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Undergraduate Course Information


First Level

Oral Literature and Performance in South Africa

This course introduces students to debates about oral and written traditions and their interactions. The modules also introduce students to the area of performance studies. Since the interaction of oral and written forms lies at the heart of African Literature as a discipline, this course aims to introduce students to some of the key concepts and ideas in the field. The course begins by introducing students to three oral poetic genres: namely praise poetry, lament and rap. Thereafter students move on to examine ways in which different written and performance genres have utilized and transformed oral literature. The module aims to equip students with both close-reading and contextual skills and it encourages them to examine a range of South African cultural forms as part of a changing intellectual and political climate.

Themes to be covered include:

  • Praise poetry
  • Laments
  • Rap Poetry
  • Two novels which draw strongly on the oral tradition
  • Two South African plays
  • Two films
African Fiction: An Introduction

This course introduces students to a range of African fiction by focusing on the idea of regional literatures. By choosing a cross-section of West, East and South African texts, we attempt to introduce students to some of the major themes and concerns characterising this fiction. These include the disparate colonial contexts which have led to distinct literary trends in the various regions, the various ways in which writers draw on indigenous intellectual traditions; changing literary themes in the post-independence era; and the complex inteplay between different literary genres. The course aims to give students contextual reading skills and the ability to place a text in its social and historical context.


Second Level

Gender and Writing II

Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift within the field of feminist literary criticism. Previously attention tended to fall only on women writers; the representation of women and historical construction of femaleness. Questions of maleness ad masculinity received little attention and remained invisible . There has in short been a move from studying women and / in literary texts to studying gender.

This course seeks to apply this thinking to a range of African literary texts. The course commences with a consideration of the masculinist bias of much nationalist thinking and the ways which this informs many of the major male writers. The course then proceeds to examine the ways in which women and certain male writers have attempted to reshape or rewrite the masculinist orientation of much canonical African writing.

Performing Power in Post-Independence Africa

The post-independence state in Africa is frequently depicted as a 'theatre state' in African Literature. The relations between government officials and ordinary people, men and women, are structured and negotiated through a wide range of social acts that serve as physical and symbolic enactments of power. The staging of power is imbedded in social events as different as the political rituals of government, popular culture and its spaces/occasions of expression, and gendered encounters in the home, youth league rallies and many other instances. Drawing on novels, plays, poetry and film, this course explores the centrality of language, culture and ideology in imagining and contesting the nation state in Africa after independence.


Third Level

Literatures of the Black Diaspora

This module aims to introduce students to a representative range of literary texts from the African diaspora. The module will cover texts from the African-American and English-speaking Caribbean. The module commences with theoretical discussion on the nature of diasporic communities and idientities; strategies of language appropriation and abrogation; and the politics of pan-Africanism. A range of genres will be taught - autobiography, novels, poetry, short stories, music and video material. Themes to be investigated include explorations and uses of the past; the search for "wholeness"; the ambiquities of dependence; cultural nationalism; gender and class.


Contemporary Trends in African Literature

The popular image of African Literature both without and sometimes even within the academy is largely based on the literature that emerged during and shortly after the decolonising years. This movement included figures like Mahfouz, Soyinka, Achebe, Armah, Ngugi, Beti, Oyono, and Laye and it is often from these writers that a canon has been formulated which in some instances may take in a few 'second wave' writers - like Farah, Head and Aidoo. However, over the last decade there has been the emergence of a distinct 'third generation' of writers including figures like Okri, Dangarembga, Vassanji, Gurnah, Hove, Laing, Bandele-Thomas, Chipasula, Couto and so on. In theme, style and concern, this cohort of writers is distinct from the 'classical' writers of the canon and tends to take up issues that have emerged in other 'postcolonial' literatures. This shift in literary emphasis has been accompanied by a shift in critical focus and much African literary theory is now dominated by various forms of 'postcolonial' theory. The object of the course would be to introduce students to a cross-section of contemporary writers whilst simultaneously looking critically at shifts in literary theory.


East African Literature

This course seeks to examine discourses relating to decolonisation in the colonial and the post-colonial state in East Africa. Drawing on theories on decolonisation which attempt to understand the coloniser/colonised relationship and the effects of colonial structures and the post-colonial state, the course seeks to explore how the literatures of the sub-continent engage with ways in which power is deployed, contested and appropriated. It examines discourses relating to committed literature and alienation in the post-colonial state. Indeed, the apparent diverse political experiences of East African states ranging from Nyerere's ''Arusha Declaration'', Kenyatta's commitment to capitalism, to Amin's reign of terror are examined as mediating factors in the post-colonial literatures of East Africa.