ACLAnet Menu

Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents 

Spiritual Autobiography

Comparative Literature
Spring Semester 1998

Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960

Course Description:

The course will probe a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural study of four individual writers (two mid-century and French, two contemporary and Anglophone), looking at how these writers explore both autobiography and cultural, political marginalization: Jean Genet (French) and Marguerite Duras (French, from the former colony French-Vietkong) during the post-war and decolonization period, as well as later; and the contemporary writers, Ben Okri (Nigerian) and Jamaica Kincaid (African-Caribbean, now living in the United States), within a postcolonial historical context.

The course emphasis will be on "repetition and difference" in autobiographical writing; exploring representations of the self through writing, re-writing, repeating and altering literary representations of the self and the family or society. Through these autobiographicalóand in some cases, auto-fictionalówritings, we will interrogate the constructions of the genre autobiography, the subjective category the self, and the term spiritual. The following questions are germane to this critical interrogation: How are these three terms defined? What constitutes autobiography? What composes a self, and is this category a fixed, stable, coherent, and unified one? What is meant by the word spiritual? How does one differentiate the spiritual from the social, the sexual, the material, the political, the historical, the intellectual, and even the banal?

Required Texts:


All books are available at Atticus Albion Bookstore, Amherst.

Other Texts:

Course Requirements: 

Course Policies: 

Course Schedule:


29 Introduction to Course: review of syllabus and course objectives; explorations of terms germane to thecourse: spiritual; autobiography; colonialism; decolonization; postcolonialism; subjectivity; and representation.


3-5 Introduction to Course: review of syllabus and course objectives; explorations of terms germane to the course: spiritual; autobiography; colonialism; decolonization; postcolonialism; subjectivity; andrepresentation.

Marguerite Duras, The Sea-Wall (1949)

Secondary Source:

  • O'Neill, Kevin C.. "Structures of Power in Duras's Un Barrage contre le Pacifique," Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Boise, ID. 1991, 45:1 2, 47-60.
10-12 Marguerite Duras, The Lover (1984)

Secondary Sources:

  • Chester, Suzanne. "Writing the Subject: Exoticism/Eroticism in Marguerite Duras's The Lover and The Sea Wall," in Smith Sidonie (ed.); Watson Julia (ed.). De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women's Autobiography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, 436-57.
  • Murphy, Carol J.. "Duras' L'Amant: Memoirs from an Absent Photo," in Remains to be Seen: Essays on Marguerite Duras, edited by Sanford Scribner Ames. New York: Peter Lang, 1988.
  • Cohen, Susan D. "Fiction and the Photographic Image in Duras'The Lover," L'Esprit Createur, Lexington, KY. 1990 Spring, 30:1, 56-68.
  • Morgan, Janice. "Fiction and Autobiography/Language and Silence: L'Amant by Duras," The French Review: Journal of the American Association of Teachers of French, Champaign, IL. 1989 Dec., 63:2, 271-279;
  • Hellerstein, Nina S. "Family Reflections and the Absence of the Father in Duras' L'Amant," Essays in French Literature, 1989 Nov. 26, 98-109.
  • Hewitt, Leah. "Rewriting Her Story, from Passive to Active: Substitution in Marguerite Duras," in Autobiographical Tightropes. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
17-19 Marguerite Duras, The North China Lover (1986)
24-26 Jean Genet, The Thief'sJournal (1948-1949) and selections from The complete Poems of Jean Genet

Secondary Sources:

  • White, Edmund. "Once a Sodomite, Twice a Philosopher," Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, 1996 Fall, 3:1, 15-17.
  • Bersani, Leo. "The Gay Outlaw," Diacritics: A Review of Contemporary Criticism, Baltimore, MD. 1994 Summer-Fall, 24:2-3, 5-18.


3-5 Thief's Journal; Selections from Sartre's Saint Genett

Secondary Sources:

  • Selections from Wyschogrod, Saints and Postmodernism
  • Skakoon, Walter S.. "Romance and ressentiment: Saint Genet," in Sartre Alive, edited by Ronald Aronson and Adrian van den Hoven. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991, pp. 269-82.
  • Kaplan, H. J.. "The Apostle of Inversion," The New Criterion, New York, NY. 1993 Nov, 12:3, 68-72.
10-12 Jean Genet, The Prisoner's Notebook (1983-1986)

Secondary Sources:

  • De Grazia, Edward. "An Interview with Jean Genet," Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, New York, NY. 1993 Fall, 5:2, 307-24. AMHERST COLLEGE
  • Walker, David H.. "Un Captif amoureux: Poetry and Politics," Forum for Modern Language Studies, Oxford, England. 1995 Oct, 31:4, 312-25.
  • Davis, Colin. "Un Captif amoureux and the Commitment of Jean Genet," French Studies Bulletin: A Quarterly Supplement, Nottingham, England. 1987 Summer, 23, 16-18.
24-26 Ben Okri, Stars of the New Curfew (1988)

Secondary Sources:

  • Nnolim, Charles E. Approaches to the African Novel: Essays in Analysis. London: Saros, 1992.
  • Ross, Jean W. "Contemporary Authors Interview." Contemporary Authors. Ed. Donna Olendorf. vol. 138. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc., 1993. 337- 341.
  • Wilkinson, Jane. "Ben Okri." Talking with African Writers. Ed. Jane Wilkinson. London: Heinemann, 1991. 76-89.
31-4/2 Ben Okri, The Famished Road (1991)


Secondary Sources:

  • Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "Between the Living and the Unborn." New York Times Book Review 13 Aug. 1989: 3, 20.
  • Hawley, John C. "Ben Okriís Spirit-Child: Abiku Migration and Postmodernity." Research in African Literatures 26.1 (1995): 20-29.
  • Nnolim, Charles E.. "The Time Is Out of Joint: Ben Okri as a Social Critic," Commonwealth Novel in English, Bluefield, WV. 1993 Spring-Fall, 6:1-2, 61-68.
  • Ogunsanwo, Olatubosun. "Intertextuality and Post-Colonial Literature in Ben Okri's The Famished Road." Research in African Literatures 26.1 (1995): 30-39.
  • Wright, Derek. "Imagined and Other Worlds: Magic History in Kojo Laing's Search Sweet Country and Ben Okri's The famished road," in New Directions in African Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.


7-9 Famished Road
14-16 Famished Road
21-23 Jamaica Kincaid, At the Bottom of the River (1978, 1984)

Secondary Source:

  • Timothy, Helen Pyne. "Adolescent Rebellion and Gender Relations in At the Bottom of the River and Annie John," in Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, edited by Selwyn R Cudjoe. Wellesley : Calaloux, 1990. xii, 233-42.
28-30 Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John (1983)

Secondary Sources:

  • Murdoch, H. Adlai. "Severing the (M)other Connection: The Representation of Cultural Identity in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John," Callaloo: A Journal of African American and African Arts and Letters, Baltimore, MD. 1990 Spring, 13:2, 325-340.
  • Donnell, Alison. "When Daughters Defy: Jamaica Kincaid's Fiction," Women: A Cultural Review 1993 Spring, 4:1, 18-26. AMHERST COLLEGE
  • Donnell, Alison. "She Ties Her Tongue: The Problems of Cultural Paralysis in Postcolonial Criticism," ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, Calgary, AB, Canada. 1995 Jan, 26:1, 101-16. 


5-7 Jamaica Kincaid, Autobiography of My Mother (1996)
12-14 Autobiography of My Mother

Related Films & Videos:

Syllabus-Related Materials:

Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents

Home button

About ACLAnet - Syllabi & Documents - Syllabus Related Materials - Pedagogical Theory and Practice
Participant List/Profiles - Additional Resources - Suggest New Links - Submit Material - Search ACLAnet