The scourge of postcolonial studies, V.S. Naipaul, recently wrote, "In one Kipling story an Indian famine was a background to an English romance...the extraordinary distress of India was like something given, eternal, something to be read only as background." How is difference represented in modern European writings about alien peoples and practices, and what is its value? How can literary analysis be brought into dialogue with contextual issues that seem opaque (if not opposed) to the concerns of the main story? We will try to understand how race, class, gender and region get registered in these narratives. We will read novels and short stories by Melville, Conrad, Naipaul, Devi, Ishiguro, Coetzee among others. Without turning literature into "social evidence" we will also consider how figurative language opens itself to historical otherness. Seen in this strange light, what is the *work* of literature? Requirements include an oral presentation, two papers and a final examination.