ENGL 382 - English Seminar
Semester Offered: Fall
Topic for 2017/18a: Global and Refugee Canterbury Tales. In Britain in the last several years, the hashtag #WhyIsMyCurriculumSoWhite? has agitated for a change in the complexion and primacy of white colonial literature and history in UK universities. Likewise, you see this also in the US with #blacklivesmatter protests in the university and have seen it in our field of English literature with the protest at Yale regarding the core canonical authors class. In those demands, Yale English students demanded to know why their curriculum and core required class is a bastion of colonial male white privilege. They want their classes decolonized and they have, of course, named Chaucer as part of the problem. In South Africa, this has sparked a huge student push in activism with the hashtag #RhodesMustFall. The student protests and the accompanying hashtags have only highlighted a global issue in higher education and particularly in our English curriculum. What does the major (usually white, usually dead, usually male, usually European) author mean in an English curriculum? And is there a way to decolonize this category?
Gauri Viswanathan wrote in 2014 in the preface of her 25-year anniversary republication of the now classic Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India that now “Perhaps the most significant effect of postcolonialism—with all its shortcomings, blind spots, and metropolitan evasions—is that the curricular study of English can no longer be studied innocently or inattentively to the deeper contexts of imperialism, transnationalism, and globalization in which the discipline first articulated its mission” (xi). She points out in this study but also in thinking of the work done since the first publication of her book that English literature as a field has a very short history (150 years) and in fact began as a colonial project and thus was formed internationally before become a “national” literary field (xii-xiii). We need to ask ourselves as Viswanathan suggests: “precisely where is English literature produced?” Medieval English studies should always already be seen as global, inclusive, multilingual, multicultural. But Viswanathan’s point should also alert us to that fact that Chaucer’s Middle English oeuvre and particularly his Canterbury Tales was first taught as part of an English literary curriculum not in Britain but abroad in its colonies. Chaucer’s place in the contemporary canon has everything to do with his creation for the global colonial classroom. Thus, Chaucer had a global curricular readership long before he had an English curricular one.
This class focuses on situating Chaucer, and particularly The Canterbury Tales, as a global work and especially in lieu of recent projects that address the plight of international refugees (http://refugeetales.org). In particular, we read The Canterbury Tales in relation to the compelling work of black feminist writers, playwrights, and poets of the African diaspora (in the Caribbean, Africa, and black London) who have revised, adapted, extrapolated, and voiced The Canterbury Tales in Jamaican patois, Nigerian pidgin, and the south London dialects of Brixton. We consider the place of Global English in relation to creating this Chaucerian black diasporic and feminist cluster of works. These include Patience Agbabi’s Telling Tales (2014) that sets The Canterbury Tales in multicultural London with a distinctly London musical beat. Likewise, Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo’s recent song and dance adaptation of the “Miller’s Tale,” Wahala Dey O!, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 with the cadences of Nigerian pidgin English. Jean Breeze’s poem, “The Wife of Bath Speaks in Brixton Market” includes the weaving-in of Jamaican patois. It also includes the 2016 publication of Refugee Tales that includes Patience Agbabi’s work as well as the work of a cluster of British and diasporic British (Middle Eastern and African) writers as they take up the task of communicating refugee’s tales that they have encountered at one UK refugee detention centre. And finally, this class considers the reach of Global Chaucer and thinks about translation and adaptation. We examine the master list of the Global Chaucer project (https://globalchaucers.wordpress.com/resources/translations-and-adaptations-listed-by-country/). This class includes a workshop with Patience Agbabi (Telling Tales, Refugee Tales). Students are welcome to work on translation projects, creative projects, archive projects, digital storytelling, as well as traditional critical papers in relation to the Global Chaucer site and the Refugee Tales project. Dorothy Kim.
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