Michigan State University                                                                                 Professor C. Tremonte (tremonte@msu.edu)

James Madison College                                                                                      304 South Case Hall, 355-8448

MC 377, sec. 01   Spring 2001                                                                             Office: T 9:00-10:00am, W 1:00-3:00pm,

                                                                                                                                                and by appointment


Culture, Politics and Post-Colonialism


Course Overview and Objectives


If global politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries were marked by the effects of European colonialism, the second half of the 20th century and the 21st century are often characterized as belonging to the era of post-colonialism.  Post-colonialism, of course, implies the struggle for national liberation from colonial rule has been ‘successful,’ that the formerly colonized ‘state’ and its people are now independent.  But how is independence or post-colonialism achieved?  What was colonialism? When does it end?  What are its repercussions for the colonizer and the colonized?  What is the meaning of post-colonialism?


Critic Edward Said has suggested one way of probing these questions is to look at the interaction between culture and politics.  Specifically, Said emphasizes the ways in which literature provides a means for understanding the struggle for national liberation as well as collective identity construction and inter-national politics in the late twentieth century.  He writes:


[In the] struggle to achieve decolonization and independence from European control, literature has played a crucial role in the re-establishment of a national cultural heritage, in the re-instatement of native idioms, in the re-imagining and re-figuring of local histories, geographies, communities. . . . literature not only mobilized active resistance to incursions from the outside but also contributed massively as the shaper, creator, agent of illumination within the realm of the colonized.[1] 


Though focusing primarily on literary texts, Said’s observations can be applied to other texts as well.  And in one manner or another, many of these texts serve to critique the colonial context which gave rise to institutional English studies—the context in which literature becomes not only a means of imparting cultural literacy and writing otherness but a way of exercising power.


This course explores the work of novels and films in the writing, constructing, and/or deconstructing of cultural identities and politics in colonial and post-colonial experiences.  We will begin by looking at notions of culture—what it is, what it means, how it works—and by surveying some central concepts in the field of post-colonial theory.  Writings by Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and Edward Said will provide the initial theoretical frames by which we will then analyze the novels and film.  We then turn our attention to two genre-specific cases: the first, the novel as it writes the experiences of colonialism and post-colonialism in Africa; the second, film as it writes the experience of colonialism and post-colonialism in India, Asia, and/or Egypt.  These sections will be informed by theoretical readings by scholars such as Kwame Anthony Appiah and Gayatri Spivak.  In the final part of the course, we revisit our initial question about the interaction between culture and politics and the possibility of literature to query the meaning of post-colonialism.  In addition, because this course is cross-field and interdisciplinary, we will draw on our own various field-specific knowledge and expertise throughout the semester.  


The main objectives of the course are

·         to demonstrate the connections between the study of literature, film and culture more generally to the study of international politics;

·         to explore the complexity and the range of post-colonialism and post-colonial texts and theories;

·         to understand post-colonialism as a reading strategy, thus acquire or hone the literacy skills necessary to read and critique any cultural text.



Required Texts  


The following texts are available through the Student Book Store (Grand River).  In addition, several required readings are available on reserve in the Madison library.


Achebe, Chinua.  Things Fall Apart (Anchor Books, 1959; 1994 edition).

Ashcroft Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Teffin.  The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures.  (Routledge, 1989).

Berstein, Matthew, and Gaylyn Studlar, editors.  Visions of the East: Orientialism in Film (Rutgers UP, 1997).

Coetzee, J. M.  Waiting for the Barbarians (Penguin Books, 1980).

Coetzee, J. M.  Foe (Penguin Books, 1986).

Conrad, Joseph.  Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (St. Martin’s Press, 1996).

Gordimer, Nadine.  July’s People (Penguin Books, 1989; 2000 edition).


Students should also purchase a course pack available at the Student Book Store on Grand River.  Additional readings will be placed on reserve in the Madison library or distributed.



Course Format


The class will be a cooperative learning environment in which each student will be responsible for promoting her/his peer's learning as well as his/her own.  Since formal and informal cooperative groups will be the usual activities of the day, there will be very little use of the traditional lecture format. Each of you will be expected to contribute to class discussion, to work collaboratively and cooperatively (e.g. in-class tasks and out-of -class assignments, email dialoguing), to work with assigned base groups and to share findings of readings and research in short presentations when appropriate.


Course Requirements


The final course grade will be determined as follows:


Participation: Participation requires attendance.  Meaningful participation is evidenced by sustained contribution to class discussions, sustained contribution to group discussions, sustained engagement with peers in various structured and non-structured ways (including occasional email dialoguing, informal writes, or collaborative work on questions that carry over from one class to another), and sustained engagement with and understanding of course readings.  Because of the heavy emphasis on student participation and interaction, anyone with more than four unexcused absence will not receive a final course grade higher than 1.0.  Participation is worth 15% of final course grade.


Quizzes: There will be quizzes given throughout the semester; they may be in-class, announced or ‘pop’; or, take home. Together they count for 15% of final course grade.


Situating the Text: This collaborative assignment has written and oral components.  Students will be divided into groups and asked to situate one of the novels or films we are reading.  Each student individually will prepare a short written summary of his/her findings (approximately 2 pages in length, typewritten, double-spaced).  This group will present its findings to the class during our discussion.  You will be asked to learn about the historical context for the novel or film, the production history of the text, and the initial and subsequent reception of the text.  Finally, you will be asked to introduce the class to at least one interpretation of the text (the case study of Heart of Darkness serves as a partial model). This assignment is worth 10% of final course grade.


Film Critique: This assignment is designed to help us ‘read’ both the narrative and visual rhetorics of a film, assessing both its political and aesthetic contributions.  You will be asked to select a film and analyze the visual and audio techniques that contribute to the film’s meaning in a short paper (5 pages, typed, double-spaced).  The paper is worth 15% of final course grade.


Cultural Artefact Project: This assignment asks you to research and write a short paper on a topic chosen in consultation with me.  This paper should engage in comparative analysis of at least two cultural artefacts (e.g. a novel, short story, film, clothing, etc.).  You are to identify the texts as  'cultural artefacts', to explain why they are so, and to question whether the artefact represents a particular "power relation/relationship" within a specific cultural context.  In short, it asks you to deconstruct the artefacts’ meanings and to speculate as to whether and how these meanings are situated within a colonial or post-colonial locale.  If students desire, an out-of-class writing workshop can be scheduled so that you can share your research and draft versions of papers and explore research issues that have arisen.  The final paper should be approximately 10 pages in length, typed, double-spaced and is worth 25% of final grade.


Final Critical Essay:  This assignment asks you to write a lengthy essay that analyzes and contextualizes some of the novels or films in light of the conceptual/theoretical literature we have examined in the course.  The essay may be a comparative analysis or an issues-oriented critique, and it should take into consideration the connections between the study of literature, film and culture to international politics.  This essay is worth 20% of final course grade.


Evaluation is based on the following criteria; both instructors will be involved in all aspects of assessment.

4.0--Your work is excellent relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements; it is probing, perceptive, "original" and well expressed.

3.0--Your work is good relative to the level of course requirements; it demonstrates very good command of the materials, is well written and insightful.

2.0--Your work meets requirements of the assignment and is fairly well expressed.

1.0—Your work meets minimum requirements for credit but shows definite weaknesses in thought and expression.

0.0--Your work is unsatisfactory for credit because of major problems in thought or expression.

Note:  Plagiarism is a grave offense and very easy to detect (even when using Internet sources or the Web).  The James Madison and Michigan State University policies on academic integrity and plagiarism (as stated in the catalog of MSU Academic Programs and the JMC Student Handbook) will be strictly enforced. 


Honors Option: Students may pursue an H-option in this course.  If enough students are interested, we will schedule a special honors session that will be open to all students in the class and that will examine issues present in a particular set of "colonial/post-colonial" texts, as agreed upon by the group.  In order to earn an H in the course, students must earn a course grade of at least 3.5. 



Please note the syllabus will be divided into four sections, schedules to be distributed separately.

Section I:  Culture, Representation, and Colonial Narratives (January 9th through February 1st)

Critical readings in culture and representation; excerpts from DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, clips from various ‘classical cinema’ films, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Section II: “Post-Colonial Musings and the Novel” (February 6th through March 1st)

Critical readings in post-colonial theory and criticism; Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, and Coetzee’s Foe (Situating the Text presentations begin.)

Section III:  “Colonial/Post-Colonial Musings and Film” (March 13th through April 12th)

                Critical viewings of select films, such as Tarzan, Khartoum, The River, Out of Africa, Lawrence of

                Arabia, Aladin, or Indochine; readings from Berstein and Studlar’s Visions of the East: Orientialism in Film. (Film critique and Cultural Artefact assignments due.)

Section IV: “Re-assessing the Post” (April 17th through April 26th)

Re-reading earlier theoretical pieces and Gordimer’s July’s People.  (Final Critical Essay due.)




Section I:  Culture, Representation, and Colonial Narratives

(January 9th through February 1st)


January   9                            Introduction to the class

Reading: “Culture,” from Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Oxford UP, 1983), pp. 87-93.



January  11                          No class; make-up class TBA

                                                (I will be attending meeting for Carnegie Scholars in San Jose.)


January  16                          Culture, Literature and Representation

Reading: excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, first published in 1719 (excerpt taken from Norton and Co., 1975), pp. 127-162. On reserve Madison library.


January  18                          The Process of Representation

                                                Reading: excerpt from Stuart Hall’s Representation: Cultural Representations and

Signifying Practices (The Open University 1997) handout; Deepika Petraglia-Bahri’s “Representation” at http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Bahri/Representation.html.


January   23                         The Politics of Representation: Colonialism and the Colonized

                                                Readings: “Introduction” to Edward Said’s Orientalism (course pack) and Abdul

                                                JanMohamed’s “The Economy of the Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial

                                                Difference in Colonialist Literature,” Critical Inquiry 12 (Autumn 1985): 59-87.


January 25                           Colonial Literature: A ‘Test’ Case

                                                Readings: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, including introduction to Case Studies.


January 30                           Readings: New Historicism and Heart of Darkness in Case Studies, pages 221-239;

                                                Cultural Criticism and Heart of Darkness in Case Studies, pages 258-277.


February 1                            Reading: Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," from

Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (Anchor, 1989), (course pack);  Said’s “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness,” from Culture and Imperialism (Vintage, 1994), (course pack). 







Section II:  Post-Colonial Musings and the Novel

 (February 6th through March 1st)



February 6                            Colonialism and National Culture

                                                Readings: Frantz Fanon’s “On National Culture,” from the Wretched of the Earth

                                                (Grove Press, 1963) (course pack).


February 8                            Interrogating post-colonialism

Reading: Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern,” in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, pp. 119-124 (course pack); Bill Ashcroft et al., “Introduction” and chapter one, “Cutting the Ground,” from The Empire Writes Back, pages 1-38.


February 13                          Recasting the Colonial Narrative

Reading:  Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

                                                Highly Recommended Reading:  “The Colonial Phrase in British West Africa,” in

                                J. D. Ade Ajari and Ian Espre’s (eds.),  A Thousand Years in West African History. (Ibadan University Press, 1965), pages 405-450.  On reserve in Madison library.

DUE:  Situating the Text presentations: group one.      


February 15                          Reading: Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

                Recommended:  Fleming, "Brothers under the skin: Achebe on Heart of Darkness," and Carey-Webb, "Heart of Darkness, Tarzan, and the 'Third World'," from College Literature 19.3 (1992): 90-100; 121-141 (on reserve in Madison library).


February 20                          Complicating the Colonial Narrative

                                                Reading: J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians

                                                Highly Recommended Reading: Ashcroft et al, chapter three, “Re-placing  the

                                                Text,” in The Empire Writes Back.

                                                DUE:  Situating the Text presentations: group two.


February 22                          Reading: Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians; Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern

                                                Speak?” in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, pages 24-28 (course pack).

DUE: Cultural Artefact proposal.


February 27                          Rewriting the Colonial Narrative, and then some

                Reading:  J. M. Coetzee, Foe

                DUE: Situating the Text presentations: group three.


March 1                 Reading: Coetzee, Foe




Section III:  “Colonial/Post-Colonial Musings and Film” (March 13th through April 12th)


March 13                              Revisiting Postcolonial Theory and the Novel

                                                Complete discussion of Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians

Reading: Bill Ashcroft et al., “Introduction”, chapter one, “Cutting the Ground,” and chapter three, “Replacing the Text, from The Empire Writes Back, pp. 1-37;  78-108.  Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, pp. 24-28 (course pack).


March 15                              Politics, History and the Novels                      

                                                Reading: “The Colonial Phrase in British West Africa,” in

                                J. D. Ade Ajari and Ian Espre’s (eds.),  A Thousand Years in West African History. (Ibadan University Press, 1965), pages 405-450.  Handout.

                                                Due:  Email dialogue summarizing indirect and direct rule.


March 20                              Rewriting the Colonial Narrative, and then some

                Reading:  J. M. Coetzee, Foe.

                Due: Situating the Text presentations: group three.


March 22                              Reading: Coetzee, Foe

                                                Due:  Cultural Artefact Proposal



The Politics of Direct and Indirect Rule:  Guest Speaker Dr.  Swarna Rajagopalan

4:00pm Room TBA



March 27                              Film and Colonialism

                                                Readings: David Bordwell, “Making Films Mean,” from Making Meaning: Inference

and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Film (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989), pages 1-18 (handout); Ellen Shohat’s “Gender and Culture of Empire,” in Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar’s Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film (NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997), pages 19-66.


March 29                              OPEN WORKSHOP ON CULTURAL ARTEFACT ASSIGNMENT


April  3                                  Filming Africa

                                                Discussion of films Out of Africa and Aladdin

Reading: Alan Nadel, “A Whole New (Disney) World Order: Aladdin, Atomic Power, and the Muslim Middle East,” in in Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar’s Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film (NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997), pages 158-183.

Recommended Reading: Keyan G. Tomaselli, chapter one, “What is Semiotics?” in

Appropriating Images: The Semiotics of Visual Representation (Denmark: Intervention

Press, 1996), pages  29-49 (course pack).


April 5                                   Refiguring Orientalism and Film

                                                Discussion of film Indochine

Reading: Marina Heung’s “The Family Romance of Orientalism: From Madame Butterfly to Indochine,” in Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar’s Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film (NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997), pages 19-66.


April 10                 Critique Orientalism Complete Discussion of Films

                                                Readings: Bart Moore-Gilbert, chapter one, “Postcolonial Criticism and postcolonial

                                                theory?” from Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics  (London: Verson,

                                                1997), pages 5-33 (course pack).


April 12                 Reconsidering Said, Fanon, Appiah

                                                Due: Cultural Artefact Assignment




Section IV: “Re-assessing the Post” (April 17th through April 26th)


April 17                 Readings: Nadine Gordimer, July’s People; Mahmood Mamdani, chapter three,

                                                “Indirect Rule and the Politics of Decentralized Depostism,” in Citizen and Subject (NJ:

                                                Princeton UP, 1996), pages 62-108 (on reserve in Madison library).

                                                Due: Situating the Text Presentation group 4.


April 19                 Reading: Continuing Gordimer, July’s People

                                                Recommended Reading: Mahmood Mamdani, chapter seven, “The Rural in the Urban:

                                                Migrant Workers in South Africa,” in Citizen and Subject (NJ: Princeton UP, 1996),

                                                pages 218-284 (on reserve in Madison library).



April 20th                             DUE: Film Critique (film of your choice) due by 5:00pm.


April 24                 Reading: Concluding Gordimer, July’s People


April 26                 Subaltern musings

                                                Reading: Terry Eagleton, chapter one, “Versions of Culture,” from The Idea of

                                                Culture (London: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), pages 1-30 (on reserve in Madison





Course Pack  (available from Paper Image)


Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness."  From Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (Anchor, 1989), pp. 1-29 (in course pack); 

Gellner, Ernest.  "The Mightier Pen; the Double Standards of Inside-out Colonialism."  In Encounters with Nationalism (Blackwell, 1994: 159-169).

Kennedy, “Modern Ireland: Post-Colonial Society or Post-Colonial Pretensions?” Colonialism, Religions and Nationalism in Ireland (Queen’s University Belfast, 1996: 167-181).

Nussbaum, Martha.  "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism." In Joshua Cohen (ed),  For Love of Country (Beacon Press, 1996: 2-17).

 Prasad, Madhava.  “The ‘other’ worldliness of the postcolonial discourse: a critique,” Critical Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 3: 74-89.

Carey-Webb, Allen.  "Heart of Darkness, Tarzan, and the 'Third World'." College Literature 19.3 (1992): 121-141.

Fleming, Bruce.  "Brothers under the skin: Achebe on Heart of Darkness."   College Literature 19.3 (1992): 90-100.


[1] From Edward W. Said’s “Figures, Configurations, Transfigurations.”  In Commonwealth to Post-Colonial, edited by Anna Rutherford (Sydney, Australia: Dangaroo Press, 1992: 3-17).