Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fall Courses: More Travel Writing, and "Secrecy and Authorship"

Today was the first day of classes in the fall term, which means I've been wrapping up end-of-summer writing and preparing new courses. It's been a busy time, so I've been falling a little behind on the blog. (Thanks for your patience, if you're still here!)

This fall, my graduate seminar is called "Beyond East and West: Travel Writing and Globalization." It has some overlap with the South-Asia oriented course I did last spring, and mentioned here. But this course is broader in scope:

This course explores the genre of the travel narrative, a key site of cross-cultural encounter. The travel narrative has often been linked to colonialism, with the familiar figure of a European traveler who sets out to observe and classify exotic native "others," to shock and impress his readers back home. But even as early as the 18th century, the "others" were also traveling, and Indian writers like Dean Mahomet wrote about their experiences in the west even as writers like J.S. Mill catalogued India -- and this course will aim to study both, as well as the interaction between the two. Second, we will explore the long tradition of travel narratives by women, which challenge the conventional notion of travel writing as a masculine genre. And finally, the genre continues to run strong even in our current era of globalization, albeit with new voices in play, and often a new sense of humility about the limits of one's position as an observer. This class will begin with early travel writing by writers like Daniel Defoe, Olaudah Equiano, and the aforementioned Mahomet, before moving on to narratives written in the
twentieth century. Modern writers will include Pandita Ramabai, Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mayo, Amitav Ghosh, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Pankaj Mishra, and Tayeb Salih.

Through the course, we will enter into a serious inquiry into the ethics of travel, associated as it is with a host of theoretical concepts, including cosmopolitanism, Imperialism (old and new), universalism, hybridity, and globality.

And here are some links:

Michel de Montaign, "On Cannibals"
Peter Hulme, excerpts from Colonial Encounters (a review)

Dean Mahomet
Olaudah Equiano
Pandita Ramabai (excerpts from her travels in America)

Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing
Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace
Pankaj Mishra, Temptations of the West
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
V.S. Naipaul, Enigma of Arrival
Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
Upamanyu Chatterjee, English, August
Nelofer Pazira, A Bed of Red Flowers

* * *

My other course is an introductory undergraduate course called "Secrecy and Authorship":

What do we make of authors who are not who they say they are? There have been a number of recent front-page controversies about authors who misrepresented themselves, fooling publishers and readers alike. But such controversies are not new; they have, in fact, been going on for as long as we have had the modern concept of authorship. The concern over the role of the author provokes discussions of anonymous and pseudonymous authors, racial and sexual "passing," as well as plagiarism. This course will explore controversies of authorship in literary works, contemporary and historical, fictional and nonfictional, analyzing what it is that makes an author an Author. Why do some authors conceal their identities? Where does originality come from? What kinds of borrowings (or influences) are considered legitimate? How might authorship be changing in the digital age?

Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Michael Cunningham, The Hours
Colm Toibin, The Master
Vladimir Nabokov, Despair
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Thomas Mann, “Felix Krull” (short story)
Henry James, “The Aspern Papers” (long short story/novella)
Nella Larsen, “Passing” (novella)
On the life of Thomas Chatterton (photocopies from a biography)
Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?”
Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”

* * *

Anyone out there want to share their own syllabi? What are you teaching? If you're a student, what books are you going to be reading this fall? (And no, you don't have to be in English -- I'm still interested!


Anonymous cydonian said...

You know, fascinating course that, on exploring travel writing within the scope of (post)-colonialism; would have loved to taken that module up, had I been studying at your university. Do you have any course website or something, with lecture notes, perhaps? Would be amazing to go through those, even if I wasn't really participating in the class proceedings.

Re: the other course, thought I'd mention the strange case of Fernando Antonio Nogueira Pessoa, a Portuguese author with multiple identities.

1:00 AM  
Blogger apu said...

The Secrecy and Authorship course sounds extremely interesting - I wish I was taking it :(

Secrecy in the context of online writing would be very interesting to explore - while internet and the explosion of blogging allows anyone to publish anonymously, at the same time, google, online communities and such seem to be redefining the online space into something more similar to *real world* dynamics. At the same time perhaps more dangerous, since one's different personas can in most cases be unearthed with some effort...

3:05 AM  
Anonymous Sunilraje said...

Continuing with what Apu has wrote, one recent example comes to mind. Zoe Margolis aca Aby Lee writes one of the most popular blogs in UK, Girl with One track Mind, now published as a book with the same name. The tagline - 'Diary of a sex fiend' might explain enormous popularity of her blog & the book. Busting her identity was quite a coup for the tabloids. Her book is touted as antidote to Bridget Jones Diary. In this , Guardian interview , the interviewer calls her the voice of third-wave feminism.

3:45 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

I wonder if you would also be looking at wilful/ strategic/ existential creative deflections such as:

the 16th century Punjabi Sufi poet, Shah Hussain, writing a lot of his poems in the name of his Hindu friend, Madho Lal.

Mikhail Bakhtin reportedly getting his writings published under the names of Voloshinov and Medvedev.

A range of authors ghost-writing for well-known authors of Bollywood for a mere pittance.

A large number of University dons in India getting the educated unemployed to write their research theses again for a pittance.

A range of well-known theorists and scholars invariably depending upon unverified secondary sources in support of their argument - especially in the field of cultural and film studies in India and India-related film-studies in the US.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Apu and Sunilraje, yes -- blogging is an interesting part of it. I don't know if we'll be formally discussing it in the class, though I may point students to some of my favorite pseudonymous bloggers (like BitchPhD), and see if they have anything to say.

I may put up some lecture notes here and there. For starters, my recent post on Colm Toibin's The Master might give some indication of my thoughts on that book and the biography of Henry James.

And Panini, those all sound like interesting ideas. I didn't know that about Bakhtin -- any word on why he used the pseudonyms?

7:37 AM  
Blogger ishmael said...

I am a little surprised, I admit, to find Felix Krull here, admittingly I do not know the short story you are refering to, but the novel and (horrible) film version of it. Felix Krull of course constantly offers new make-believe id's but in terms of authorship I recall Th. Mann being rather straight forward (actually, judging from some letters and post-WWII controversies as well as biographical sketches by Klaus he comes across as very much self-assured and self-absorbed, not one to not point out what he accomplished...).

I would also love to hear what you have to say on lovely Mrs. Dalloway in this context. All in all the combination of texts to match the abstract given leaves me rather puzzled, which makes the course even more intriguing.

Have you ever come across Rosmarin Heidenreich, who is teaching at St. Boniface, Winnipeg - I recall that she either is completing or just has completed a study on (Canadian?) authors passing for what they were not, constructing new selves for the public.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd be interested in knowing which books you'll be using in the travel writing class by Gandhi and Tagore.

Books on my list to read this fall: definitely Mrs. Dalloway, The Places in Between by Rory Stewart, about a journey across Afghanistan Iran, Indian, Pakistan, and Nepal) in 2002, and A Fine Balance.

Recently read The Interpreter of Maladies and the Life of Pi (love both of them!).


7:36 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

There is currently much chatter about Guenter Grass and his SS past - Rushdie and Hitchens have argued on two opposing sides of the issue. Was he too pretending to be something he was not? Like Wilde's Dorian Gray, Mann's Death in Venice would qualify for the same reasons. I had previously weighed in on bloggers posting anonymously. I made a distinction between someone like Billmon writing only political and social commentary and others who write pseudonymously about personal matters - their own and those of others.

I recently read Peter Hopkirk's "Trespassers on the Roof of the World" describing the attempts by Indians and Europeans to enter Lhasa, Tibet. While many of those adventurers were missionaries and spies, a whole bunch had embarked on the perilous journey for the singular thrill of entering the forbidden city, writing a best selling travelogue and a receiving a medal or a citation from the Royal Geographic Society of Britain. It is interesting that your selection for your students includes travelogues. Glass Palace is set partly in Burma and contains a host of information about Burmese society. But is it a travelogue in the strictest sense? And why English, August?

Best of luck and have a great semester.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous desiknitter said...

Hi Amardeep, I'm also curious about why the Glass Palace is on the list: I'd have thought Antique Land or the Cambodia book might be the ones, when I first saw Ghosh's name. I teach Glass Palace in my history class on South Asia/Colonialism as a way of thinking through questions of modes of representing the past, truth in fiction and history, etc. It has worked very well, esp. since it brings alive a lot of the workings of the empire through tangible characters.

Will you be looking at travelogues before European colonialism at all? Ibn Battuta, for instance?

1:51 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Amardeep, I wonder if you will have the time and inclination to also refer to 'travelogic' cinema but in case you do, you should consider including Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story Michaelangelo Antonioni's Passenger, Ritwik Ghatak's Jukti Takko ar Gappo (Arguments, Stories), Theodoros Angelopoulos' Ulysses Gaze.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Desiknitter, the reasons you like the Glass Palace are pretty much why I put it on the syllabus. In an Antique Land is probably more interesting from a specifically travel point of view, but I suppose I've grown a little tired of teaching it.

And no, nothing pre-colonial at this point, though I may see if I can find a way to have them read a few pages of Ibn Battuta at some point.

Ruchira, I read English, August as very much a travelogue -- a kind of Heart of Darkness for the urban Indian.

Sheila, I'm not doing whole books by Tagore or Gandhi, but excerpts from Tagore's letters written during his visits to England and the U.S., and selections from Gandhi's Autobiography -- where he talks about England and some of the South African material.

Ishmael, I'm just using the 1895 short story called "Felix Krull." You can find it in the back of the Vintage collection "Death in Venice and Other Stories." Yes, Thomas Mann is pretty straightforward as a person -- I like this story just because it's about a person who seems to have no actual personality, and so everything he says and does is "fabricated."

I'm pairing Mrs. Dalloway with The Hours. With Mrs. D., the focus isn't so much on authorship questions as on secrets (the book has some, which are brought out in The Hours). But the real goal is to look at the two books together, and consider the dimensions of Woolf's "influence" on Cunningham.

It's a little bit unlikely, but this "Secrecy and Authorship" course could actually be good for dozens of books. When I posted a similar version of this post on The Valve, I got dozens of additional suggestions from readers there.

And Panini, all interesting suggestions. I have to admit that I haven't seen either the Ozu or the Ghatak films. (I'm long overdue for some Ozu, so maybe I will see if my local "hipster" video store has it. But Ghatak films are very difficult to find in the U.S. The only Indian art films one finds easily here are Satyajit Ray)

9:08 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Not to worry Amardeep. I'm likely to travel to the US in the near future which if I do I can carry the Ghatak prints and post these to you if I had your address. And this offer involves absolutely no exchange of money!

9:43 AM  
Blogger Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

If you are willing to suffer watching VCD's then you can use this ink.

Don't forget on OS X you need VLC player to watch a VCD.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous raina said...

i love yasujiro ozu, bunch of his films have been released on DVD and are all available on netflix.

8:36 AM  
Blogger rama said...

Hullo! Have you read a book called "The Asiatics" by Fredrick Prokosch (I hope I've got the name right). He never left his home in America, but wrote quite convinvcingly about a journey through Asia. Best, rama

4:26 AM  
Blogger Anil P said...

The point is - do you have to be 'traveling' to turn out travel narratives. How about people like Ruskin Bond who write about the place where they live? Does this make their narratives less about travel than of those who visit the place and write what is actually 'quick impression', rarely with the depth that a resident of the place can write.

Though Pankaj Mishra's 'Butterchicken in Ludhiana' reads well, somewhere along the narrative one cannot but get the feeling that it is too superficial to ever do justice to the places he visited and wrote about.

You could try Bill Aitken for his narratives of India. Particularly 'Riding the Ranges: Travels on my Motorcycle'.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

The first Sikh Guru, Nanak, went on traveling in the company of his Muslim friend and accompanist, Bhai Mardana for the major part of his life before taking up cultivation as a way of relating to ecology and humankind. He traveled in four directions covering huge distances and difficult terrains. He went from the caves on the Nepal-Tibet border to Mecca-Medina; from Kashmir to Sri Lanka. These journeys, as I am sure you are well aware, were known as 'udasis'. This construction/ articulation of an outward journey as a journey within is quite unique for its times. His wonderment at the placement of the human agency within the larger cosmic design and play would be difficult to define in any other way. His aarti: "Gagan mai thaalu ravi chand deepak banai..." is absolutely a celebrative rising from the earth.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Jane Sunshine said...

I looooveee your travel course. You may consider Sukhdev Sandhu's London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City (Harper Collins 2003) useful.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous anneonymousone said...

Reading your blog is the only thing that ever makes me want to stop teaching high school, return to college or move to Pennsylvania. Thank you for sharing so much of your thinking and writing online.

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Archana said...

I love the travel writing class – fascinating. I enjoyed Glass Palace very much, and my husband covered In an Antique Land in his anthro class and really liked that too.

I’m working with a group to launch a new blog featuring travel writing by people (like me) living outside of our “normal” cultural context for an extended period of time. I’ll post the link on my blog when we’re going – right now we’re still doing some of the preliminaries…

2:04 PM  
Anonymous jireh said...

hi amardeep, i enjoy reading your blog greatly (i really love auden, and the discussion on musee des beaux-arts was rather fascinating) and i think that if you enjoyed colm toibin's the master then you would greatly enjoy alan hollinghurst's the line of beauty. i have read it 4 times since its publication and each time i find something fresh about it - the heavily ironic tone, which is at once a tribute and a mockery of the ornate james style, the lovely ironic yet affectionate eye with which the narrator observes his characters, the fascinating portrayal of 1980s london.

it might be both useful and rewarding to consider, for example, the relation of the author to his main character. evidently this is not an autobiography, but to what extent can we see hollinghurst himself in the protagonist, and with what effect he distances himself from the protagonist, etc.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Prabhsharandeep Singh said...


I'll be teaching this course at UC Berkeley. Will be looking forward for your views about it.

Prabhsharandeep Singh

The Sikhs: Religion Culture and Politics in 20th Century

The Twentieth century is a time of significant developments in religion, culture and politics of the Sikhs. It was the first time that Sikhs engaged themselves in the dialogue with the western world. Sikh history and religion were written in a new idiom which had no direct connection with the local traditions. In the wake of new reform movements and a fresh political outlook Sikhs had an experience with the idea of Indian nationalism which was something alien to the inhabitants of South Asian Sub-Continent. The Sikhs started struggling to retain their sovereignty which they had lost to British India in 1849. However, this struggle passed through different phases. The current course will be an effort to understand how this struggle affected the religion, culture, and politics of the Sikhs.

The course will cover the changing perceptions of the Sikh people; their reformulation and reunderstanding of “religion”, culture and politics over the past century charting the implications of such transformations. The course will start with the Sikhs under British India in particular their struggle to liberate their own religious shrines, towards their involvement in the freedom struggle to liberate the whole sub continent from British occupation. The Sikh experience of 1947 partition between India and Pakistan and their situation in post partition India - which have intensified their search for meaning in a different manner – will also be explored.

Course Schedule:

Lecture 1
"Religion and History: A Discussion in Methods of Interpretation"
- Jacques Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone," in Religion, ed. Derrida and Vattimo. Trans. Weber. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
- Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, “The Repetition of Past Imperialisms: Hegel, Historical Difference, and the Theorization of Indic Religions,” in History of Religions 44.4. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 2005.

Lecture 2

"Romanticism of Metaphysics: Arya Samaj, Muslim League, Christian Missionaries and Singh Sabha Movement"
- Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, “The Unbearable Proximity of the Orient:
Political Religion, Multiculturalism and the Retrieval of South Asian Identities,” in Social Identities, Volume 10, Number 5, 2004

Lecture 3
"Translation of Sikh Voices: Gadar Movement and Babbar Akalis"

- Lecture Notes in the classroom

Lecture 4
"Metaphysics in Action: Gurdwara Reform Movement"
- Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, “The emergence of ‘Sikh Theology’: Reassessing the passage of ideas from Trumpp to Bhai Vir Singh,” in Bulletin of SOAS 68.2 (2005)
Lecture 5
"Codification of the Ethics: The Sikhs and Freedom Movement of India"

- Navdeep Singh Mandair, “(EN)Gendered Sikhism: The iconolatry of manliness in the making of Sikh identity,” in Sikh Formations, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2005
Lecture 6
"Tragedy and the Nations: The Partition of 1947”

- Ian Talbot, “Partition, memory and trauma: Voices of Punjabi refugee migrants in Lahore and Amritsar,” in Sikh Formations, Volume 2, Number 1, 2006

Lecture 7

"Punjabi Suba Movement: An Experience of the Otherness"
- Lecture Notes in the classroom.
Lecture 8
"Hearing the Self: The Idea of Sikh Homeland and Anandpur Sahib Resolution"
- Lecture Notes in the classroom

Lecture 9
"Beyond Time: Dharam Yudh Morcha”
- Lecture Notes in the classroom
Lecture 10
"Indian Army Invasion and the Genocides"

- Lecture Notes in the classroom
Lecture 11
"The Sikh Diaspora"
- Brian Keith Axel, “Diasporic sublime: Sikh martyrs, Internet mediations, and the question of the unimaginable,” in Sikh Formations, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2005
- Giorgio Shani, “Beyond Khalistan? Sikh diasporic identity and critical international theory,” in Sikh Formations, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2005
- Gurharpal Singh, “British multiculturalism and Sikhs,” in Sikh Formations, Volume 1, Number 2, December 2005
Lecture 12
"Sikh Struggle after 1984"

- Lecture Notes in the classroom
Lecture 13
"Memory and Trauma"
- Darshan S. Tatla, “The morning after: Trauma, memory and the Sikh predicament since 1984,” in Sikh Formations, Volume 2, Number 1, 2006
Lecture 14
"Reading Zafarnamah: The Sikhs and their Fight"
- Gursharan Singh Bedi, The Epistle of Victory (An English Translation of Guru Gobind Singh's Zafarnama in verse), G.S. Bedi Harbans Singh Road, Amritsar, 1961.
Lecture 15

2:16 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

I have visited your web and read your poems. Absolutely wonderful! Kudos! I'm reminded of the best of both Puran Singh and Harbhajan Singh!

As for the course design, I think it is not a bit short on the cultural component - especially on the oppositional one in respect of the caste mobilisations. I don't know why but it gives me the impression of being driven by some latent utopian desire. This can be quite bothersome. Also I notice that the design refuses to engage with the Punjabi 'other' of the Sikhs - the Muslims and the Hindus and, why, even the Christians. That also is not a some measure of concern. The design, otherwise quite exhaustive, seems to be a bit like 'kaRha Parshad' served without napkins and if you have traveled extensively in Punjab you would know how the beards are used on such delicate occasions.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Prabhsharandeep Singh said...

Thanks Panini! really good to know that you liked the poems. I am going to post more poems on the blog soon.

About the course, it is not about punjab or pujabiat. It is focused on the current Sikh situation and is an effort to contextually situate the Sikh issue. I find the conventional discourse in India quite problematic. So, the course is about the open expression of the natural human desires, I did not get why you found it latent.

Thanks for reminding of Karhah Parshad. Its connection with seva and Ardas treats the body in a special way, the way it is celebrated with Shabad, Raag, Gatka, and other physical work. Collective celebration that annihilates the Hau ("I") and treats it as a temple or palace.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Prabhsharan, you should share your poetry with a much wider Punjabi readership. It is undoubtedly a class act! Simple, haunting and profound! I suggest that you put it up on the APNAORG website or allow someone like me to do that. For, poets, with refined sensibilities such as yours, can at times be terribly self-effacing.

4:18 AM  
Blogger Prabhsharandeep Singh said...

Thanks a lot Panini. You are most welcome to publish my poems anywhere including apnaorg. I'll put more poems on the blog in a day or so.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous raina said...

chatwin's in patagonia is in many ways a remarkable travel book - it is completely invented.

another wonderful book is pamuk's the black book - it's not categorised as travel - it is fiction. however, it is a journey into istanbul, and a fascinating parable of the sufi journey to search for god.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Prabhsharandeep, thanks for your syllabus, and sorry for the late reply (still reeling from the beginning of the term).

Your course looks really interesting, and I'll be curious to hear more about how it goes. I met a lot of the folks whose essays you're assigning this summer at a conference at Hofstra -- all very smart people. Have you sent your syllabus to Arvind Mandair, by any chance? He might be interested to talk to you (you may know him already).

10:24 AM  
Blogger Prabhsharandeep Singh said...

Thanks Amardeep Singh ji, I would like to have some strong criticism on the syllabus, its limitations etc. A lot has changed during past 7-8 semesters. I would like to make it better. Let me know what you think. I would appreciate if you spare some time to coment on the blog entirs. we have tried to initiate discussion on some serious issues on the blogs.

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear amar,

its one very informative and practical blog you have going.
congrats for all the live material.
i have just finished off a dissertation on human relationships in diaspora concerning characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.

i am preparing for a university grants commission exam for lecturership status in colleges here in india.

i am teaching language to undergrads in a self financing college here in kerala, south india.

hoping to read sacred games soon.

the last few months have all been full of jhumpa and jhumpa yours truly.

what say you of the namesake.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Michel Budget said...

This is my first comment over here.

I liked this blog entry the most though, the way you said it was just amazing!

See you Later ;)

1:44 AM  
Anonymous Travel Blog said...

I have been traveling and blogging around the world for 2 years. Feel free to use my site as a resource.

9:19 AM  

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