English 138

Studies in World Literature in English: What Is South African Literature?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2013 Boniface Davies, Sheila
Boniface Davies, Sheila
TTh 2-3:30 183 Dwinelle

Book List

Coetzee, J. M.: Life and Times of Michael K; Magona, S.: Mother to Mother; Mda, Z.: The Heart of Redness; Paton, A.: Cry the Beloved Country; Van Niekerk, M.: Agaat

Other Readings and Media

There will also be a course reader.


‘What is South African Literature?’ is an introduction to a broad range of storytellers who make up the country’s literature from the colonial period to the present day. Students will be exposed to a variety of voices in English or English translation – including, but moving well beyond, Nobel Prize winners J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer – through in-depth explorations of novels, shorts stories and poetry. But the question ‘What is South African Literature?’ is also, of course, entangled with issues of power. Not only are repression and resistance persistent themes in the literature itself, the history of South African literature has been shaped by political acts – from the earliest transcriptions of indigenous oral poetry, to the conscription of ‘culture as a weapon of the struggle’ during apartheid, and the suppression of creative expression, and disruption of literary traditions, through censorship and exile. This course will engage students in debates over what comprises ‘Literature’ (the place of orature and the interaction of oral and written forms; ‘aesthetics of revolution’ vs. ‘aesthetics of transcendence’...), whether it is possible/helpful to talk of a unitary South African Literature, and the role of South African literature in a post-apartheid, post-colonial and transnational world. In short, this course will consider how the story of South African literary historiography has been written and rewritten – giving insight into how canons are formed, why they are challenged, and by whom. The aim is to develop close-reading skills while never losing sight of socio-political and historical concerns.

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