Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Update on "After the Wars"

Several friends on Facebook had further suggestions for the "After the Wars" course I mentioned in my blog post yesterday. Here are some of the suggestions I received:

George Orwell, Burmese Days
Graham Greene, The Quiet American 
William Somerset Maugham's short stories set in Malaysia and Borneo
Amos Tutuola, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Ngugi, A Grain of Wheat, Petals of Blood, or The River Between
J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
Andre Malraux, Antimemoirs
Nuruddin Farah, Gifts or Maps

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

One friend wrote a very long comment, which I'll reproduce part of here, since it is full of good ideas:

Ngugi is a shocking omission as well imo, A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood are the classic novels about anti-colonialism and the Mau Mau as part of Kenyan nationalist consciousness but there is also the very powerful The River Between which covers the clash of cultures brought about by globalisation (in its earlier incarnation) through the symbolic issue of FGM.

 Similarly, South African fiction is important; I would perhaps junk some of the less challenging and well-known works like The English Patient and go with something like Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians -- very apt if you are thinking of the Afghanistan wars in my opinion.

I tend not to read much fiction these days, so I don't know whether they would come under your definition of literature but I would definitely include Emma's War by Deborah Scroggins that looks at the complexity of aid, politics in Sudan's civil war and the difficulties in becoming involved as an outsider and problematises both the nature of White Guilt and romanticisation of Black Africa by post-colonial interlopers. The chapter on rape in the Congo in Ann Jones' War is Not Over When it is Over is just brilliant and disturbing on the alarming phenomenon of mass rapes and violence against women in the bloodiest conflict since the end of the cold war (having led to many more deaths than the entire 'War on Terror' but receiving far less media attention)

I also second the recommendation of The Quiet American though it might be interesting in pairing it with the Ugly American written earlier by Lederer, a critic of US policy in SE Asia, which is a far lesser work of fiction but interesting for the critique of US foreign policy is offers and also for its supposed influence in shaping later policy eg the Peace Corps.

Should probably include Fanon too, I think all students of Empire need to read the last section of The Wretched of the Earth which cover the psychological case studies Fanon deals with as a psycho-analyst of treating traumatised colonial soldiers and insurgents. Tells you more about the war than most volumes.

Two other works: the first so-called 'post-modern' work on modern conflict/war Michael Herr's Dispatches again very relevant with the current wars going on being waged by the US especially and Timothy Mo's 'Redundancy of Courage' about the bloody Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, told through the eyes, of all people, a gay Chinese businessman who is a sympathiser of the Timorese rebels!
Of these many excellent points, the ones I can respond to most directly are these.

First, for this course I'm probably going to stick mainly to fiction, so I'll reluctantly have to hold off on Emma's War and War is Not Over When it is Over. I might assign Fanon as criticism/theory to help give students a sense of what was at stake in the decolonization struggles (and wars) of the mid-20th century. I've been thinking of doing a course using only "Creative Non-Fiction" sometime in the near future, however, so those books might well fit there.

Some of the books I think I should add would be Nuruddin Farah's Gifts, Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun, and J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians.

One possible revised syllabus might look something like this:

I. Empire Wars
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

II. The War to End all Wars (or Not)
Thomas Pynchon, V
Shauna Singh Baldwin, The Tiger Claw

III. Civil Wars (and Meddling Western Powers)
Graham Greene, The Quiet American
Nuruddin Farah, Gifts
Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

IV. The War on Terror
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist 
Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children

I'm still not sure about the suitability of a couple of the titles. And I'm tempted by The Poisonwood Bible (perhaps instead of Graham Greene).

Criticism and theory (another preliminary list):

Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth (excerpts)
Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large (excerpts)
Bruce Robbins, Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress (Intro, Chapters 1-3)
Chandra Mohanty, "Under Western Eyes" 
David Damrosch, What is World Literature? (excerpts)
Suman Gupta, Globalization and Literature ("Movements and Protests" and "Literary Studies and Globalization")
Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences
John Bowen,"The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict" (in O'Meara, Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century)
Paul Hopper, Understanding Cultural Globalization (excerpts)
Mahmood Mamdani, "Defining the Crisis of Postcolonial Citizenship" (from When Victims Become Killers)

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