English 479: Global Cities (For Fall 2013)
This course will focus on literary and theoretical texts connected to London, New York, and Mumbai. It is also intended as an introduction of sorts to postcolonial literary studies, though one targeted to a particular set of themes: urbanization, immigrant narratives, and the idea of cultural hybridity. Many of the issues in the course will also be relevant to students interested in immigrant literature of the United States and multiculturalism in contemporary England.
We will begin by reviewing some of the classic literature of urbanization from the late Victorian period, and then move to consider the increasing diversity of these three urban spaces. A city like Mumbai, built by the British, is often seen as haunted by its colonial past, still visible in the Victorian architecture and English place names that dominate its landscape; analogously, there are signs and traces of the Empire scattered across both the map of contemporary London and the English literary canon. From the late Victorian Imperial metropolis we move to the first wave of post-colonial migration – where patterns of immigration to London and New York from the Caribbean, West Africa, and South Asia almost seemed to suggest a kind of reverse colonization (one thinks of the famous activists’ slogan: “We are Here because you were There”). The post-colonial rewriting of the Anglo-American metropolis has been be followed by a third wave of immigration, tentatively understood as tied to globalization, characterized by heightened mobility and the decline of fixed borders, constant connectivity enabled by the internet and mobile technology, and the creation of new transnational cultural formations.
Literary selections include Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Zadie Smith’s NW, Amitava Kumar’s Bombay-London-New York, Teju Cole’s Open City, and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Nonfiction narratives by writers like Suketu Mehta, Sonia Faleiro, and Katherine Boos will also be discussed, along with selections from postcolonial theory and globalization theory.