English 127: Borderlands, Hybridity, and Liminality

Spring 2006, Dr. Eric Sonstroem

MWF 11:00 – 12:20 Colliver Hall 201

My office:  137 WPC.    Office hours MWF 1-2

Course Description:

English 127 is an upper-level, seminar-style class designed to serve as an introduction to the delightful world of professional literary theory and critical practice. This means that while we will be reading some “primary texts” (like novels, short stories, films, etc), the real focus of the class will be on the theoretical approaches that address how one should go about interpreting such primary texts, and on critical essays that apply such theories to texts.

Each section of English 127 is further designed to focus this inquiry around a central topic, rather than simply presenting a survey of the different theoretical and critical approaches. The topic for this section is “Borderlands, Hybridity, and Liminality,” which will allow us to delve into the exciting and very diverse field of postcolonial studies. This field has developed over the last twenty years as a lively hybrid of a broad range of other literary theories, such as psychoanalytic criticism, deconstruction, new historicism, reader response, post structuralism, and others. Thus, the lens of postcolonialism is wide enough to allow us to study a vast range of diverse critical schools. We shall also see how its insights apply to a range of situations and texts that go beyond only “subaltern literature.” Postcolonial critical practice can shed light on any literature that is involved in power structures, identity negotiation or culture clash, cultural diversity, hybridity, or cross-fertilization.

Required Texts:

Student Responsibilities:

Attendance is required. You may miss three "personal days" for any reason (and I don't want to know the reason). After that, your final class grade will drop 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional day missed. If you have a valid, documented reason for needing to miss more classes (eg, a valid medical reason) talk to me about that early in the course. Chronic or extreme lateness will also not be tolerated, and may count as absences as well. The same applies to failure to participate in classroom discussion or activities.

Read the assigned reading. The reading load is designed to be manageable, but the material we are studying is often challenging, and may be impossible to grasp in a single, cursory reading. Unfortunately, theory and criticism is notoriously much more dense and difficult than the primary texts it interprets. As such, this reading may be the most challenging that you will face in any of your undergraduate English classes. Budget extra time to read the theory and criticism, and time to think about it. If you keep up with the reading, then you can participate actively in classroom discussion and write papers that are engaged and interested. Reading will be assessed by periodic, unannounced reading quizzes throughout the semester. Of course, failing to keep up with the reading is likely to adversely affect other components of your grade besides just the reading quizzes. For example, without reading it would be hard to bluff your way through:

Active participation in discussions. This is a seminar-style class, and as such it will be more discussion-driven than other classes you may have taken. Every student counts. We will learn from each other here, and work our way through the course material as a group. Discussion skills (framing and supporting a complex argument in real-time, active listening, etc.) are some of the most valuable skills you can take away from an English class. If you refuse to participate in classroom discussion, you do yourself a disservice by neglecting these skills, and you do a disservice to your classmates by depriving them of your insights and perspectives. Active and regular participation in classroom discussion will therefore be assessed as a significant part of your overall grade. Students who contribute thoughtfully to discussion, and who listen respectfully to their classmates, will be rewarded. Students who don't contribute, or who attempt to dominate discussions at the expense of their classmates, will not. Please be ready with at least one discussion question or comment about each of our assigned readings.

There is a web page for the class, at www.sonstroem.com/127/ (which you are reading now!)  This more or less takes the place of a syllabus. You will be required to access this web page throughout the semester, for readings, assignments and other material. Some reading assignments may be placed on reserve (or electronic reserve) at the library. Computer access is therefore vital to the class.

Written work will probably be submitted to me electronically. Hard-copy assignments should be printed on white paper, in a standard 12-point font, with one inch margins. Your papers should be double spaced, and should contain my name, your name, the course number, the date, and a title.

Late papers will be marked down 1/3 of a letter grade for each calendar day they are late. I will consider giving short extensions on assignments if you contact me ahead of the due date and you have a good reason for wanting the extension. All assigned work must be completed to pass the course.


Please refer to your Student Handbook (Tiger Lore) for a complete statement of the University Honor Code, an essential element in the academic integrity of our campus community. If I believe you to be in violation of the University Honor Code I will refer the matter to the Office of Student Life. Penalties for violating the Honor Code can include suspension from the University. In other words, if you plagiarize in this class, I will probably catch you, and you will probably end up in serious trouble.

Plagiarism is the attempt to pass off someone else's text or ideas as your own. If you copy or paraphrase from any outside source, even another student, and fail to formally acknowledge this in your text, you are guilty of plagiarism. If someone else writes a paper for you, or even part of a paper for you, you are guilty of plagiarism. If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will receive an F for the assignment, an F for the course, and a letter will be sent to your dean. There are no exceptions.


Final grades will be calculated using the formula below.  Keep in mind that attendance can also adversely affect your final grade.  See "attendance" above.

Participation and Discussion  


Reading Quizzes  


Paper 1  


Lead a class discussion  


Final Paper/Project  






Preliminary Schedule:

This schedule is more tentative than usual for 3 reasons:

1) This is a seminar class. That means that you, the student, are encouraged more than ever to help shape the direction and form of the class. Student suggestions for additional readings and/or changes to the reading are strongly welcomed.

2) This is a brand new class, which is exciting in that it introduces some healthy uncertainty. I have a pretty good idea of some of the places this class will end up, but I can't be completely sure until we get there. I will develop and tinker with the reading schedule to help focus the class themes as they emerge over the course of the semester.

Week 1 (Begins 1-16)

W—Introduction and Welcome

F—Gandhi, Chapter 1. Also, read around for a while on George Landow’s http://www.postcolonialweb.org/ The goal is to acquaint ourselves with the range of things “Postcolonial” can mean.

Week 2 (Begins 1-23)

M—Gandhi, Chapters 2 & 3

W—Gandhi, Chapter 4 & Said, “The World, The Text, The Critic” (on e-reserve)

F—Homi Bhabha “The Postcolonial and the postmodern: the question of agency” (on e-reserve)

Week 3 (Begins 1-30)

M—Heart of Darkness, 3-31

W—Heart of Darkness, 31-54

F—Heart of Darkness, 54-77

Week 4 (Begins 2-6)  All these essays are in the Norton Heart of Darkness volume.

M—Chinua Achebe “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness" (336-349), J. Hillis Miller “Should We Read ‘Heart of Darkness’”? (463-474)

W—”Hegel “The African Character”(208-212), Peter Edgerly Firchow “Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Empire”(233-241)

F—Edward Said, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness”(422-429)

Week 5 (Begins 2-13)

M— Patrick Brantlinger, “Imperialism, Impressionism, and the Politics of Style" (386-395), Anthony Fothergill “Cannibalising Traditions: Representation and Critique in Heart of Darkness”(444-454)

W— Catch-up/Draft Day

F—Paper 1 Due Click here for the assignment.

Week 6 (Begins 2-20)


W—Midnight's Children 3-100

F—Midnight's Children 101-169  (Jeff's map of this section here and here.  Sorry about the crappy quality of the photos!)

Week 7 (Begins 2-27)

M—Midnight's Children 170-237  James T., Brittany L.

W—Midnight's Children 238-305  Ben E., Christine K

F—Midnight's Children 306-336 Vietnam N. Nichole K.

Week 8 (Begins 3-6)

M—Midnight's Children 337-413  Erin B, Ameria F

W—Midnight's Children 414-464  Lauren (evil), Lauren (good)

F—Midnight's Children 465-end  Jeffrey M, Ingrid J

Spring Break

Week 9 (Begins 3-20)

M—Jean M. Cane, "The Migrant Intellectual and the Body of History: Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children'" and Luisa Juarez Hervas, "An Irreverent Chronicle: History and Fiction in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children"  (on e-reserve)

W—Gandhi, Chapter 6

F—M. M. Bakhtin, excerpt from The Dialogic Imagination, John Su, "Epic of Failure: Disappointment as Utopian Fantasy in 'Midnight's Children'" (on e-reserve)

Week 10 (Begins 3-27)

M—Left Hand of Darkness xi - 46  Katharine H, Nora H.

W—Left Hand of Darkness 47-96  Jen C, David D

F—Left Hand of Darkness 97-146  Laura M, Marc L.

Week 11 (Begins 4-3)

M—Left Hand of Darkness 147-200 Kristi B, Bre S

W—Left Hand of Darkness 201-240 Stephanie G, Veronica E., Veronica B.

F—Left Hand of Darkness 241-end

Week 12 (Begins 4-10)

M—In Class Film:  The Burden of Dreams

W—In Class Film:  Chocolat (1988)

F—Discussion of films

Week 13 (Begins 4-17)

M—Student Travel Day (Day off)

W—Interpreter of Maladies "A Temporary Matter" and "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" (p. 1-42)

F—Interpreter of Maladies "Interpreter of Maladies" (p. 43-69)

Week 14 (Begins 4-24)

M—Interpreter of Maladies"Mrs. Sen's" (p. 111-135) Katherine R, Morgan M


F—Interpreter of Maladies  "The Third and Final Continent" (p. 173-198)  Arash B., Ashley R.

Week 15 (Begins 5-1)

Work on final papers/projects.  Schedule TBA.

Week 16 (Begins 5-8)

M— Final Paper/Project Due