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What does it actually mean to read for justice and what might this entail? Yoking a wide range of theoretical and pedagogical perspectives and hard-won critical insights, this chapter argues that decolonizing the curriculum is not simply additive (”just add Achebe!”). Decolonization provides a vocabulary by which new knowledges of human development may help to reshape the literary curriculum in the direction of greater sensitivity to urgent racial and social justice issues in today’s world. The chapter examines pathways for this change through detailed readings of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (and Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic adaptation), and an examination of the politics of comparison.
Goodison’s nuanced poem about the Hope Royal Botanical Gardens sheds light on the often-unbridgeable gap between the classroom and the world outside. The “post-colonial scholar” is often considered the killjoy whose knowledge of the history and aftermaths of colonialism subsumes the complex lived experiences of postcolonial societies. In this respect, she is not different than the critical race scholar, who in the United States is accused of a range of sins, including the distortion of American history, if they want to teach the roots of slavery. In his essay “Muse of History,” Derek Walcott had cautioned against a petrifying of colonial history into myth, with its unchangeable binary of perpetrator and victim: “In the New World, servitude to the muse of history has produced a literature of recrimination and despair, a literature of revenge written by the descendants of slaves or a literature of remorse written by the descendants of masters. Because this literature serves historic truth, it yellows into polemic or evaporates in pathos” (What the Twilight Says 37).
Decolonizing the English literary curriculum is a necessary and yet impossible task. It requires more than overcoming institutional inertia within the university; it requires much more than having a series of difficult conversations at the departmental level regarding the purpose and scope of an English literary education today. Decolonizing the literary curriculum in the United States, the location from which I write, demands nothing short of revolutionizing an entire educational apparatus where the university is only the tip of the iceberg. Add to it Kindergarten–12 schools, the textbook industry, and state legislatures, eight of which as of 2021 have banned the discussion of structural racism, sexism, and White privilege in the classroom (Ray and Gibbons).
George Floyd's death on May 25th 2020 marked a watershed in reactions to anti-Black racism in the United States and elsewhere. Intense demonstrations around the world followed. Within literary studies, the demonstrations accelerated the scrutiny of the literary curriculum, the need to diversify the curriculum, and the need to incorporate more Black writers. Decolonizing the English Literary Curriculum is a major collection that aims to address these issues from a global perspective. An international team of leading scholars illustrate the necessity and advantages of reform from specific decolonial perspectives, with evidence-based arguments from classroom contexts, as well as establishing new critical agendas. The significance of Decolonizing the English Literary Curriculum lies in the complete overhaul it proposes for the study of English literature. It reconnects English studies, the humanities, and the modern, international university to issues of racial and social justice. This book is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
The introductory chapter explores the way attention to cities and urban literatures expands the typical nodes of World Literary production. It does so, we argue, by activating not just a broader spatial imaginary or geographical reach for the field, but multiplies the historical and linguistic formations of potential literary world systems. The chapter offers three starting propositions about World Literature: that it seeks literary frameworks beyond the nation; it tends toward systematicity and totality; and it activates an interest in decolonizing literary systems. Given that urban centers are typically highly networked at regional, national and global scales, we then consider the way cities have typically functioned as cultural “switchboards” regarding the commingling of peoples, cultures, goods and ideas. Instead of offering a singular new theory of World Literature to supersede previous ones, our volume proffers accounts of world-connecting circuitry that depends upon the complex dialectics of urban materialities and worldly imaginations.