WOST 292B: POLITICS OF IDENTITY
BENJAMIN ODHOJI

Fall 2001
MW 11:15-12:30
Room: SOM 107
Office: 7B Bartlett Hall
Office hours: Wed. 1-2.30pm (and by appointment)
Ph. 413-545-1922
E-mail: odhoji@excite.com

Course Description:
This course examines and explores politics of identity in selected literary texts by women writers from cultures and traditions other than the United States. Identities are constructed through complex historical, cultural, and psychological processes. To assess these processes, we will read specific texts (written in or translated into English) that illustrate how human self-understanding is constructed and represented along the lines of race, gender, class, ethnicity, and a host other differences. The broad objective of the course is to enable students to appreciate the complex relationships between personal and social identities and to familiarize them with the concepts and methods used to understand how identities are formed, imposed, experienced, and represented in literary texts.

Specific content and learning goals:
* To learn about cultural diversity in a world that appears to be growing even more homogenous culturally.
* To learn about identity formation and explore the narrative modes used by representative women literary writers to re-define and re-present women's status and position in respective non-western cultures and traditions.
* To appreciate specific historical, political, social, and cultural forces that influence identity formation in diverse and different cultures and the ways in which women, in particular, impact or are impacted upon by such forces.
* To call into question how we understand who we are and our understanding of identity formation and representation in cultures other than our own.
* To learn skills of close reading for comprehension and to become critical readers of literary texts.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS:

Class Attendance and Participation:
Regular class attendance and active participation in discussions and group work/projects are emphasized and graded. A major part of this class will be devoted to the critical appreciation and analytical interpretation of various thematic and literary/stylistic aspects of specific texts. You are therefore, required to come to class prepared to participate in presentations and discussions having read the assigned texts closely and critically. 10%.

Individual Response Papers:
You will be required to write and turn in a total of 8 response papers based on the assigned class readings. The best 6 of the response papers will count towards your final grade. Designed basically, as a continuous assessment of your critical and analytical approaches to literary texts as well as your writing skills, this component of the learning experience contributes the most marks to your final grade. All response papers, 3-5 typed and double-spaced pages, must be turned in by the due date. Specific topics and writing instructions will be discussed in class. 40%.

Class Presentations:
You will prepare and give at least one class presentation based on the readings. Each presentation will take approximately 10 minutes followed by in-class discussion. You will be expected to respond to questions and issues raised in class regarding your presentation. After each session and in consultation with the instructor, you will write a revised draft of the presentation and submit for grading. Further instructions will be given in the first week of class. 20%

Discussion Groups:
Periodically, I will assign problem questions for in-class writing responses as well as for group discussion. The facilitators for each group will give a short presentation in class of the respective group's findings/responses and lead the ensuing class discussion. In order to adequately participate in these discussions, everyone is expected to read and explore the topic in advance. Although they will not count towards your final grade, these assignments are essentially meant to sharpen your writing skills and critical faculties.

Final Term Paper:
You will write a well-researched final term paper based on at least one class reading. Each student will be at liberty to choose any of the texts and provide an in-depth critical evaluation and analytical appreciation of the main issues addressed by the author. The paper must be approximately 8-10 pages, typed and double-spaced. Further guidelines will be given in class. 30%.

Required Books (Available at Food for Thought Books)
Arundhati Roy ------ The God of Small Things (India)
Jamaica Kincaid ----- A Small Place (Antigua)
Tsitsi Dangarembga - Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe)

Course Packet (Available at Collective Copies)
Ambai (C.S. Lakshmi)-Fall, My Mother (India)
Bessie Head ---- The Collector of Treasures (Botswana)
Clarice Lispector ---- The Body (Brazil)
Ding Ling ---- When I was in Xia Village (China)
Mori Yoko ---- Spring Storm (Japan)
Luisa Valenzuela --- I'm Your Horse in the Night (Argentina)
**Additional library readings may be assigned depending on topic under discussion.

Week 1 (Sep. 5): Introduction to the course.

Week 2 (Sep.10-12): What is Identity?
Concepts of identity and difference.
Identity and representation.

Week 3 (Sep.17-19): "The Woman Question"
In-class group exercise on questions based on Simone de Beauvoir's
"Introduction," The Second Sex.

Week 4 (Sep. 24-26): Levels of appreciating identity
Bessie Head - "The Collector of Treasures"
In what ways is the story a feminist critique of African society?
Comment on Head's narrative style.

Week 5 (Oct.1-3): Levels of appreciating identity
Clarice Lispector - "The Body"
How is sexuality portrayed in this story?
Compare and contrast the portrayal of women in Head's "The Collector of Treasures" and Lispector's "The Body."

Week 6 (Oct.8-10) ---COLUMBUS DAY (Oct.8)
Levels of appreciating identity
Ding Ling - "When I was in Xia village."
"It's a real tragedy to be a woman." Explain how Zhenzhin's situation illustrates this position.
From the descriptions provided, what do you know about the character of the first person narrator?

Week 7 (Oct.15-17): Identity Markers: Communities/ethnic constructions
Jamaica Kincaid - A Small Place.
What are identity markers? What is Antiguan identity? Explain one aspect which contributed to shaping the present Antiguan identity.
Explain two features of Antigua that the tourist does not see.

Week 8 (Oct.22-24): Identity Markers
Ambai - "Fall, My Mother"
What is the significance of the narrator's dark skin and its association with her cousin Radhu? Discuss how the mother's image changes for the daughter at the end of the narrative.
Mori Yoko - "Spring Storm."
Discuss the possible symbolic significance of the nonworking elevator, Natsuo's smoking, and the spring storm.

Week 9 (Oct 29-31): Race, Class, Religion, and Gender.
Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things.
Compare and contrast the relationship between Ammu and Velutha and that between Rahel and Estha.
To what extent are race, social class, religion, and gender important in this novel? What specific elements of each take on predominant importance and with what consequences?

Week 10 (Nov.5-7) Roy (cont.)
Who or what is the "God of small things"?
To what extent is identity freely chosen? To what extent is it imposed from without?
To what extent does the novel deliberately validate erotic desire as an act of transgression?

Week 11 (Nov.12-14): VETERANS' HOLIDAY (Nov. 12)
* Library reading: Susan Reynolds Whyte - "The Widow's Dream."
* Video showing - "Neria."
Compare and contrast the social/cultural norms which help perpetuate the subordinate role/status of women among the Marachi (The Widow's Dream) and the community portrayed in the video film, "Neria." How are widows regarded in both communities?

Week 12 (Nov.19): Social Construction of Gender
Tsitsi Dangarembga - Nervous Conditions
Background: Zimbabwe, Colonialism, Education, Characters
(Nov. 21-25): THANKSGIVING

Week 13 (Nov. 26-28): Dangarembga (Cont.).
"I deal with women who break away from oppression but find themselves caught in a guilt trap." To what extent is this a fair assessment by the writer regarding her work, Nervous Conditions?

Week 14 (Dec.3-5): Dangarembga (Cont.).
Major themes; Critique of gender relations; Patriarchy.

Week 15 (Dec.10-12): Dangarembga (Cont.)
Narrative and stylistic aspects.
Revisions.

DEC 17: Deadline for submission of FINAL TERM PAPER at 4pm in my office.