Week 9a (*10*)

(I numbered the weeks in a weird way above ^^^ because WordPress does this stupid thing of putting 10 after 1 instead of 9, as if it’s a word rather than a number, and the “0” is just a modifier of the “1”. And I want the current week to continue appearing always at the end of the list, so I’ll keep numbering them this way as the weeks go on.)

Anyway. Our readings for this week are really different from each other! We have an administrative document by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and a play by William Shakespeare. Wut?

The argument that Ngũgĩ* makes here will be familiar to you if you’ve studied postcolonial theory. If you haven’t, you might have to puzzle through the claims to figure out what the argument is, partly because this isn’t a theoretical document– it’s an actual policy proposal, at an actual university. So, what is the theoretical argument here, and how is it relevant to our ongoing discussions?

And: Shakespeare. I’m going to try an experiment here. Instead of suggesting a possible way to read this play, or even posing questions to you, I’m going to let you get into this rich text as you like it and tell us where to go.

What is the story here, and what do you want to make sure we discuss when we meet?

What passages should we discuss, and what do you wonder about them?

What do you like about the play so far, and what do you want to figure out as we keep reading together?

I’ll tell you this, though: I don’t picture Ariel like this at all.

 

This Prospero is ok with me, though.

And what about Caliban and Miranda? How would you stage them?

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Also: I promised that I would post for you the first page of Anne Boyer’s excellent book, A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, because it is *so relevant* to our discussions this week about Bartleby’s preference not to and related things.

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*Note that Ngũgĩ is known by what looks like his first name, because that’s how it’s done in Kenya.

 

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15 Responses to Week 9a (*10*)

  1. Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” was by far a difficult read for me. I kept re reading certain lines or sections to grasp what was happening to certain characters. When I read this text, I liked how detailed Shakespeare was about the aftermath of this shipwreck. Francisco discusses how, “To th’ shore, that o’er his wave-worn basis bowed / As stooping to relieve him. I not doubt / He came alive to land” (2.1.115-117). Francisco explains to Alonso that he has hope that one of the men in the shipwreck must be alive. He tells him how this man must have swum to shore. This, of course, made me curious to see if the man will be alive or not. As I continue reading this play, I will be on the look out to see if Francisco or Alonso found him. Then, we have another short scene where Trinculo spots Stephano. Trinculo asks Stephano, “But are thou not drowned, Stephano?” When Trinculo sees Stephano, he appeared surprised to see to see that the drunken man is alive. Stephano explains to Trinculo how, “I escaped upon / a butt sack, which the sailors heaved o’erboard, by this / bottle, which I made of the bark of a tree, with mine own / hands, since I was cast ashore” (2.2 115-118). Stephano tells Trinculo that he escaped the shipwreck on a sack that the sailors threw overboard, and he was able to make it to shore. It fascinated me, I’m still figuring out why, that Stephano was so drunk but able to make it ashore safely. It appears that not a lot of other men were so fortunate to be alive like Trinculo and Stephano.

    Once I read Shakespeare’s text I, then, moved on to Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s “On the Abolition of the English Department.” I was surprised when he spoke about getting rid of the English Department. He writes, “That the English Department be abolished; That a Department of African Literature and Languages be set up in its place” (Thiong’o, “On the Abolition of the English Department”). I both agreed and disagreed with Thiong’o on this idea. I thought, yes, students should be taught African Literature and Languages, however the English Department is important too. I think we need to read works, such as Shakespeare, to understand more about that time period. However, reading texts about African Literature and Languages will help students to be more diverse in what their reading. In other words, students will be able to read works from other races instead of reading texts from the perspective of one race of authors.

  2. Emily Abrams says:

    With the dominant questions guiding our course this semester in my mind – what is good literature / what good is literature – I feel like so very often English students read William Shakespeare purely because the consensus holds that his plays are canonically “good” and because of the “good” his writings did for literature (aka his legacy, etc.). Easily, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Romeo & Juliet” stand out in my mind; personally, I think it’s because I enjoyed the character psychical complexities and the dramatic climaxes within the plots. I approached “The Tempest” with the same intrigue, but upon finally finishing, I felt disappointed at its lackluster ending.

    I agree with Zabrina – this play was a difficult read. For me, it was a matter of personal disengagement with the action and characters in the play. The stimulus for the drama – the tempest – was probably the most exciting part, honestly. Granted, “The Tempest” does abide by similar thematic conventions Shakespeare was known for: tragedy, usurped nobility, comedy, murder plots, love and mysticism, all shaped by Shakespeare’s unique writing style. Yet, the falling action of “The Tempest” holds that apologies and forgiveness is sufficient for resolution. It is not quite satisfying as Shakespeare’s other tragedies; no one dies (which is a good thing, surely), and audience is left to just accept this short play’s ending. Maybe then the real questions, raised by the larger question of what is “good” literature, are a matter of applied lenses: is it “good” on a purely textual base? Is this factor inextricable from judgements on skillful plot development and resolution? I’m hoping for some guidance on how to best assess “The Tempest” as canonically “good”; currently, I feel like I’m missing something…

    With regards to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’’s “On the Abolition of the English Department,” I sensed that the root of his argument lies in the “principle” that academia should hold the pursuit of knowledge of oneself and one’s culture prior to that of others (442). It is a compelling argument, absolutely. Thiong’o’ and his other faculty remind readers that the question of “literary excellence” is inherently a “value judgement,” and that “only after we have examined ourselves, we radiate outwards and discover people worlds around us” (441). I would say that this is a fair assessment. However, it is important that readers are aware of the value hierarchy that Thiong’o’ creates as he simultaneously argues for the study of African literature over English literature. When he states, “For any group it is better to study representative works which mirror their society rather than to study a few isolated ‘classics,’ either of their own or of a foreign culture,” Thiong’o’ establishes a value judgment on “good” literature, and his sardonic tone is unmistakable. Maybe, in this respect, Thiong’o’’s argument would have been better served if it underscored the value of literary approach to equally-valued literary texts, and stray from making any comments on “literary excellence” (441).

  3. Cassandra says:

    This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how the form of the novel is still a relatively recent development literature’s history. One of my other teachers emphasized how poetry used to be the dominate form, and as we read about Ngũgĩ’s success as a playwright and The Tempest, I’ve been considering different forms and their affordances. What does a play do that a novel can’t? Why was poetry so popular for so long, and yet it’s not even a requirement in our department any longer?

    Yet when I close my eyes and think about what is literature, I can’t help but picture books, and more specifically novels. If I do consider other forms, it’s books of poetry, or the text of a play. “On the Abolition of the English Department,” Ngũgĩ and his comrades bring up the importance of the oral tradition, which I rarely consider. Even as new forms like graphic novels and non-linear video game narratives gain popularity, it’s still hard for me to shake off my personal biases of what literature is. Perhaps, going back to last week’s conversation, it relates to the fact that the word literature itself is loaded with “cultural capital.” Studying literature brings up associations of “high culture,” and being “learned” in great writers that came before us. Ngũgĩ and his comrades point out that “the question of literary excellence implies a value judgement as to what is literary and what is excellence, and from whose point of view” (Ngũgĩ 441). As English major, we all clearly appreciate literature, so while I think it’s good we have our specialty, I think it’s also important for us to remember that the English-speaking world isn’t the only one out there. I’ve been trying to take Comp Lit classes to supplement my English literature education for a while now, but I really appreciated reading this proposal to help me understand the significance of doing so.

    

As far as The Tempest goes, I’ve never read it before, but I’ve been enjoying it a lot so far. Considering different forms, it might be fun to look at Ariel’s song in Act I, Scene 2. There’s definitely a lot to look at regarding colonialism in the play too. Prospero enslaves Ariel and Caliban and has them do his bidding in order to gain back power. As Shakespeare is definitely regarded as “literary excellence” across the board, I think we should consider his influence on not just English texts, but how colonialism has spread his influence to other cultures too. I just read a book from the Sudan for another class, Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, that among other English texts, responded to Othello. We can’t ignore Shakespeare’s influence, but we can certainly learn things from his universal popularity and, on the topic of this class, consider the role of literature in colonization.

  4. Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

    Carrying around my copy of “The Tempest” this week, I was able to feel like a real life version of the stereotypical English major that non-humanities people imagine and that movies often choose to depict. Like any “good” English major (what does that even mean?), I have read my fair share of Shakespeare over the years; however, this week was my first time ever reading “The Tempest.” Like Emily, I found myself struggling to engage the narrative and, like Zabrina, fighting also to understand what exactly was going on in many scenes. This play reminds me a lot of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with the fantastical elements and spirits, but seems perhaps darker, and less accessible still to a lay reader (or theatre-goer). I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, but that’s my read thus far.

    I find the positioning of Shakespeare’s text against Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s administrative policy proposal to be quite fitting. In writing for the abolition of the English department in favor of the creation of a more representative Department of African Literature and Languages, the document cites an inappropriate and pervasive placement of British culture over that which is created by and for the people attending the University at Nairobi. I found this document fascinating as it outwardly rejects “the primacy of English literature and culture,” and lays claim to maintaining and strengthening the connection to traditional cultural expressions, like oral storytelling (439-440). Among many others, our class considers the questions “what makes good literature?” and “what makes literature good?” Addressing this point, two parts of this document left me thinking quite deeply about what we are/should be doing in this class. Ngũgĩ writes:

    “The primary duty of any literature department is to illuminate the spirit animating a people, to show how it meets new challenges, and to investigate possible areas of development and involvement” (439).

    
“The question of literary excellence implies a value judgement as to what is literary and what is excellence, and from whose point of view. For any group it is better to study representative works which mirror their society rather than to study a few isolated ‘classics’, either of their own or of a foreign culture” (441). 



    In each of these excepts, Ngũgĩ articulates an aim, rather, a duty that the study of literature owes students and society alike. Whereas I think the first quotation can provide some helpful framing for how to think about what we are spending so much of our (collective) time doing, it is the second quote that I find more interesting. Attacking this notion of “literary excellence,” the policy smartly points out the flawed grounding for this designation. Those who determine excellence have an agenda — their ideas of what is literature and, beyond that, what makes something valuable, are skewed, knowingly and not, towards expressions of culture echoing what is known already to them. I don’t know quite where I land on that final part about sticking to representative works; however, I do know that the pointed comment about studying “isolated classics” (looking at you, Shakespeare) felt extra personal this week. 



  5. Reading Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” alongside Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s “On the Abolition of the English Department” this week allowed me to, I think, consider the worth of each more carefully. Like some of my classmates, I found “The Tempest” a bit rough to read. As I read, I thought it was me – we all have moments where focusing becomes difficult. I guess it was just the “The Tempest.”

    Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s document, on the other hand, was a great little read. Particularly the fifth point, about the modern west as the “root of our consciousness and cultural heritage” (439). This idea, that western literature isn’t the literature that needs to be supported and studied in Kenya, got me thinking about the monoliths pervasive throughout our chosen field of study. There is the obvious monolithic fallacy, as wa Thiong’o points out, that western literature, and by extension western culture, is the primary, most important literature for study. Why is that? Simply because it was written in the English language? Accessibility? I doubt it. There are more works in translation than I could ever hope to read in my lifetime, and yet works in translation aren’t made even a minor focus in most classrooms.

    Shakespeare, on the other hand, is. I believe I have read more works by Shakespeare throughout my scholastic career than I have by any other single author, poet, or dramaturge. Why is this? Surely, he is a significantly influential figure in western literature, but so are many artists who are read much more infrequently. If he is read for his contributions to contemporary prosaic form, why read five Shakespearean works in high school rather than settling for, say, “Hamlet,” then spending the newly freed up time on “Oroonoko” and “Robinson Crusoe?”

    I am not, of course, faulting our reading schedule for the inclusion of Shakespeare. I am, however, saying that wa Thiong’o’s argument is a sound one. When such things become monoliths about which we orient ourselves, in this case as literature students oriented around Shakespeare, we should look at that thing and ask ourselves, “Is this structure in place as a result of inherent value – political, aesthetic, representational, or otherwise – or has the structure simply been perpetuated by sociocultural forces?

  6. Jude Binda says:

    I let out a sigh of relief when I came to the blog and found that I was not the only one who had trouble with The Tempest. With many other Shakespearian texts, I find myself reading and reading until I finally realize I don’t understand what is going on. At that point, I try to remember “what was the last thing I actually understood” and then I go from there. I always find it best to look up a brief summary of a piece like this before reading it just to give myself some idea of what to expect.
    Something that jumped out to me is when Caliban said “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/ Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you/ For learning me your language!” (1.2.362-364)
    Thinking about my experience with postcolonial theory, language is often the first things that is targeted. Being forced to abandon one’s language is one of the largest steps in erasing a colonized people’s culture and implementing the colonizer’s. This attack on language can even be said about slaves in America. When deprived of literacy, slaves were denied their ability to effectively communicate and participate in conversations that they could have potentially contributed to using their diverse experiences. Of course, this is neither here nor there because enslaved people had much more pressing issues to overcome, so I digress. Language is obviously something that is important to consider when thinking about the question “What Good is Literature?” Transitioning into the other reading, I think a discussion about the significance of native languages can be useful when thinking about the Ngugi Wa Thiong’o text.
    I read Thiong’o with our college’s English program in mind. It’s funny how the only required literature categories are American, British, and “Global/Ethnic.” I’ve never thought about how weird that is. I don’t think we should replace the English department with an African Literature department but maybe just a Literature department? Instead of some classes that might not be as useful as others *cough cough* The 240’s *cough cough*, we should have more categories for literature from all around the world. Being centered around western literature keeps us further away from diversity and a greater understanding of the world as a whole.

  7. Venessa says:

    The Tempest was an interesting play to read, with the strange elements of spirits and deformed characters. The fact that Caliban is a character in the play seemed like an addition for no reason. The story would have gone on without him being in there, however, why did Shakespeare choose to add him in? The way they describe Caliban as “A freckled welp, hag-born not honored with a human shape” (16). Why does Caliban have to have this inhuman form because his mother is a witch from Algiers? There is a sense of structural violence at play here, because both Caliban and Sycorax are described in derogatory terms because of the cultural origins of where they come from. The treatment of Caliban is also very unjust and unfair, yet Caliban is the one who is portrayed as the villain, for wanting to kill Prospero. This in some way ties into what Ngũgĩ says about African literature. He says, “The aim, in short, should be to orientate ourselves towards placing Kenya, East Africa, and then Africa in the centre. All other things are to be considered in their relevance to our situation, and their contribution towards understanding ourselves” (439). The main point here is that Africa is the center of text, and from Caliban in The Tempest, there is the pull of African culture. It is portrayed in a negative light, however, it is still brought up in the text, when it did not have to be. I get Ngũgĩ’s point about African literature as the center and I agree that we need to have literature from all cultures incorporated into the curriculum. I don’t think he is suggesting getting rid of European culture completely, but he is saying that instead of having it at the forefront, replace that with the African text. Africa is supposedly the place of origin in the world, so Ngũgĩ makes the point that shouldn’t African literature be the center of literature as well?

  8. Deepika Khan says:

    “On the Abolition of the English Department,” the administrative document by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, argues for more “centrality of Africa in the department” (441). I believe the theoretical argument here is what good is Western literature in a non-Western world? Thiong’o’s theoretical claim directly ties into the overarching theme for our class in that it asks what good is the literature we are currently reading from the syllabus. For example, other than being canon, why read Shakespeare’s plays? How is it relevant to our lives, today? What good, if any, is the literature of a few, select, group of older men? Why Shakespeare’s plays and not Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s document? Is it because one is truly a literary piece of work while the other is simply an opinion? I don’t have the answer but maybe the class might.

    Shakespeare. Shakespeare. Shakespeare. Shakespeare. All I have ever read in my career as a student has been…Shakespeare. Although I have to admit, I never read “The Tempest” before, so maybe I will enjoy the play. “The Tempest” is certainly not an easy read for me because there are so many different characters with a bunch of storylines at play. I’m guessing the main plot of the play is Prospero’s revenge on his brother, Antonio, who “extirpates” Prospero and runs him “out of the dukedom” (I, ii). It’s the classic case of family against family, combined with some magical elements that help the story move along. When we meet, I hope we can clarify the relationships characters have with one another, since that was one thing I had trouble keeping track of. From what I can gather, Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, has been asked to marry Ferdinand, who is the son of Prospero’s enemy. But Prospero seems excited about their possible union until he doesn’t. He regards Ferdinand as a possible traitor and becomes an overprotective father. I would like to talk about the absence, or rather lack of, women in the play so far. I have only heard from Miranda, who is unafraid to voice her opinions, though still falls victim to her father’s spells. We should also discuss the passage in act I scene ii that has a dialogue between Caliban and Prospero. It seemed particularly fascinating to me, especially because Prospero and Miranda are the ones to give Caliban (a sort of monster) a proper education. I imagine Caliban dressed in dark, tattered clothes with a bald head and hunchback. I see Miranda as having long, dark hair and a beautiful face. Given the time period, she would probably be wearing a dress the billows and flows in the wind.

  9. Maggie C. says:

    The argument Ngũgĩ makes on a theoretical level is that good literature doesn’t need to be Euro-centric. In fact, he argues that it just might be the opposite of that. In “The Abolition of The English Department” the argument is drawn to from the idea that the English Departments move away from Eurocentric pieces of literature. There’s the idea that by moving away from the more “British” works and towards African, Asian, Caribbean, and American literature the department would become more well rounded. Yet as Ngũgĩ argues, under this ideology “Africa becomes an extension of the West…” and so much is lost (439). Our perspective can often be warped about what makes good literature because of the lens we’re predisposed to view it through. His argument is more than correct. To have a department change to become more inclusive or shift focus is, in many ways, facetious because it’s still viewing it through that lens and refusing to make a permanent change in perspective. Then there’s the idea of continuing on with linguistics and integrating new languages such as Swahili, French, and English, along with (whenever feasible) other languages such as “Arabic, Hindustani, Kikuyu, Luo, Akamba (440). This would up such a huge difference in the way language and good literature is thought about. While Ngũgĩ initially makes a pitch for a separate department about African Literature he also tries to bring in the idea that it’s not about just shifting focus to a different context but understanding that if we really want to know what good literature is we really have to do a better job as seeing literature from a world view rather than just from one country. There’s also the theme of “Oral tradition” within the revision for a new and improved department (441). This along with dance and music would be incorporated which is another thing to consider; is the auditory component of literature not just as valuable as its written part? In my theory class there’s an argument that some theorists seem spoken word as supplementary to the written word while others the exact opposite. Regardless of that stance they’re still shown to be interconnected and both valuable as forms of literature-so why not incorporate them? Why isn’t music literature? Why isn’t dance? These forms all having meanings and metaphors, context and movements, they should be included too. The way the context would change too is something to consider. Different cultures have different traditions, forms, and literary texts. What oral tradition can teach in African Literature might be something many people aren’t familiar with. It can open new levels and new discussions about literature people never even considered. It wouldn’t replace but “supplement” which is a great word to use because it allows for the idea that with getting rid of the English Department, not only do we get rid of gatekeeping about who gets to have their literature read but about form. So much of English insists upon the idea of a novel when clearly, literature is much more than books. By drawing attention to this the idea of why we’re so stuck in our ways comes to light and makes readers question how can we know what good literature is if we really only know very little of it.

    As for The Tempest I think rather than a scene I’d recommend something like a character discussion. Prospero- is often considered a stand-in for Shakespeare if my memory serves me correct. What does that say about our view of literature and its center? Is Prospero (and subsequently Shakespeare) a good figure? Someone we could build an entire system/lens/culture of literature around? Is he worthy of it? Should we be enthused with his “magic” or are we blinded by it? Also Scene 2 Act 1 where the Shipwreck is described reminds me of The Winter’s Tale and the reoccuring theme of shipwrecks in Shakespeare plays is always something I thinking interesting to discuss-the idea of natural disaster/tragedy even in comedy and the intertextuality of the two and maybe how in good literature there perhaps has to be both.

  10. This is the third time I’ve read The Tempest, and the second this semester, so I’m definitely a little tired of Prospero and his wizardry. Despite that, I will still echo the rest of the sentiment here about the play being difficult to get into. It starts right in the middle of the action and takes a while to really get going and understand the convoluted ways in which the characters are interconnected. Here’s my biggest takeaway from the play, one that my other professor who taught it this semester disagreed with me on: Prospero is a real bastard. He’s manipulative, in both a magical and non-magical way, conniving and ruthless. He knows what he wants and takes actions to get there while stepping all over those around him, from Miranda to Caliban, to Sycorax in the background. Obviously Prospero’s conflicts with the island natives and their world place him in the lens of the post colonial theorists, who view this conflict as a reaction to the burgeoning expansion of the English Empire during Shakespeare’s time. Act one scene two are of particular interest to these theorists, and especially with our positioning of this text with “On The Abolition of the English Department”, I think that would be a good place to start discussion.

    A few of my classmates pointed out some of my issues with this play and it’s status as “good literature”. Shakespeare himself has been an accepted part of the literary canon, forever. And for (mostly) good that I’m sure most of us have discussed at length elsewhere. This particular play however, I don’t think belongs. Given what Maggie pointed us to about how Prospero is a stand in character for Shakespeare, it’s hard for me to accept that Shakespeare/Prospero are sympathetic figures. Especially considering the plays ending, which I find incredibly hypocritical. We’ll take more next week about the end, but suffice to say I think the views Shakespeare shares with us and is attributed with as Prospero warrant a closer look to determine his character.

    I agree with Zach, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s piece was a fantastic read. Thiong’o’s main argument is against the primacy of the English Language, especially in his home country of Nairobi and it’s University. He argues that the reason this primacy exists is because of lingering pressures from the era of British colonialism, which holds back great works from his home country, in his home language. He goes further to suggest that one of their most historic forms of cultural expression, the oral storytelling traditions, is all but erased because of these pressures. I think it’s an interesting text to read with The Tempest, highlighting the colonial conflicts taking place within Shakespear’s play.

  11. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, we see that there’s multiple characters, and some even pretending to be different character’s in some cases. However, this isn’t uncommon for Shakespeare, which you can see if you’ve read his plays As You Like It, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is no different in the Tempest, as we see that Ariel performs various roles throughout the play. What I’ve understood from the Tempest is that Prospero has clear intentions on luring these men, like Ferdinand, Alonso, and Sebastian, to the island where he’s trapped in order to get revenge. In The Tempest the play states, “There they hoist us/ To cry to th’ sea that roared to us; to sigh/ To th’ winds, whose pity, sighing back again, Did us but loving wrong” (1.2.148-151). From these lines, spoken by Prospero we understand that Miranda and him were sent to the island for what seems to be his brother’s selfish needs. With this in mind it seems likely that Prospero is looking forward to getting his revenge. What’s interesting about this play, is that Prospero even includes Miranda as part of his plan for revenge, although she isn’t aware of this. Although Prospero takes the time to explain to his daughter what they went through, he chooses not to include her as part of this plan. Why do you think Prospero chooses to do this? Does he intentionally do this so that Miranda, can maintain a level of innocence and naivety? Or is this done to protect her? Or does he choose to keep her out of his plan because he believes she might ruin his revenge on the men? Honestly, the fact that Prospero has been on the island for twelve years, to feel the need to right this wrong, by getting his revenge is crazy. But oddly enough, it seems to be something we see quite often, especially right now in our political climate. Instead of correcting what was done wrong by a better solution, Prospero decides to commit to fighting back, and not in a way that would be beneficial, but rather in a way that seems to put his own daughter at risk. Similarly to this, we see that with Trump, who rather than working forward, his way of “correcting” the system is to work backwards, and to reverse the progress that has been made all this time. So oddly enough, The Tempest does create a parallel to the events we see taking place in our political climate today.

    From what I understood of “On The Abolition of the English Department” by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o was that literature taught in English, or in general, is often westernized. Rather than opening up to more works around the world, the English department often limits itself by not including works that are not traditionally taught in classrooms. In “On The Abolition of the English Department” the text states, “Hence, in fact, the assumed centrality of the English Department, into which other cultures can be admitted from time to time, as fit subjects for study…” (Thiong’o 439) From this quote, we understand that although sometimes text, that isn’t westernized, does come across as significant, it doesn’t change much, Rather, it still is a limitation since most of the texts outside of the traditional readings are never really given a chance. However, Thiong’o also presents a limitation when he says that the english department should be put to an end. Which for someone who’s trying to get more inclusion of texts, seems to contradict his whole point. So why would someone feel the need to eliminate another department simply to increase the odds of getting their own work recognized, if it no longer supports the idea of including carious works of literature from different areas of the world? That was one of the questions I was left with after reading the article by Thiong’o because it makes me unsure of what he is really trying to say in his article.

  12. The theoretical argument that Ngũgĩ makes in the proposal is the necessity for a focus of study on literature of the place of the institution. Specifically, targeting literature in the many parts of African literature at the University of Nairobi. With exploring African literature and placing Africa in the center rather that Europe and the west, comes the ability for members of the institution to see things from an African perspective than through the fixed European lens. Ngũgĩ describes the purpose of a literature department as providing the ability to “illuminate the spirit animating a people, to show how it meets new challenges, and to investigate possible areas of development and involvement”. With this in mind, Ngũgĩ emphasizes that the construction of an African Literature and language department would be able to enliven the African people to understand and discover realms of their own culture rather than realms of a culture distant from them. Ngũgĩ most importantly, through this proposal, is making strides towards making education about the examination of the self and our own environments first before going to analyze the environment of other countries and societies. This is especially poignant to our discussion of the writing of black writers about American society such as Paul Beatty and James Baldwin in that it is also with the initial examination of the self that one can be truly able to understand and analyze the society they belong to before being able to analyze anyone else’s.

    In discussing Shakespeare’s the tempest, I think it would be important to discuss the loss and gain of power in the play. Specifically between Prospero, Caliban, and Ariel as they are characters who have lost their power in different ways and gain them back through different means. I also think it goes to show that we cannot discuss The Tempest without discussing colonization and slavery of Europe in the “European” representation of Prospero. And in doing so we have to look at Act 1 and the interactions between Prospero and Ariel and Prospero and Caliban and their own origins.

  13. Khurram says:

    Once you’ve read about postcolonial theory, and especially once you’ve used it as the lens through which you read The Tempest, it’s hard to read it any other way. It generally puts the focus on Caliban and Ariel. I’ll try a slightly different spin on it: Caliban and Ariel are two locals who are serving Prospero, a colonizer in this transaction, and who eventually become outnumbered by colonizers in their own home. But they behave differently. Maybe this is an Election Day-influenced thought, but Ariel and Caliban act something like the offensive trope of the good immigrant and the bad immigrant. Except they’re not immigrants on the island, so it’s more like the good native and the bad native. Act 2 is an excellent place to start for both, and also to understand the justification Prospero uses for his treatment of each, as well as the reasoning both Ariel and Caliban opt into that explains how they react to their servitude.

    I also think we could read The Tempest with an analysis of a social debt economy: as in, what do you owe to someone who changes your social position (like breaking you out of a tree, or educating you relative to their educational standard)? Or maybe we could trace the track of forgiveness in this play and see how Prospero’s forgiveness towards Antonio compares to freeing Ariel or pardoning Caliban. Prospero sort of follows this influential power quest and part of that power is the power to pardon, which he does so only after his ends are achieved. So even forgiveness is a commodity in this contained system. Maybe the reading, then, is some kind of “social behavior as a commodity” analysis.

    But then, I don’t know how I feel about reading The Tempest through Prospero. Which sort of goes to Ngugi’s point: instead of reading non-Euro/English literature as the center and having other works (and works from “others”) from a non-Euro/English center gain their value as comparative texts to a Euro/English standard, read the non-Euro/English works as central texts and treat their influences and thematically related Euro/English standard works as the comparative texts. So, my repetitive academic gibberish aside, read about the island and its inhabitants through its locals, and see how the true foreigners orbit around them. Read The Tempest as a story about Caliban and Ariel, and see how the “-o’s,” “-io’s,” “-and’s,” “-da’s,” and others are characterized relative to them.

  14. Stacey McDonald says:

    I began this week’s reading with “On the Abolition of the English Department”, and I could not help but be reminded of last week’s Swift reading. While this may be entirely my own interpretation of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s words, I felt that this piece was almost satirical. The demand to abolish the English department and replace it with a department of African literature and culture, while seemingly extreme, is merely a demand to introduce non-English speaking voices into the existing literary canon. Iwas particulary intrigued by this piece because of the nature of my thesis question, and in wondering once again who are the ones that get to decide what institutes a “great work of literature”? As stated by Thiong’o, “The primary duty of any literature department is to illuminate the spirit animating a people, to show how it meets new challenges, and to investigate possible areas of development and involvement” (439), but has any English department truly abided by that if they are denying the teaching of any work that fights against the title of “English”? By introducing a department of African literature and culture, anyone studying in the department would be introduced to works beyond those published in English- and why not? Why should western English speakers feel so entititled in their literary adventures that the works must be published to come to use, and not that we should have to learn a new language to make ourselves more accessible to the literature?

    Obviously I realize that I sound particularly hypocritical in that I have never attempted to learn another language in search of my next favorite book, but I wonder what it is about my literary upbringing that has never pushed me to do so, especially when considering that in order to appreciate something like The Tempest in it’s original form, so many groups of people would have to take the time to learn Shakespeare’s version of the English language.

    In regard to The Tempest, I am in the middle of re-reading for clarity (in full agreement with just about everyone else, I must say that this is not the easiest Shakespearean text I’ve read), and if I’m being completely honest I’m not entirely sure what the “main”story is- maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be a lot happening at once and while I’m working on getting to the level of understanding that I strive for with any other reading, I would greatly appreciate if we could have a discussion about the Tempest, an overview, if you will.

  15. Zara Diaby says:

    The word no is an act of defiance, the absence of action is an act of defiance not compliance; she makes sure to note this. In this world we always have the choice to say no. To exercise our liberty and ability to choose what we do and do not do. For some reason the quote, “well behaved women seldom make history,” comes to mind. Think of Kapernick and his act of “civil disobedience” or the silent counter protesters, met with violent opposition. What is it about silence that drives others mad?
    My high school literature teacher shuffling about the room with her purple feathered topped pen squawking at the class like a new England professor Mc Gonagall, though she more resembled Luna Lovegood with her eccentricities, how women have been subjected to atrocities for centuries though through silent defiance we have changed the world. A proud feminist she introduced us to a world of literature far removed from anything I have read to date, showing me that strength is often found in the strangest places, it honestly bred my love of literature and writing, becoming a part of her class, challenging what she considered good literature. Allowing myself to say, “no, I do not like this novel and I refuse to bow to what society says I should and should not like.”
    To turn to this week’s reading on Shakespeare I react as meh. This is not one of my favorite plays by him, I find it long and tedious and hard to follow. The language was a bit confusing, so I had to use translations to help me understand what was happening. The use of magic and the enslavement and liberation of peoples began to get confusing after a while, though I eventually understood it.
    This quote is interesting however, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is I know how to curse/ The red plague rid you/For learning me your language! (I.ii.366–368)
    The opening sequence was quite captivating, opening with a crew in the midst of a storm. The reasoning behind it was unknown and not revealed until the next scene. I will be frank and say this story did not interest me the ways in which the other stories did. Though there is magic and spirits and storms, the story itself is not that captivating and is quite long. I am curious to see whether or not Miranda and Ferdinand end up together.
    Thiong’o has such an interesting take on the destruction of the English department, it made me think about the introduction of American literature into something that was exclusively British literature. It also made me ponder the absence of “ethnic” literature and question why it is a subset to the traditional literatures. The proposal was not unfounded in the sense of heralding one over another while the other has its own wonderful rich culture, the ability to dissect and understand the world from which African literature comes from deserved its own space, and in contemporary colleges they have been shown and accepted.

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