English 203

Graduate Readings: History and the Postcolonial

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2007 Jones, Donna V.
Jones, Donna
TTh 9:30-11 204 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Augusto Roa Bastos: I the Supreme; Achille Mbembe: On the Postcolony; Ben Okri: The Famished Road; Alejo Carpentier: Explosion in the Cathedral; Dipesh Chakravorty: Proventializing Europe; Hayden White: Metahistory; Michel-Rolph Trouillot: Silencing the Past; T. Adorno & M. Horkheimer: Dialectic of Enlightenment; Aim? C?saire: Discourse on Colonialism


This class will examine the question of history and the conceptualization of the modern in postcolonial literature and theory. It is only at death, when the possibility of future action for an individual is foreclosed, that we are able to begin to give final significance to what he has done in life. After the implosion of the West in the Great War, colonial intellectuals concluded that the history of the West could be finally written because it had come to an end not in the eternal present of the Hegelian triumph but in suicidal despair not in spite of but because of the very achievements of the Hegelian Geist. The key moments in Hegel?s triumphant narrative of the Geist in its advance to the Prussian state were also re-evaluated and different aspects of the past became important. Once explored at the margins of European literature in the period of pan-European pacifism, colonial violence for example proved itself altogether more fateful. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, reason itself was revealed to be based on the partial assumptions of the technologist who aimed to master, control and use matter. Descartes became a key figure in the emergence of the Western ideology that had led to auto-destruction. Also coming under scrutiny was the dialectical theory of history which implied that past gains are preserved in the higher stages, so that no progress is lost, and progress is cumulative. Anything worth preserving is sublated. The crisis of the West then lead to a revaluation of what had to be negatively dismissed because it had not been preserved and intensive study of what had been ignored or stood outside the march of progress. The texts chosen for this course are both the classic articulations of the Western narratives of progress and postcolonial works which place the mechanics of progress under rigorous scrutiny.

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