modern” place. With reference to three primary texts on your list, address the “posts.” How can we negotiate the useful meanings of post-modern, post-colonial, and post-imperial?  You might for example wish to focus on texts by contemporary Japanese writers or by hyphenated Americans.

12.  Quite a few texts on your list deal with violence and the female body and more broadly with gendered violence. Select three texts from the list and discuss the ways they represent gender and violence.  If you were teaching these texts, how would you examine similarities and differences among them? How would differences in cultural / historical context enter into your approach?

13.  Edward Said, Paul Gilroy and Gayatri Spivak each can be said to have changed the face of,  indeed to have established the contours of,  the field of post-colonial studies.  Briefly outline what you see as the most important two or three ideas of each of these theorists.  Then taking one literary text from your list, make an argument for which of these three theorists would be of the most use in teaching that text to college seniors in a seminar on post-colonial literatures.

14. One of the things that is disconcerting about the whole field of “post-colonial studies” is that it could be described in the words often used of the Victorian novel. “Post-colonial studies,” like the Victorian novel, could be called a loose, baggy monster. In other words, one might argue that post-colonial studies is a field with imperial ambitions—it threatens to swallow everything.  Thinking back over your work for this exam, make an argument that the term “post-colonial” has been so broadened as to become meaningless OR make an argument that there is a coherent, if disparate, body of theory that remains useful to the scholar of twentieth-century literature.
15. Using at least two postcolonial theorists or writers, discuss the dimensions and the constraints of postcolonial theory.  Taking the work of at least two pragmatic theorists, consider how pragmatism might help address some of those constraints.  Then, turning the tables, consider how postcolonial theorists and writers might help address some of the limitations that you’ve observed in any area of pragmatist philosophy. 
16. The idea of identity is central to the work of many of the writers on your list.  Discuss the various perspectives on identity—its definitions, development, challenges—in the work of three writers and suggest how postcolonial perspectives help illuminate ideas about identity found in these works. 
17. What is “social amelioration” according to Jane Addams, and how does the concept suggest strategies for confronting difference of experience and unequal distribution of power?  Do any of the postcolonial theorists you’ve read address the issue of social amelioration? 
18. In The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha writes that the “aim of cultural difference is to rearticulate the sum of knowledge from the perspective of the signifying position of the minority that resists totalization – the repetition that will not return as the same, the minus-in-origin that results in political and discursive strategies where adding to does not add up but serves to disturb the calculation of power and knowledge, producing other spaces of subaltern signification.”  Make an argument about postcolonial productions and theories of cultural difference, with the help of two theorists and one or two literary texts.   

19. In “Radical Histories and Question of Enlightenment Rationalism: Some Recent Critiques of Subaltern Studies,” Dipesh Chakrabarty writes, “The problem is…that we do not have analytical categories in academic discourse that do justice to the real, everyday and multiple ‘connections’ we have to what we, in becoming modern, have come to see as ‘non-rational’.”  He expands this argument in Provincializing Europe.  Through both theory and literature (use a total of three authors), discuss the pursuit of alternative modernities in postcolonial studies.

20.  In Death of a Discipline, Gayatri Spivak argues for “gender as a general critical instrument rather than something to be factored in in special cases.”  With the help of two theorists and one literary author, discuss ways in which gender is or is not central to contemporary postcolonial studies.  What would/does it mean to think of gender in the way Spivak suggests? 

21.  In “Righting Wrongs,” Gayatri Spivak argues for a reorientation of education in the humanities in order to cultivate the “want to exercise the freedom to redistribute, after the revolution.”  How might postcolonial studies contribute to this critique of the negative effects of globalization?  How is it complicit in producing those effects?  Use two literary texts and one theoretical text in your response.

22.  Design an upper-level undergraduate course in postcolonial literature.  Write the rationale you would include on the syllabus, and then expand upon it.  Discuss the logic behind the trajectory of the class as well as your choices for at least five texts.  Describe at least one assignment (if this is a course with different kinds of assignments, please describe more than one).  Please be sure to reflect on a) how your pedagogy relates to the course content and rationale, and b) how your course fits into an English Department (you may use UNCG or another school with which you are familiar as an example, or you may briefly describe the kind of department you have in mind).

In Provincializing Europe, Chakrabarty concludes with “the question of how we might find a form of social thought that embraces analytical reason in pursuit of social justice but does not allow it to erase the question of heterotemporality from the history of the modern subject.”  Discuss what is at stake in this issue of heterotemporality, and then explore these stakes with reference to two literary texts on your list.


In “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak presents a nuanced analysis of the paradox at the heart of postcolonial representation.  Briefly summarize her argument as well as her conclusions, and then answer the question Spivak poses in her title with respect to two literary texts.

In Imaginary Homelands, Rushdie writes, “As for myself, I don’t think it is always necessary to take up the anti-colonial – or is it post-colonial? – cudgels against English.  What seems to me to be happening is that those peoples who were once colonized by the language are now rapidly remaking it, domesticating it, becoming more and more relaxed about the way they use it – assisted by the English language’s enormous flexibility and size, they are carving out large territories for themselves within its frontiers.”  Discuss Rushdie’s comments – and its implications about the relationship between language, nation, and postcoloniality – with respect to one theorist and two literary texts.


Central to the thesis of Anderson’s Imagined Communities is the work of the novel, as a product of print capitalism, in solidifying a sense of modern national identity.  With the help of one theorist and two novelists, discuss the ways in which gender offers grounds for challenging novelistic conventions as well as their imperial legacy.


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Postcolonial Literatures and Theory


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Postcolonial Literatures and Theory