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Tradition and Modernity in the Literatures of Africa and the African Diaspora

ENGL 093.401
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

The scene has become almost commonplace in the culture wars these days: there has been some unfortunate incident which reflects the peculiar racial subtext of the American social contract, and in the full glare of cameras an anguished voice informs the audience that "as an African, I cannot expect justice in this America." Why is Africa being invoked here? What does "Africa" mean in this new world context? One of the things at work here is the assumption of a common African diasporic identity that is understood to be the excluded, marginalized subtext of identity in the new world. What is the larger global context of this assumption? What is its history? In this course we will be working at the edge of this scene, in a different geo-cultural locale. We will explore the literature of the Anglophone Caribbean and Africa paying particular attention to the function of the "idea of Africa" in literary representations. We will want to see how historico-philosophical forces impinge upon literary production. We will consider the ways in which these works engage Africa as concept and as reality. How do particular philosophical-political attitudes toward Africa affect the writers' views of the function of literature (what are they doing when they write? Who is the intended audience?); What is the role of the artist's national/local culture in the shaping of his/her vision? We will compare each writer in terms of these criteria in order to develop some kind of "literacy" about the cultural products of the African diaspora. From Africa, we might read Wole Soyinka, Mariama Ba, Calixthe Beyala, and Ama ata Aidoo; from the Americas we will read Toni Morrison, Caryl Phillips, Paule Marshall, Maryse Conde and others.