Monthly Archives: April 2014

Marx Reloaded (HUM415)

You can screen Marx Reloaded via Films on Demand through the library website. It’s also up on youtube:

We screened this documentary in order both to complement Graeber’s The Democracy Project and as a glance back at some of the core concepts introduced by Hawkes. As I said, by now everyone should understand commodity fetishism and its relationship to the inversion of social reality. Related ideas include reification, false consciousness, ideology, and class hierarchy. These terms are part of a larger critical vocabulary that you’ll be expected to use fluently in the final paper.

The Final Phase (HUM303)

As we enter the final phase of the semester (6 meetings left, including the final exam!) you might begin preliminary work on your paper. The prompt is on the Final Papers page above. We can discuss it in class on Monday should anyone require clarification. We’ll also close out our discussion of Fatale and, perhaps, screen some clips from a Congolese crime drama called Viva Riva! (ignore the trailer’s ridiculous voice over) in preparation for the last novel of the course, Nairobi Heat. Remember to look over the Deleuze reading.

Increasingly, crime fiction has become a global cultural form. If conventional histories of the genre generally locate its inceptions (wrongly, it seems, given the heritage of gong-an) in the Anglophone world– particularly with the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle– in recent years the crime novel has gained a wider readership often focused on local authors. Scandinavian and Mediterranean noir are obvious instances of this phenomenon, though we can find any number of examples in east Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa as well.

The first two of these literary traditions (especially in Sweden and Italy) tend to be self-consciously oriented toward social issues, and often assume a ideological stance on the left of the political spectrum. One of the things that I like about Nairobi Heat is its political commitments which– as you’d expect from the son of Kenya’s most famous and most frequently jailed writer– don’t simply gesture at the dark and violent history of European colonialism in order to ignore or minimize postcolonial social dysfunctions.

As former colonized nations go, Kenya has had a relatively smooth ride, though it was until recently a one-party state. The so-called Mau-Mau Uprising forced the UK’s hand on internal policies and ultimately led to decolonization in 1963. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of a free Kenya, was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi in 1978, who ruled until 2002. More recently, there have been rising tensions between the current government, which is conducting an “anti-terrorism” campaign in the aftermath of the Westgate Mall attack, and Kenya’s Somali community.

Empire and Time (HUM425)

“What has made it impossible for us to live in time like fish in water, like birds in air, like children? It is the fault of Empire! Empire has created the time of history. Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end, of catastrophe. Empire dooms itself to live in history and plot against history” (133).

–JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

What a Novel Is (HUM303)

“A novel is a piece of prose fiction of a reasonable length. Even a definition as toothless as this, however, is still too restricted. Not all novels are written in prose…. As for fiction, the distinction between fiction and fact is not always clear. And what counts as a reasonable length?

“The truth is that the novel is a genre which resists exact definition. This in itself is not particularly striking, since many things– ‘game’, for example, or ‘hairy’– resist exact definition…. The point about the novel, however, is not just that it eludes definitions, but that it actively undermines them. It is less a genre than an anti-genre.

“The novel is a mighty melting pot, a mongrel among literary thoroughbreds.

“Most commentators agree that the novel has its roots in the literary form we know as romance. Indeed, these are roots that it has never entirely cut. Novels are romances– but romances which have to negotiate the prosaic world of modern civilization.”

Pan’s Labyrinth (HUM425)

Heart of Summer

Here’s a rough commentary on Pan’s Labyrinth. If I were writing a paper, I’d consider it a first draft and look to re-draft twice. We’ll discuss PL in class on Tuesday and work on Kalpa Imperial. Come prepared.

Ofelia finds the stone eye of a statue, one that resembles a piece of ritual art or a totem. She places the eye into the statue’s empty socket. (The statue can now “see”.) A large insect (which O refers to as a fairy– is this a misrecognition?) immediately emerges from its mouth. (Is this a kind of speech? If so it is a material signifier, yet one that, at least in O’s eyes, can mutate.)

The fairy/bug signifies alterity, a fantasy world. We see it as grotesque, while to O it symbolizes fantasy/mystery/magic. This is the first instance, perhaps, of a disconnect between appearance and essence. That gap will be reformulated in the figures of the Captain (a father who is not a father) and the Faun (the threatening aspect of this creature misdirects our reading of him).

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