Say What? Issues of Language

I am especially impressed by the posts I have read so far about nationalism.  It sounds like a lot of you are working on defining your subject positions using the theory we are reading.  I find that thrilling.  I am also learning so much about each of you through the elements you are sharing:  the music, graphics, and discussions of past and current scholarship.  It seems like you are finding po-co theory to be invigorating and challenging and sometimes painful.  I know that feeling.

While tangling with the idea of nationalism, some of you were already expressing concern about othering (a concept we will discuss in depth in a few weeks) the “third-world” or “emerging economies” or “the Global South,” all problematic terms, for sure.  What happens when we give primacy to markets defined by capitalism?  It seems the language we use to speak about countries that are “different” tells us a lot about ourselves.  While I think you have plenty of reading to do, I will offer you this essay by Aijaz Ahmad in which he criticizes Jameson’s ideas.  Remember, Jameson was writing about these issues early in the field of study, so folks will of course use his essay as a touchstone for criticism.  If you finish your reading for this week and want to spend some time with another essay about nationalism and allegory, I humbly offer you this one.  Again, you don’t have to read it.  Maybe tuck the link away for some reading during the winter…

This week we will focus on issues of language, a debate which, as you will see, depends on issues of identity and nationalism.  Some of you have mentioned the idea of the “authentic self.”  I think you will see that notion shine through in these essays.

We finally get a little bit of literature in the mix this week.  No po-co class worth its salt would ignore Salman Rushdie, or should I say Sir Salman Rushdie.  He is a prolific writer and am important figure in the literary world.  If you don’t know about his experience after writing The Satanic Verses, you will want to learn a bit more about it.  I eagerly await his memoir which will finally tell the story of living under the fatwa.  (PS, Jordan, they are making a video game out of it!).  You will read “The Courter,” which I know is a repeat for a few of you, but the play with language just makes it a perfect piece, and I know the new lens offered by the theory will open up new readings for you.  Also, on the syllabus, you will see “Rushdie?”  That meant that I could not for the life of me remember the name of the essay I wanted you to read, but I remember it now:  “‘Commonwealth Literature’ Does Not Exist.”  I will need to send you a PDF of this assignment (yes, required!) later this week as well since no one seems to have scanned it for me already on the Net.  In the meantime, you can read about the idea of Commonwealth literature here (by my esteemed advisor at Lehigh, Deep Singh, whom you may have heard on NPR after the shootings at the Sikh place of worship this summer).

The second piece, “A Latin Primer,” is one of my favorite pieces by Derek Walcott.  When you have a few weeks with nothing to read (ha, ha), I suggest you tangle with his gorgeous epic poem Omeros.  You won’t understand half of it, and you will still love it (at least that has been my experience).  I can’t find a copy of the assigned poem online, so I will have to send you a PDF sometime this week.  The way he speaks of language in this poem takes my breath away.  If you have some extra time or want to listen to something while you are making dinner, I offer you his Nobel acceptance speech.  Again, not required at all, just something for anyone who is interested.

So no TED talk this week.  There’s lots to do and read and see as it is…

For this week, I ask you to keep up the good work and write original blog posts about issues of language.  Take the theory and the lit and run with them.  I am finding that you are all going above and beyond any kind of parameters I may set, so all I ask is that you engage directly with the texts and continue to be as thoughtful in your original work and as engaged in your comments as you have been thus far.  And I have had the pleasure of talking in person with two of you this week. I am always open to that!  I am on campus MWF.  I know I will see another one of you tomorrow.  If you are ever around and want to talk for a few minutes in a dusty office instead of on the Interweb, you know where to find me.

I leave you with an interview with Ngugi:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/8667534″>Interview with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user425063″>Granta magazine</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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