L383 1977 BOSE
Studies in British or Commonwealth Culture

11:15a-12:05p TR (30) 3 cr.


By the early twentieth century, the British Empire covered almost a third of the earth's land surface. Imperial expansion was accompanied and consolidated by the spread of the English language. By the mid-nineteenth century, the inculcation of English and British cultural values had been adopted as a central strategy in colonial subjugation. Colonial educational policies in the colonies, however, were both politically and culturally double-edged. At the political level, they cultivated a native clerical class to serve the Empire, and, simultaneously, disseminated bourgeois democratic ideals among the native, educated elite. Inspired by these ideals, this elite would emerge as the leadership of anti-colonial movements. At the cultural level, colonialism had a profound impact on English literature, introducing hybrid semantic systems and epistemologies that have radically reshaped the novel.

This course will investigate the emergence and development of the post-colonial novel with an emphasis on South Asia. We will consider Indian novels written in English, which represent the colonial experience and imagine the new nation. We will start the course by reading R.K. Narayan's imaginative retelling of the vibrant and very much still living epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. These epics will enable us to see the literary continuities within a tradition that dates back to around 1400 BCE. We will investigate the ways in which these epics articulate dominant ideology in a South Asian context by delineating ruling class Hindu values, which have posed the greatest challenge to India's identity as a secular democracy. In other words, our readings of the novels will consider the extent to which the concept of the "nation" is inclusive or exclusive of particular groups of people. Some of our readings explicitly treat the problems of caste (Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable; others represent the dangers of sectarianism (Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan and Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India; and several others dwell on the issue of gender and nationalism (Raja Rao's Kanthapura and Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things). Near the end of the semester, we will read Salman Rushdie's Midnight’s Children, which diagnoses the failures of Indian democracy and exposes the dangers of Third World authoritarianism.

Students should expect to take two exams, write a ten-page seminar paper, and make an oral presentation accompanied by a brief paper. We are fortunate insofar as IU will host a conference on the "Dynamics of Diversity" in February 2003. The conference will focus on the challenges of realizing democracy on the Indian subcontinent. I anticipate that students will utilize this excellent opportunity to attend panels and familiarize themselves with recent debates on the relationship between nationalism and religious identity.