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The Function of Literature in an Age of Global Capitalism

ENGL 293.402
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

The function of the work of art has been one of the central debates within marxist literary criticism. In the twentieth century, the ethical force of social movements such as the women's movement, the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement forced Marxist literary theory to confront the exclusions inherent within its founding assumptions. This course takes up one of the flash-points in this debate about the function of art, namely "third world literature" and the subsequent rise of the term "postcolonial" to cover literatures written in countries formerly colonized by Europe. We will begin by exploring some of the theoreticians of global capital (Lenin, Arrighi, Marx, Luxemburg, Debray Mao and others). We will then tackle the essay that set off this debate with renewed vigor in the 1980's, Frederic Jameson's "Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism" in which he suggests that all third world literature is necessarily a national allegory. Alongside the essay we will explore Latin American magical realism, and the socialist realism that comes out of Africa paying particular attention to how these genres tackle the problem of art's relationship to a world penetrated by capitalist expansion. In the wake of Jameson's essay, there have been a slew of critiques which argue for the international division of intellectual labor, a rather clunky phrase which is meant to alert us to how we read and how we construct ways of knowing cross-culturally. How does this re- articulation of the problem reshape categories such as "the third world writer," "nation," "national literature" etc. We may also sneak a peek at other genres such as film (African cinema, Indian Cinema, "Bollywood" as it is called), and new forms of collectivity such as cyberculture to see if these forms offer a different articulation of art's relationship to its circumabient world. Requirements: response papers to the readings, a short essay, a longer research essay and one oral report.