Gransnet forums


Does Literature need “decolonisation”?

(54 Posts)
MawBroon Wed 25-Oct-17 07:28:50

I have really mixed views as to me, the cultural heritage or the colour of an author’s skin is probably the last thing as think of when I read a book. In fact, without a picture on the dustjacket I don’t know (OK a name might be a hint, but not necessarily)
I am the last person to want to perpetuate a male while dominance of world literature, but does Cambridge University not have more important things to stress about? Is it equality, positive discrimination or tokenism?

eazybee Wed 25-Oct-17 09:01:31

The purpose of the English faculty is to develop,enhance and improve the study of English literature and language. Books should be chosen for their inherent quality, not to "actively ensure the presence of black and minority ethnic groups texts and topics on lecture lists." (Daily Telegraph25.10.2017)

Blinko Wed 25-Oct-17 09:08:24

We'll be rewriting history next.

Oldwoman70 Wed 25-Oct-17 09:08:40

Surely books should be chosen on the merit and quality of the writing. Like MawBroon I often have no idea, and care less, about the background or ethnicity of a writer.

whitewave Wed 25-Oct-17 09:40:00

I studied literature from other countries for example the Caribbean, Africa and India, as well of course English literature, as part of my degree.

This is a big world with diverse and interesting cultural contexts and differences.

In my view it is imperative that students widen their knowledge to include so much richness and diversity, in order to understand the world.

Greyduster Wed 25-Oct-17 10:11:20

I agree with you, Whitewave but I think there is another agenda here that has nothing to do with cultural diversity. When those with that agenda have watered down learning in prestigious universities so that they are no longer prestigious, while the university governing bodies in their ivory towers are sleepwalking, what then?

M0nica Wed 25-Oct-17 16:00:20

Surely it is not a question of 'decolonising' but of opening up. A university degree in English literature should include the full diversity of writing in English. which will include the literature in English from other English speaking countries, whether India, Australia, South Africa, to name just the high spots. They should also be studying the literature of writers in English where English is not their mother tongue.

This is not dumbing down this is raising the level and saying that English Literature is not the literature written by the English but written in English and if you haven't studied the full diversity of writing in English your degree is incomplete.

Baggs Wed 25-Oct-17 16:19:10

All undergraduate degrees are incomplete studies of whatever they are in. So are postgraduate degrees. Degrees can only, be their very nature and time constraints, be 'incomplete'.

Baggs Wed 25-Oct-17 16:20:45

I din't think there's any harm in encouraging a wider look at English literature. English degrees already do that to a degree, if you'll excuse the play on words.

whitewave Wed 25-Oct-17 16:23:48

Reading further, I very strongly suspect this is a stitch up on the part of the Torygraph.

The Tories need to be very careful - we already have Norris saying that the government needs to look at the (so-called) bias in politics taught at A level and various university courses. Just as the latest nonsense over the teaching of Brexit -which they have backtracked on this morning (yet another u-turn). But it is clear on what they are trying to do. They already have the media stitched up, now they seem to be trying to control our education system.

Shades of China and Russia.

MawBroon Wed 25-Oct-17 17:19:02

Not only in the DT.

MawBroon Wed 25-Oct-17 19:31:49

As I see it, English Lit is that written in English from whichever period one chooses. Not translated and it may be a moot point whether Indian or S African authors are writing in their own first language or indeed perpetuating the “supremacy” of an Anglophile Imperial culture.
This emphasis on multiracial and transgender issues in universities seems to me to be a smokescreen of political correctness run amok. Yes there are probably fusty old middle aged white male professors of English Lit but there could just as easily be feisty female (or trans) young professors. That is another issue.
But while there is ample scope for inclusivity a university course cannot spread itself so thinly in an attempt to study everything they end up skimmimg through some superficial “world Lit” course where if it’s Tuesday it’s Keats and by Friday it’s Benjamin Zephaniah via Pam Ayres.
And studying nothing.

grumppa Wed 25-Oct-17 19:36:23

Well said, MawBroon.

whitewave Wed 25-Oct-17 19:58:20

Good grief this is really being blown out of all proportion.

The students put forward a suggestion that perhaps the authorities would like to give some consideration to diversifying the curriculum SLIGHTLY in order to reflect more accurately the particular areas of study and that is all.

MawBroon Wed 25-Oct-17 20:05:39

What it will mean for the great writers like Shakespeare, Dickens and Chaucer is unclear but Cambridge University's world renowned English faculty could face a major shakeup if proposals to replace white authors with black writers are implemented

I think this is quite bad enough and no, nobody is blowing anything out of proportion merely following an argument to its (possible) logical conclusion..

whitewave Thu 26-Oct-17 07:57:37

Priyamvada Gopal, a teaching fellow said “broadening the syllabus means putting different writers in conversation with each other, not downgrading or eliminating a single author”

The university are giving the request that the horizons in certain syllabuses are widened. It has condemned the harassment on the media and social media being given to its students.

Iam64 Thu 26-Oct-17 08:03:18

Broadening the curriculum seems a good plan to me. It reminds me of the old argument about why male authors and artists dominate - it's those invisible women again. The same can be said of other than white, male, British literature.

paddyann Thu 26-Oct-17 08:49:37

Blinko thought they'd already done thet !

eazybee Thu 26-Oct-17 09:03:01

What authors would people suggest should be included? Note Lola Olufemi specifies 'black and ethnic minority groups'ignoring India totally. Barrack Obama, yes for the quality of his writing; please not Benjamin Zephaniah or Zadie Smith.

Luckygirl Thu 26-Oct-17 09:11:47

Presumably an English degree is about studying literature in the English language regardless of where it emanates from. The decision on what to study should be on merit, and on providing a broad range of styles and use of that language.

suzied Thu 26-Oct-17 11:45:28

No one is saying replace Shakespeare or Dickens , they are saying maybe consider diversifying the curriculum a little. The Torygraph has blown it up out of all proportion with a photo of the young lady who is part of the group requesting this on the front page, consequently she has received loads of racist and sexist abuse. They have printed a small amendment today which hardly anyone will see.

trisher Thu 26-Oct-17 12:41:59

Benjamin Zephaniah and Zadie Smith are both established British authors so should be included in any modern Eng Lit syllabus. Perhaps offering options such as 19th century Lit, early 20th century lit and 21st century lit would help. As for English lit being only writers writing in English how far would you take this restriction? Are Canadian and American writers acceptable? What about writers who write in dialect like Scots?

Baggs Thu 26-Oct-17 13:32:27

Are Canadian and American writers acceptable? What about writers who write in dialect like Scots?

They all write in English, trisher. Regional variations of the English language are still English just as, say, the Spanish spoken/written in South America is still Spanish and the French spoken/written in various African countries is still French.

Good degree courses have included many of the variations for a LONG time.

Lot of fuss about a non-problem.

trisher Thu 26-Oct-17 13:41:43

Oh I agree Baggs but Mawbroon has specified only English and much really Sots dialect particularly Glaswegian requires translation, which apparently she finds unacceptable. So I asked the question.

Baggs Thu 26-Oct-17 13:44:14


Medieval poems require 'translation' too but they do count so that argument is defeated already.