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Can the Subaltern Speak? Identity, Politics and Life-Writing

ENGL 794.401
also offered as: COML 794
Tuesday 12-3:00pm

It has become a truism that different forms of personal writing—dairies, memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays—are potent expressions of political assertion, for demonstrating how the personal is political. But has the efflorescence of such work also resulted in the bracketing of the personal away from the collective, so as to re-inscribe a boundary between individuals and the collectivities to which they belong? Has it simply reversed the marginalization of the personal in older national liberation or Marxist movements?


This seminar will explore the relationship between the personal and collective “voice” and the dynamics of dissent through different types of life-writing and key theoretical work. In what way can we interpret, rewrite and extend the idea that the personal is political? Can life-writing allow us to understand the limits of liberal ideas of subject-hood? Is the personal narrative useful in charting the dynamics of collective rebellion, and conversely, does collective action circumscribe the contours of the personal?


Readings might include the following (final selections will be made over the summer )

Theoretical, historical and political writings:

James Scott, Domination and Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.

Gramsci: State and Civil Society, selections

B. R. Ambedkar, The Annihilation of Caste

CLR James, The Black Jacobins

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Ranajit Guha, Dominance without Hegemony

Shahid Amin, Event, Metaphor, Memory

Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence

Nicole Fleetwood, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Carceral Aesthetics

Asad Haider, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump

Alpa Shah, In The Shadows of the State, Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India


Autobiographies, memoirs and life-writing:

The Diaries of Hannah Cullwick, Victorian maidservant

Stree Shakti Sanghatana, We Were Making History: Women and the Telangana


Urmila Pawar, The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs

Aman Sethi, A Free Man

Jacob Dlamini Native Nostalgia

Revathi, The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life story

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Carole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: the political life of Black Communist Claudia Jones


Raja Rao Kanthapura  

Tendulkar, Kanyaadaan

Tsitsi Damgarembga Nervous Conditions 

Tayib Salih Season of Migration to the North

Alejo Carpentier Kingdom of This World.

Film: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs


fulfills requirements