Teaching World Literatures in English: Inside the US Academy, Outside the Whale
Keywords:Globalisation, postcolonial, canon, subject positions, cultural citizenship
Global migration has resulted in a changing student body and a changing cohort of English professors. This new demographic often teaches in a manner that ‘talks back’ to cultural hegemony. How do students in the US academy respond when canonical texts are taught by someone perceived as outside the lineage and not pedigreed to teach the canon? Or when professors teach both canonical and postcolonial texts in their historical and political contexts, not shying away from the dialectic between literature and history or literature and politics? Literature classes provide, or should provide, students with the skills to read the world as text, to read it critically and in context. But whose text, what context, which literature and, indeed, whose world? An intersectional academic approach to literary texts that interrogates the positions of power from which writing and cultural expression originate can be seen as contaminative. But as Gayatri Spivak notes, the historian and the teacher of literature “must critically ‘interrupt’ each other, bring each other to crisis.” This article explores how the clash of cultural, structural and subject positions can produce a new power/knowledge differential. It discusses the constitution of positionality and the problematics of ownership of the story and interrogates the consequences of a pedagogical approach that foregrounds more historicist/political readings of literary texts as one methodology.