Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Course in the works: After the Wars--Literature of Globalization

I'm teaching a new course in spring 2011 called "After the Wars: Literature of Globalization." I got the idea after re-reading Kim during the summer, while the Obama administration was waging an aggressive--but seemingly still doomed--campaign to finally try and dislodge the Taliban. It seemed hard not to think of connections between the British campaigns in Afghanistan (which are in some ways alluded to in Kipling's novel) and the current American war there.

It's hard to escape the fact that modern wars accelerate the process of globalization, moving large numbers of soldiers and others to different parts of the world, often provoking complex new social and economic realities in the process.

At the same time, one must accept that modern, global wars do not truly encourage unrestricted cross-cultural encounters. If anything, they can lead societies that may seem relatively open at one point to reinforce their political borders. 9/11 is a case in point here, not so much as a moment when "everything changed" (that kind of rhetoric comes to seem ever more misplaced as the years go by), but rather as a moment at which the euphoria of globalization in the 1990s suddenly changed course. If the 1990s was the decade during which we saw many more people celebrating -- and sometimes resisting -- the idea of globalization, the 2000s seemed to be a decade during which a new anti-globalization ethos came into being, not just in the United States, but in Europe as well.

A question one has to consider in thinking about globalization is: how much of this really new? To what extent is the contemporary experience of globalization different from or similar to the wave of  that began during the peak years of European Imperialism (1870-1945), itself an era of innumerable wars? One could also focus more narrowly on just World War II, an event led to widespread displacement, migration, and political realignment. How did globalization during and immediately after World War II differ from the era that began in the early 1990s?

Another key question is the role of war: how do large wars, involving the migration of thousands or millions of individuals, impact the movement of people, ideas, cultures, and technology? Is it possible that with continued globalization leading to ever larger populations of displaced and immigrant groups, we might see a decline in the conventional idea of 'national' identity, and the emergence of a new concept of global belonging?

If you were teaching this course, what books might you assign? (The only strict parameters I have are: 1) 1870-present moment; 2) something to do with war and globalization.)

After the jump, a preliminary syllabus.

Here is my preliminary list of texts.

Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim [or maybe just The Secret Agent, which would be easier]
Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

World War II and after: 
Thomas Pynchon, V
W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants
Shauna Singh Baldwin, The Tiger Claw

Contemporary/Post 9/11:

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
H.M. Naqvi, Home Boy
Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children

Alternates (which might replace one of the others on the list as I continue to shape the course): 

Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Palace (Pros: obvious connection to my theme, nice overlap with books like The Tiger Claw. Cons: A little too long. Found it difficult to teach in the past.)
Ian McEwan, Saturday
Don DeLillo, Falling Man (I haven't read this DeLillo, but it seems worth investigating as a possible text to use for this course.)
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (Pros: obvious connection to Kipling, definitely a strong consideration of globalization and national identity. Cons: Played out? Too melodramatic?)

Books suggested to me by Twitter friends: 

Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows (I must admit I generally do not love Shamsie's prose -- it often seems clunky to me -- though I will take a closer look at this novel, especially since it fits my theme so well.) 
Rana Dasgupta, Solo (Not yet released in the U.S.)
William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (Certainly a novel of globalization, ideas, and technology. But war? Not so much)
Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis (same pros and cons as with Gibson's Pattern Recognition)
Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills (Pros: great novel. cons: might be too abstract for my undergraduats); An Artist of the Floating World (haven't read this yet)
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss  (Pros: generally connected to my theme, though it's not so much war as domestic social/ethnic conflict. Cons: Why not just do The God of Small Things?)
Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger or Between the Assassinations


narayan said...

I would have mentioned 'Dispatches' but someone beat me to it. 'Sea of Poppies' seems a stretch. And is Le Carre too low-brow for inclusion; he has mined several post-war and globalization themes and writes good as they say.

Arun said...

Minor mistake: Glass palace, not hungry palace :)