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EN938 Theory from the Margins: Postcolonialism and the Radical Tradition

Spring 2023
Dr. Rashmi Varma
Course Description:
This module will examine the emergence, institutionalization, and a purported 'crisis' of postcolonial theory through a set of key fictional, historical, and political texts. Much of course can be said about the academic disciplinarization of postcolonial studies in the Anglo-American academy from the 1980s onwards, occurring in the context of economic and cultural globalization and a new American imperialism. This seminar will critically build on this historical conjuncture, by focusing on a range of influential texts written in earlier decades to try and understand the relationship between anti-colonialism and postcolonialism, and to examine the ways in which these have shaped a host of contemporary academic debates about postcoloniality. We will also examine debates about the overlaps and disjunctures between postcolonial theory and other theories from the margins that draw on the black radical tradition, Marxist critiques of imperialism and indigenous critiques of settler colonialism.

Course Outline: 

Part One of the module will look at M.K. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (1910), in which Gandhi offers a radical critique of Western civilization and lays out many of his ideas that were to shape his later political projects of struggle. This text will be read in tandem with an undelivered speech of one of Gandhi’s most significant antagonists B.R. Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste (1936). Supplementary readings by Arundhati Roy, Mahasweta Devi and others will allow us to discuss how radical critiques of the nation, nationalism and modernity have shaped subsequent theorizations of postcolonial studies.

Part Two will focus on a range of African texts: chiefly, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and Aye Kwei Armah’s novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. These texts examine the role of national culture within the project of decolonization, as well as the pitfalls of national consciousness in the context of neo-colonialism. These key texts will open up discussions about nationalism, culture and class struggle and their particular incorporation into late 20th and 21st century academic theorizations.

Part Three will focus on the Haitian Revolution, and will examine selections from C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins (1938), an influential account of the Haitian revolution written in the context of early twentieth century anti-imperialist movements. The text will provide us with an opening to discuss contemporary movements against racism and imperialism and the resources that postcolonial theory, in tandem with other radical traditions, can provide us.

Course Requirements:
The course will be run as a seminar. In other words, it will depend on your contributions to the discussion. In order to achieve this, you are expected to attend all the seminars and to do all the readings in a timely manner.

Seminar Guidelines:

Attendance: Attendance at each seminar is mandatory. If there is a medical reason or any other urgent situation, a written note should be submitted for record.

Seminar Participation: Seminars generally succeed or fail because of the quality of group participation. This means that you must keep on top of the required readings—reading thoroughly, carefully and in a timely manner.

Seminar Structure: We will begin each session with a short introductory lecture that will be followed by presentation of questions and small group discussion. The seminar will then open up for general discussion, questions and responses.

Weekly Questions: Each seminar participant will be required to sign up for at least one class presentation on the week’s readings. The presenter/s will be required to formulate a set of questions based on the readings and present them to the group. Make sure you type these up and make copies for everyone in class. Don’t forget to write your name and week on it. Alternately, you should email your questions to me one day before the class so that I can upload them on to the module web page.

The questions can be up to a paragraph long and should aim at provoking discussion. In other words, you are being asked to write questions to enable conversation; you are not being asked to write questions for exams. So make sure the questions are not ones that can be answered in an objective manner by anyone who has read the text.

Some points to consider: What is the salient argument that the reading/s are making? Is the argument consistent? If not, are there productive or useful gaps and contradictions for discussion? In the case of a fictional text, what are the key issues that might emerge as the framing ones for the text? Do the readings provide an important intervention in our thinking about postcolonial theory? How can we evaluate the intervention? What assumptions are the readings making in terms of audience/subject matter/discipline, etc.? Is there scope for making useful comparisons with other texts that we are reading? These pointers do not have to be followed in any particular order, or be followed necessarily. They are mainly provided to assist you in formulating a response.

Seminar Schedule:
Week 1:
Introduction: Postcolonial Theory and the Radical Tradition
Week 2:
M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1910) (text available online)
B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste (1936) (text available online)
Week 3:
Sudhir Chandra, “The Language of Modern Ideas”: Reflections on An Ethnological Parable”, Thesis Eleven, No. 39, 39-51, 1994.
Arundhati Roy, “The Doctor and the Saint” (Introduction to The Annihilation of Caste, Verso)
Dalit Camera, "An Open Letter to Ms. Arundhati Roy", Roundtable India 15 March 2014
Week 4:
Mahasweta Devi, “Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha” Pterodactyl
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, "The Adivasi Will Not Dance"
Jacinta Kerketta, excerpts from Anger
Week 5:
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)
Neil Lazarus, “Disavowing Decolonization: Fanon, Nationalism, and the Question of Representation in Postcolonial Theory”, in Anthony Alessandrini, ed. Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives (1999)
Week 6:
Aye Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, “The Language of African Literature”, from Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader (1994)
Week 7: Achille Mbembe, "The Becoming Black of the World" from Critique of Black Reason (2017) (e-book available via Warwick Library)
Kevin Ochieng Okoth, "The Flatness of Blackness: Afro-Pessimism and the Erasure of Anti-Colonial Thought", Salvage January 16, 2020. (
Week 8:
CLR James, Selected chapters from The Black Jacobins (Chapters 4,5, 6, 13 and Appendix) (text available online)
Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism (text available online)
Suzanne Cézaire, “1943: Surrealism and Us” and “The Great Camouflage” Cesaire, "Surrealism"
Recommended Readings:

Susan Buck-Morss, "Hegel and Haiti". Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer, 2000), pp. 821-865.

David Scott

Week 9:
Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation (1997) ("Approaches", "Paths", "Poetics") (available online)
Enrique Dussel, “Eurocentrism and Modernity” Dussel
Maria Lugones, 'Toward a Decolonial Feminism', Hypatia Vol. 25, No. 4 (FALL 2010), pp. 742-759
Week 10:
Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America
Rivera Cusicanqui, S. (2012) Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: A Reflection on the Practices and Discourses of Decolonization, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 111(1): 95-109.