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RV Seminar Group

Thursdays, 2-3 pm, FAB 5.52

Class Presentations (Questions):

Week 2: Lily Harrington Week 3: Jyoti Sehgal Week 4: Daniels. Week 5: Jasmine Wheatley/Madi Black. Week 7: Sam Parkin and Nayan Chatrath. Week 8: Phoebe Boot, Ellen Cassidy. Week 9: Michelle Kwok, Nicholas Week 10: Amelia Thomas, Lizzie Shooter

WEEK 10 (Amelia and Lizzie)

  1. “I hear you’re collecting oral traditions. Good work. It’s about time someone starting recording and preserving them before they’re lost for ever”.

Epeli Hau’ofa’s short story explores Ole’s journey in trying to preserve oral histories and traditions of his culture before eventually coming home to find seven years of his life’s work destroyed. Thinking back to what has been discussed on the module relating to good literature, do you think this could somewhat be seen as a metaphor of the global ignorance towards oral traditions, and the different cultures of the Pacific islands? Do you think that the erasing of oral traditions could lead to hegemonic globalisation (where the ideas and values of Western ‘ways of life’ are distributed globally)?

  1. George W. Bush: 'One of the messages I want to say to the people of Afghanistan is it's our country's pleasure and honour to be involved with the future of this country. We like stories of young girls going to school for the first time so they can realise their potential'.

Hau’ofa’s story can be seen to have close links with many of the UNESCO projects that took place in the Pacific islands in the 1970s and 1980s. Thus, it has been suggested there is a strong sense of paternalism where they assume the cultures require assistance, overlooking their existing culture. What then, are some of the reasons that the NGOs give funding to certain traditions to be translated for global distribution? Thinking about Bush’s quote, is the Western market just looking for worldly literary stories to ‘tick a box’ and create sympathy for its readers? And is this a positive or a negative thing?

  1. In the lecture we saw Goethe’s definition of world literature, and his belief that texts from all cultures should be read and celebrated. He went on to caveat his previous statement, saying that apart from the Ancient Greek literature All the rest we must look at only historically; appropriating to ourselves what is good, so far as it goes.”

How does Goethe's quote link to examples of literary repression we have studied on the module so far? To what extent is this 'appropriating' still an issue today and is there any way to avoid it?

  1. Aamir Mufti titled his 2016 text “Forget English!”. Discuss in your groups whether it is possible to, as Mufti’s title purports, ‘forget’ English entirely, and by extension, whether this would be beneficial or not? What impacts this might have on the global literary plane or the study of Literature as a discipline?
  1. Thinking back to when we read Said’s piece on Orientalism, the argument was made that the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’ are binary opposites. Can we take this, then, as confirmation that the Occident – the Western culture and literary sphere – is entirely dependent on the existence/construction of the Orient to function? Is there a symbiosis at play? What would happen to Western literature, or indeed world literature, if the notion of ‘the Orient’ was fully deconstructed?


WEEK 9 (Michelle and Nicholas)


1. “The sterile language with which he is spoken of – as a ‘benefactor’ and ‘businessman’ – actively erases the history of violence that enabled his ‘generous munificence’. Where great concern was expressed over whether the removal and recontextualisation of Rhodes’s statue would erase ‘history’, little curiosity was ever shown towards what histories were and continue to be suppressed by the statue’s very existence as a glorifying tribute.”

Gebrial argues the use of language is one of the actions done which is able to complement the framing of a historical narrative, alongside the creation of statues and other objects of commemoration. To what extent will the education system, media and society have to go to decolonise itself, if remnants are always this persistent?

2. “Kelly Gillespie and Leigh-Ann Naidoo point out that while the ‘decolonisation’ protests predominantly took shape at elite historically white universities, antiprivatisation protests tended to be more popular, sweeping all national public universities including Black and working-class institutions. RMF quickly morphed into a nation-wide movement called Fees Must Fall whose central demands included the scrapping of fee increments, insourcing of workers and a progressive shift in student funding from loans to scholarships.”

Rao makes reference to Gillespie and Naidoo’s argument of the intersectionality of decolonisation and anti privatisation, yet they also show the issue of anti privatisation dwarfing decolonisation. How can decolonisation efforts co-exist in a neoliberal space which cause financial issues to have more widespread protests than decolonisation?


  1. How has reading about the Rhodes Must Fall movement and the broader context of decolonisation influenced your perspective on the role of education in addressing colonial legacies and to what extent do individuals, especially students, play a transformative role in anti-racist movements within educational institutions?
  2. Rahul Rao's article mentions the influence of Afropessimism on student organising around race. How do you see Afropessimism shaping the discourse and goals of student antiracist politics, and what are the potential strengths and limitations of this influence?

WEEK 8 (Phoebe and Ellen)

  1. There is an argument to be made that English and literary criticism are insular in nature i.e. critical writing is inaccessible to non-academics. This supports the idea that often times critical writing alienates the people it wants to inform most.

Think about this in relation to the Black Lives Matter video which we watched in the lecture and the mention of the exchange of ideas the people experienced whilst being held in the prison cell. Does their exchange of ideas and literary texts, as well as their ‘creation of a syllabus’ go against the idea presented above that critical writing alienates the people it wants to inform most, or does it support it?


  1. In terms of English as a discipline, Frank Kermode argued that “Most of us are seeking to abolish that which we wish to teach”. Essentially arguing that by making the study of English Literature more eclectic, it is diluted and less-credible as a discipline.

However, Ngugi advocates for a widening of what we consider to be literary, for example he suggests that including the study of oral traditions would foster a “multi-disciplinary outlook” incorporating “Literature, Music, Linguistics, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Psychology, Religion, Philosophy”.

Ngugi’s view is in complete opposition to that of Kermode’s. Therefore, is a more “focussed” approach to the study of literature more beneficial in order to make it a more distinguishable discipline, or, does the inclusion of other literary methods and, by consequence, other disciplines benefit the subject?


  1. “Did you make me for the gap in the market/ Did I make me for the gap in the market”.

In Daljit Nagra’s poem ‘Booking Khan Singh Kumar’, he touches upon the role of supply and demand in the literary scene when he questions if he is only appreciated because he ‘fills a gap in the market’ and whether he subconsciously writes to fill this gap. This in turn, touches upon ideas of the university system’s increasing shift towards a neo liberalist model of prioritising demand and profit.

In the same way, do we as readers and subsequently consumers put an expectation on multicultural writers to produce a certain type of literature?

Is this demand for a certain type of literature counter-productive to decolonising English or not?


  1. “The colonisation of the earth results in the colonisation of the psyche and the body” (Fanon, TheWretched of the Earth)

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” (Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk)

Du Bois’ concept of a double consciousness says that the colonized, can only be expected to resist their so-called “inferior identity” perpetuated by the coloniser, before ultimately internalizing it on some level.

Colonialism has historically used language and systems of thought to dominate, e.g. epistemic violence and the colonial narrative of English superiority in the literariness and morals etc. How does this mindset survive after the end of formal colonialism? Is keeping an English department in a former English colony a way of legitimizing or keeping alive a colonial rule? Why or why not?



  1. Look to the collections’ opening epigraph and the title poem’s epigraph.

‘The people have brown faces – besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff?...’ – George Orwell

‘So various, so beautiful, so new …’ - MATTHEW ARNOLD, ‘Dover Beach’

Nagra regularly prefaces his poems with epigraphs drawn from famous British literary figures and/or texts. Using the above as an example, why do you think Nagra does so? Might they be trying to say something about the Indian-immigrant experience in the UK, or the relationship between cultures/ literary traditions?



WEEK 7 (Sam and Nayan)



1. ‘The Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West’

To what extent is the Orientalist ideology present in contemporary Western literature today? Furthermore, if Orientalist beliefs are prevalent in society today, what methods can we use to increase awareness on beliefs founded upon Western ignorance? Should we completely condemn authors who practice these harmful beliefs or use their work to create discussion in order to find a solution to the issue?

2. How does the concept of Orientalism contribute to an understand of geopolitical awareness, and in what ways does the distribution of geopolitical awareness influence various aspects of culture, scholarship, and power dynamics between the East and West?


‘The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India’

3. "The formation of a cultural idea would appear to be a matter of expansion and refinement from a prior, cruder version of it. The description further gives the impression of structural and biological continuity: though the final form may be as distinct from its originating principle as a living body is from a cell, the differences are blurred by a presumed identity of essence."

How does the author's critique of the words 'rise' or 'growth' and the emphasis on 'beginning' contribute to the understanding of the historical process by which English literary education became a cultural ideal in British India?

4. "The missionaries repeatedly petitioned Parliament to permit them to engage in the urgent business of enlightening the heathen. Unsuccessful with the earlier Act of 1793 that renewed the Company's charter for a twenty-year period, the missionaries were more triumphant by the time of the 1813 resolution, which brought about the other major event associated with the Charter Act: the opening of India to missionary activity."

How did the missionaries' efforts to engage in missionary activity in India reflect broader shifts in British colonial policies, particularly in the areas of education and cultural influence, during the early 19th century?

5. "The answer to this last question was obvious to at least one member of the Council on Education: the natives' greatest desire, averred C.E. Trevelyan, was to raise themselves to the level of moral and intellectual refinement of their masters; their most driving ambition, to acquire the intellectual skills that confirmed their rulers as lords of the earth."

In the context of the British strategy described in the passage, how did the belief in the natives' desire to emulate their rulers' moral and intellectual refinement shape the approach to education and cultural domination?

WEEK 5 (Jasmine and Madi)


1. "Florence too had been abducted [...] in the beginning, the telling of the story, which was so like her own, left her feeling exposed, sometimes angry, but she got used to it [...] it was different here, on this evening, with Maryam reading in Acholi while the trees stood aghast behind the glass with their feet in the snow. It was as if Maryam was speaking only to her."

Madi Black

5. “Rather than virtually becoming another, she [Arendt] asks you to imagine using your own mind but from their position. It’s a matter of keeping your distance, maintaining integrity […] This way of relating to others is not just tourism. […] Rather, you make an active, imaginative effort to travel outside of your circumstances and to stay a while, where you’re welcome.”

“One of Brecht’s aesthetic innovations was to disrupt immersion […] continually makes the audience aware of the artifice of the play. […] the receptive experience should entail a measure of distance, not an emotional mind-meld.”

“Instead of weeping or frowning with pity, we are asked to ‘visit’ an experience, to learn or recognise what it’s like ‘to feel and think’.”

Arendt and Brecht both advocate for a representative and distanced reading of art, in which the reader/spectator can understand the position of the characters’ circumstances, but not assimilate with them and involve the “catharsis of emotion”. Do you think it’s more important to have a complete emotional and empathetic attachment to art, or to stand back and just be “the reader”? What are the benefits and drawbacks of these two forms of reading/spectating?

6. “Barack Obama is an elegant and literary man […] He is widely read in philosophy, literature, and history […] and he has shown time and again a surprising interest in contemporary fiction. […] It thrilled me, when he was elected, to think of the President’s nightstand looking rather similar to mine. […] the President and his national-security team now make extraordinarily frequent use of assassinations. […] How on earth did this happen to the reader in chief? What became of literature’s vaunted power to inspire empathy?”

Here, Teju Cole is commenting on how Obama was a well-read man, and yet committed horrific attacks in the Middle East. Does this show a limit to empathy, and the idea of literature making us better people? Does this show a lack of empathy or just a different placement of this empathy, towards the potential victims of terrorism instead of the Middle East? How much of this empathy depends on the person reading the text, their personal opinions, and position in the world?


WEEK 4 (Daniels)


‘I am most surprised by those moments when I have felt as if the sentences, dreams, and pages that have made me so ecstatically happy have not come from my own imagination – that another power has found them and generously presented them to me.


‘We are in the company of the words of those who came before us, of other people’s stories, other people’s books, other people’s words, the thing we call tradition’

Psychoanalysist Carl Jung spoke of the collective unconscious, the idea of humanity sharing a common unconscious containing memories and impulses that created many of our architypes and beliefs. How much of what the writer writes stems from the subconscious/unconscious? and/or is there a larger, more unexplainable, source of inspiration that the writer takes from?


‘The Commandant's own drawings?' asked the explorer.
'Did he combine everything in himself, then? Was he soldier,
judge, mechanic, chemist, and draughtsman?'


Whatever commandment
the prisoner has disobeyed is written upon his body by the
Harrow. This prisoner, for instance' - the officer indicated
the man - 'will have written on his body: HONOR THY

During the last century we saw abhorrent regimes, from colonial to fascist and communist, justify their atrocities through literature. Is the very concept of the central author, and their societal veneration, conductive to language/literature being used as state tool to pacify/kill? Is a ‘commandant’ and ‘commandment’ inevitable if the author exists?


‘Enlightenment comes to the most dull-witted. It begins around the eyes.
From there it radiates. A moment that might tempt one to
get under the Harrow oneself. Nothing more happens than
that the man begins to understand the inscription, he purses
his mouth as if he were listening. You have seen how difficult
it is to decipher the script with one's eyes; but our man
deciphers it with his wounds.’

Many authors are famous for creating various ways to live and perceive the world. Do manifestos and ideological texts remove free thought from the individual? Is there a threat from dogmatic authors and their theories? Can words kill?


‘We all pipe, but of course no
one dreams of making out that our piping is an art, we pipe
without thinking of it, indeed without noticing it, and there
are even many among us who are quite unaware that piping
is one of our characteristics. So if it were true that Josephine
does not sing but only pipes and perhaps, as it seems to me
at least, hardly rises above the level of our usual piping’

What differentiates a writer from an author? What is the separation between someone who writes in his diary during private hours and someone who lets it out on published pages? What makes an author? Why does the title have the status that it has?


‘Is it her singing that enchants us or is it not
rather the solemn stillness enclosing her frail little voice?
Once it happened while Josephine was singing that some silly
little thing in all innocence began to pipe up too. Now it was
just the same as what we were hearing from Josephine’

Is being deemed an author the same as being given personhood? What’s the difference between the writer and author in how they’re publicly perceived? Why are these perceptions created?

WEEK 3 (Jyoti)

‘The Canon’:


1. “Some texts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust upon them. Breeding in this respect may count for a good deal more than birth. What matters may not be where you came from but how people treat you. If they decide that you are literature then it seems that you are, irrespective of what you thought you were” (7-8)

In this passage (as well as the essay as a whole), what do you think Eagleton is commenting on relating to culture, aesthetic value and judgement and what the literary canon ought to represent?


2. “The scholarship that looks into the mind, imagination, and behaviour of slaves is valuable,” Morrison writes, “But equally valuable is a serious intellectual effort to see what racial ideology does to the mind, imagination, and behaviour of masters” (11-12). In what ways does this perspective encourage a broader and more nuanced examination of the literary canon in relation to issues of race? How can we expand this to other ‘problematic’ canonised writers?


3. “All literary works, in other words, are ‘rewritten’, if only unconsciously, by the societies which read them; indeed there is no reading of a work which is not also a ‘re-writing’” (11).

How does Eagleton's perspective on the literary canon challenge traditional notions of what constitutes 'literature' and how it should be included or excluded in the canon? How might Eagleton's insights influence our understanding of the canon's role in shaping scholarship and education?


4. What are the challenges faced by both liberal and conservative literary critics when it comes to reevaluating the concept of the canon as a whole? How do their differing perspectives on what is included, representation and preservation of tradition impact the ongoing discourse surrounding the canon, and what role does this debate play in shaping the future of literary studies?


‘The Library’

1. What could Borges possibly be saying about the literary canon within these two passages, through the allusion to books and their literary value?

“The certainty that some bookshelf in some hexagon contained precious books, yet that those precious books were forever out of reach, was almost unbearable. One blasphemous sect proposed that the searches be discontinued and that all men shuffle letters and symbols until those canonical books, through some improbable stroke of chance, had been constructed.” (116)

“Others, going about it in the opposite way, thought the first thing to do was eliminate all worthless books. They would invade the hexagons, show credentials that were not always false, leaf disgustedly through a volume, and condemn entire walls of books. It is to their hygienic, ascetic rage that we lay the senseless loss of millions of volumes.” (116)

2. “The universe was justified; the universe suddenly became congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of humankind's hope. At that period there was much talk of The Vindications-books of apologia: and prophecies that would vindicate for all time the actions of every person in the universe and that held wondrous arcana for men's futures… Clearly, no one expects to discover anything” (115-116)

The infinite library seems to become an all-consuming space, in which its inhabitants can become obsessed with the knowledge seemingly accessible to them, particularly in relation to the self. In what ways does Borges’s library speak for the modern digital library of today, in which we can endlessly search?

3. “The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that.” (61)

What is this passage doing in terms of the structure and system of libraries, and how is does Benjamin’s personal library seem to differ?

Benjamin seems to be removing the idea of collecting books in terms of status and value.

4. “The acquisition of books is by no means a matter of money or expert knowledge alone. Not even both factors together suffice for the establishment of a real library, which is always somewhat impenetrable and at the same time uniquely itself.” (65)

How could this passage be addressing the inaccessibility of libraries?

Benjamin seems to suggest that having access to a library, whether personal or public, requires a level of intellect and social standing.


Use of technology in the classroom: The use of any device to access the web and/or social media is not allowed, except when (very occasionally) it is part of the seminar discussion. Please remember to switch off your phones and devices when you enter the seminar, with the exception of the device you need to take notes or consult course-related material.

Attendance: Attendance at each seminar is mandatory. If for some reason you need to miss a seminar, please do email me *before* the seminar so your absence can be excused. If this becomes a pattern, you will need to supply a doctor’s note or some other form of evidence to explain your absence.

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.

In order to prepare for the seminar, you should formulate a question and a point for discussion for each reading. One useful way to do this is to focus on a specific part of a reading.

Class Presentation: 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 3-4 questions based on the readings for the week and present them to the group.

Please send me your questions latest by Wednesday, midnight. They will be uploaded on the website before the seminar. You are welcome to work in pairs or groups.

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. Also, while individual opinions matter, and they matter a lot on this module, try and focus the discussion on the problems the texts raise.

Some tips:

Think of a problem that the text poses or that the lecture posed, either formal or thematic.

Choose a passage in any of the readings that you find rich and enigmatic. What about it can open up discussion on the topic for the week?

Is there anything outside the course that has come to your attention and that raises important questions connected to the module?

I look forward to our discussions!