December 4, 2006

Stephanie Black's Life & Debt

You can read more about the film on its website or by reading an interview with Stephanie Black on BuzzFlash or by looking through a section about the film on PBS.Org.

  • What "argument" is Stephanie Black making in Life and Debt? What, if anything, is she trying to persuade you of?

  • How does she go about building her argument? What are her most successful tools? Her least successful tools?

  • What do you feel you learned from the movie, if anything?

  • Did this movie affect your attitude toward tourism? More or less than A Small Place? Did it affect your attitude toward agricultural policies, the IMF, the World Bank?

  • Why does Stephanie Black show us a Jamaican watching news footage instead of just showing the news footage? What effect does that create?

  • Why does she choose to spend so much time showing the riots?

  • What was the role of music in the film? What about the Rastafarians?

  • That's enough from me; your questions and comments?

November 22, 2006

A Small Place, pp 23-81

  • What do you think of the "sackcloth and ashes"? How badly should the English feel about colonialism, about slavery? Should they make reparations? Should they wear hair shirts and beat their breasts? Should we? I am not quite serious about the hair shirts (nor do I think Kincaid was entirely serious about sackcloth), but I do mean this as a serious question.

  • What do you think about Kincaid's comments on page 41? About Johnson's article? Were Antigua, African nations, Latin America, Asia "better off under colonialism"? Is "recolonization" the way to go?

  • To what extent are Kincaid's comments about "the kids in Antigua today" what you could hear out of most anyone once they've reached a certain age? To what extent are they different?

  • How do you think Kincaid would read Ngugi wa Thiong'o? What does she mean when she says, "For isn't it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime" (31).

  • What do you make of her condescending remarks about Antiguans on pp. 52-53? Is this a legitimate expression of her disappointment? Or is it caricature?

November 21, 2006

A Small Place, pp 1-23

  • What is your reaction to the first section? Why do you think you reacted that way?

  • Why does Kincaid use such long sentences and paragraphs? What is their effect?

  • Why "can't she get beyond all that"?

  • What do you make of the cover of the book?

  • Does Kincaid seem to be saying that people should never leave their home countries? This has been described as an "antitravel" memoir. Is Kincaid against all travel, or a certain sort of tourism?

November 17, 2006

The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun

Most of these questions are cribbed from Newsreel.

  • Some viewers find that The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun has an abrupt endingn. Why do the vendors scatter as Sili Laam (the little girl) and Babou Seck (her helpful friend) approach and we only hear their footsteps? What is the meaning of Sili's final words in the film, "We continue"?

  • Consider the opening scene. A woman is arrested in the marketplace. The market people surround her, watch her humiliation, but do nothing to assist her. Might there be a parallel between the market people as spectators, and us--movie viewers--as spectators?

  • The woman protests that she is "not a thief." She says that the country is crazy and that she is a displaced princess. Senegal is her land by right and, yet, she has been rendered a beggar in it. Is she crazy or speaking a truth?

  • Why has Mambety picked as the heroine of this film, a child, a female, a member of a despised social caste (Laam is often the name of those who handle animal skins - outcasts in many cultures) and a paraplegic?

  • In La petite vendeuse de Soleil the newspaper vendors cluster around a ferry dock marked "Goree." Goree Island was one of the most famous "slave castles" in West Africa from where enslaved peoples were deported to the Americas. What is its significance here?

  • Why does Mambety create this film in an almost "fairy tale" style?

  • What does Mambety mean when he refers to (in this film), the "gravity of innocence"? What is the role of "innocence" in the film? For that matter, what is "innocence"?

November 14, 2006

Leila Ahmed's "The Veil Debate"

  • Why do you think that a figure such as Lord Cromer believed that the veil was "the fatal obstacle" standing in the way of Egyptian men's "attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western civilization"?

  • Is this related or not related to figures like Britain's Jack Straw (leader of the House of Commons) not allowing veils in his office, requesting that they be removed in meetings? BBC Story What about Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement that veils are a "mark of separation" which make "people from outside the community feel uncomfortable."

  • Apparently, in Britain, Straw's comments have led to an uptick in veil sales. Why do you think this is?

  • Can you draw any connections between this article and Battle of Algiers?

  • What does Leila Ahmed mean when she talks about the veil's "master narratives" and how the meaning of the veil has been defined in our time? Can you put this into your own words?

  • Other questions, comments, thoughts...

November 9, 2006


  • Why has Satrapi chosen to emphasize in her childhood? In what ways is Persepolis similar to a Western "coming-of-age" story? In what ways is it different?

  • Why, when she's explicitly trying to get away from the conception of Iranians as "fundamentalists," does she begin with religion?

  • What are the different roles of religion in this book? What might Satrapi be trying to communicate about religion?

  • How are class and class differences portrayed in Persepolis? Is Persepolis primarily a middle-class story? What does this mean about the impressions we form about the Iran of the book?

  • Does Persepolis distinguish between "good revolutionaries" and "bad revolutionaries"? How?

  • What are your questions?

November 2, 2006

"Douloti the Bountiful," Sections V-VII

If you haven't finished the story and don't want any spoilers, don't look here.

  • Why does Mahasweta Devi construct the story so we continuously hope some man will come take care of Douloti? Did you believe that good things were on the horizon for Douloti? Until what point?

  • "Douloti understood some and didn't understand some" (91). This happens throughout, that she understands only parts of conversations, only part of what is going on around her. Is our understanding (or lack thereof) supposed to imitate Douloti's?

  • At the bottom of 81, Singhi (Douloti's then-john) calls Douloti "a good girl." "Whores do this work for the lust of money. You never lust after money." Then, nearly at the end, "Douloti smiled in a timid way like any other country woman" (92). Even when she's being condemned to death, she smiled politely and timidly. Is Devi telling us something here? What?

  • Was there a way out for Douloti? Why didn't she take it? (What does it have to do with the internalized-gender-roles-confused-as-ethical-choice Spivak refers to in the introduction?)

  • Why does it end with Douloti "all over India"? She is in the schoolyard of Mohan Srivastava, the one-time ally of her uncle Bono, but now returned to the school. (He's the one who beleives so deeply in police, government, education.) Why does she die on Srivastava's map? Why on the date of India's independence? (Independence here ironic?)

"Douloti the Bountiful," Sections I-IV

  • Why so much history about Bono and Crook before we get to Douloti? The narrator says, "So many things came up as I tried to tell you how Ganori Nagesia became Crook Nagesia. These things must be said. In the world of Seora village, Bono is just as true as Ganori." Why must these things be said? Who is this narrator? What kind of person is telling us this story?

  • What do you make of the more "technical" features of the text? Why does she run some dialogue together (and not use quotes)? Why does she use line breaks, like poetry, in some places, such as 49-50? Why so many short sentences? Do you have any advice for your peers about reading a story like this?

  • Why does Spivak translate the word for upper-caste men as "god"? Some translators shy away from this. Why does Spivak embrace it? What effect does it have?

  • Other things you notice, questions about what's going on, etc.?

OPTIONAL: Spivak's Introduction to "Douloti the Beautiful"

  • Why is Spivak arguing against the demonization of the U.S.? What does that have to do with the idea that, "East is East and West is West"?

  • Has Spivak changed her mind? Does she seem to be saying, now, that the subaltern can be heard? Under what circumstances?

  • Most interesting (to me): What does Spivak mean when she says "internalized gender perceived as ethical choice is the hardest roadblock for women the world over"? Presumably this is the "choice" to be sweet, innocent, and virtuous that's noted on the previous page.

  • Other questions, comments about her introduction?

October 31, 2006

Kidlat Tahimik's Perfumed Nightmare

Try to shy away from "like" and "dislike" as much as possible, or at least, don't have that be the only thing you post about. Some possible questions:

  • What role does laughter play in the film? The characters' laughter, the viewer's laughter, etc. To what purpose or end does Tahimik employ humor? (For instance, when he says, "The five of us had become men." Or when he makes goofy expressions for the camera.)

  • Why does the American speak so oddly?

  • Why does Tahimik focus so much on individual sounds and images? What is the effect?

  • What's the deal with the unsteadiness of the camera at certain points?

  • What is the social or political message of the film, if there is one? Why does he repeat "progress" so much? What does that word mean in the context of the film? What happens at the end?

  • What is the relationship between Philippino and American that's being sketched out here? What is the significance of the chewing gum?

  • Your questions...

October 16, 2006

OPTIONAL: Foe, Pages 153-157

  • Who is speaking here? What is happening? Who is acting? What new “characterâ€? has come on the scene?

  • Barton’s question at the end of Foe, "who must dive into the wreck?" alludes to Adrienne Rich’s poem "Diving into the Wreck." What connections do you see between the last section of the book and Rich’s poem?

  • What is the end telling us about Friday? Do we know any more about Friday now than we did previously?

  • "This is a place where bodies are their own signs." What does this mean?

  • One critic has said: “I read Friday and Lucy [from another of Coetzee’s books, Disgrace,] as rhetorical constructions that require the reader to develop what one could call, after William Wordsworth, a strong imagination.â€? Is Coetzee teaching us--the powerful--to listen?

  • How does this relate to Coetzee’s “real lifeâ€? position as a white, male South African author?

Foe, Pages 113-152

  • What do you make of the relationship between Susan and Friday? Are they allies? Are they both equally “oppressed,â€? or is there a difference? Why?

  • What do you make of Susan’s maybe-daughter, maybe-not-daughter, who seems to come from another of Defoe’s books, Roxana? What might it mean about who is controlling the story? At some point, does Susan Barton seem to lose her grip as the keeper of this story? Her grip on her sanity and/or her personhood?

  • What do you think of following: "In every story there is a silence" (141).

  • What happens between Susan Barton and the author, Foe? What do you make of their relationship?

  • Feel free to approach these or any other questions.

October 12, 2006

Foe, pages 47-111: Susan’s Letters to Foe

  • Susan Barton wants to have her story told—and told truthfully. What does this mean to her, truthfully? Why does she want so much to have her story told?

  • Why are islands so important to this story? Cruso says, “The world is full of islandsâ€? (71). What might this mean, in the context of telling a story, communicating with others?

  • The name Foe was Daniel Defoe's real name before he gentrified it with the De-. What do you suppose Coetzee is getting at by calling his author “Foeâ€?? Note that the word is often present in Protestant religious texts, where it means enemy, or the Devil. It was also a word used by British colonists—they defined colonized peoples as “foes.â€?

  • Can Susan Barton’s story be told if, “in truth,â€? it was very dull, as she says on page 81? In truth, was it dull? Is Susan Barton an artless writer? If she's not, why is she portraying herself as such?

  • What do you think of Barton’s attempts to return Friday to Africa? What sorts of larger issues might Coetzee be addressing?

  • This text is extremely rich with questions about gender, race, colonialism, the nature of stories. What else do you see here? What questions do you have?

Foe pages 5-46: Susan’s First Attempt to Tell Her Story

  • One of the main foci of the novel is the problem of truth and storytelling. One question asked throughout is the book is: Whose story is the right one? Is there ever one right story? What happens to the untold stories? So you’ll want to pay attention, throughout, to how characters are and aren’t able to articulate their stories. Why can’t Barton tell Cruso’s story? Why can’t Friday tell his story? Why can’t Susan just write her own book? (Your thoughts on this might change as Foe proceeds.)

  • Is this story—of Susan Barton and Cruso—a real-sounding story? Is it an interesting story? Is this a story that could be fashioned (truthfully) into a best-selling novel?

  • DeFoe’s Crusoe kept a journal. Coetzee’s Cruso did not. Why? What difference does this make in the two books?

  • Another difference: In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe makes Friday a tall, light-skinned Carib with near-European features. Why does Coetzee change Friday’s appearance to a sub-Saharan African one?

  • Why does Coetzee have Friday sprinkling petals on the ocean? What is this supposed to tell us, as readers? Do you think Friday is mentally sound? What do you think about Friday? What information does Coetzee give you?

  • That’s enough from me. What questions do you have? What do you notice?

October 11, 2006

Spivak - Can the Subaltern Speak?

Please feel free, as always, to throw in your own questions. A good, short write-up about the suicide of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri can be found on the Cambridge Collections website.

So, some questions:

  • How would you define "subaltern" (in your own words)?

  • What is the difference between "speaking" and "talking"? Who can speak? Whose voices/actions can you hear in the world? Which voices can't you hear?

  • What does Spivak mean by, "There is, then, something of a not-speakingness in the very notion of subalternity"?

  • What do you think of her argument that a failed insurgency is a failure to "speak"? How broadly does she define "speech"?

  • "Now that I am...a bit older, the whole idea of who speaks for whom seems to be to be a way of not noticing that we think that knowing and writing inevitably take place within the model of parliamentary representation" (Spivak 295). What does she mean by this?

  • What do you think she means that, "it is reflected in the kind of Orientalism that simply thinks that the other side is all unfractioned good" (305)? Or the sort of "crude national identity" that she talks about? What's wrong with thinking that Somalis or Bangladeshis are wholly good?

    Okay, that's probably enough... Your turn.

October 4, 2006

Edward Said's Orientalism - Part One

For more information on Said, check Week 5 and Week 6 on the WebCT site. Possible entry points into the discussion:

  • What could Said have meant when he says that the Orient “was almost a European inventionâ€??

  • What did Said mean when he said that for Europe the Orient has been among the “deepest and most recurring images of the Otherâ€?? What does “Otherâ€? mean when used in this way? Can you think of an example that supports or undermines his argument?

  • How does "culture" relate to political, economic, and military forces and their treatment of the Orient?

  • What role do individual writers, like Dickens and Flaubert, play in "Orientalism"?

  • Can you think of specific instances you have seen the events and people of the Middle East portrayed in the news or on television in a particularly negative way? Do you think this is a perpetuation of an Orientalist view?

  • One poster on another blog claims that, "Orientalism may have (necessarily) advanced the cause of both the West as well as the truth!" Do you think this is the case? What do you think about that statement?

Also: If you had a confusing passage/moment, or an example of modern-day Orientalism and didn't talk about it in class, please post it here.

September 28, 2006

Battle of Algiers

Please don't comment until we've seen the entire film. Anyhow, a little background:

The character Colonel Mathieu was based on the actual French commander, General Massu.

In 1971, General Massu wrote a book challenging "The Battle of Algiers," and the film was banned in France for many years. In his book General Massu, who had been considered by soldiers the personification of military tradition, defended torture as "a cruel necessity." He wrote: "I am not afraid of the word torture, but I think in the majority of cases, the French military men obliged to use it to vanquish terrorism were, fortunately, choir boys compared to the use to which it was put by the rebels. The latter's extreme savagery led us to some ferocity, it is certain, but we remained within the law of eye for eye, tooth for tooth."

In 2000, his former second in command, Gen. Paul Aussaresses, acknowledged, showing neither doubts nor remorse, that thousands of Algerians "were made to disappear," that suicides were faked and that he had taken part himself in the execution of 25 men. General Aussaresses said "everybody" knew that such things had been authorized in Paris and he added that his only real regret was that some of those tortured died before they revealed anything useful.

As for General Massu, in 2001 he told interviewers from Le Monde, "Torture is not indispensable in time of war, we could have gotten along without it very well." Asked whether he thought France should officially admit its policies of torture in Algeria and condemn them, he replied: "I think that would be a good thing. Morally torture is something ugly."

This is taken from an article that appeared in the New York Times.

What relevance does the movie have today?

The film has enjoyed a brief renaissance because, in 2003, the Pentagon chose the screen the film.

The flier inviting guests to the Pentagon screening declared: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population [sic] builds to a mad fervor [sic]. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."

Brackets marking errors or offensive language [sic] are mine.

There were no reporters at the discussion held after the film. All that I've really been able to find is that the discussion was deemed "lively." For more history, check the WebCT site, Week 5.

So, possible entry points into discussion:

  • Is there a difference of opinion about what sort of conflict is going on in the Casbah? (I.e., do some think it's a war between two parties, and others a set of "terrorist attacks"?)

  • In the end, the film is clearly on the side of the Algerian people. But, throughout the rest of the film, do you think you get two--or more--points of view? (Cite specifics.)

  • How does Mathieu manage to run circles around the reporters? What effect does this have on the conflict? Why does the director, Pontecorvo, choose to utilize non-actors for all roles except Mathieu's?

  • Note ways in which you think the film creates sympathies (close-ups, following one character vs. another, auditory cues, steady or unsteady camera shots) and the ways in which it creates antipathies. Are there "bad guys" in this movie? If so, how are they established?

September 27, 2006

"Wedding at the Cross"

Possible questions (please add your own):

  • How are women's roles in this story similar or different to women's roles in Things Fall Apart? (Of course, these stories are set in different eras.) Why does he start the story like he does, and then jump back in time?

  • This is also a story about opposites (like Things Fall Apart). Okonkwo was reacting against his father; Wariuki against his father-in-law. What does it mean that both stories are framed like this, with personalities formed in reaction? Could it have some larger significance?

  • How do you interpret the "Religion of Sorrow"?

  • Does Miriamu really gain her voice at the end? In what sense? Is she heard and understood by others? Critic Kimani Njogu says that Miramu’s speech represents, “The reversal of attempts to commoditize the colonial subject.â€? Does that mean anything to you?

  • Also: Is Wariuki trying to "re-write himself in English"? He changes his name to an English one, changes his religion. Is he trying to translate himself into a non-African (and thus move himself into a different social class)?

September 22, 2006

The Language of African Literature

Are you convinced by Ngugi wa Thiong'o's argument thus far? Why or why not?

Possible entry points into discussion:

    1. In what ways does a language determine what sort of thoughts you think, what it’s possible to say? Is language a carrier of culture? What does that mean?

    2. What does wa Thiong'o mean: Language is the means of spiritual subjugation? Do you agree? If you control a people’s language, can you control them? To what extent?

September 14, 2006

Things Fall Apart -- Part III

  • What about the missionaries' use of language? Do they seem to have control of language? What about music? Is music a sort of language?

  • How do you interpret the destruction of Abame? How does this relate to the missionaries, the colonial government, the future?

  • What does Achebe mean when he says, "There is no story that is not true"?

  • What do you think about the plight of the osu? Why do you think Achebe waited this long to introduce them into the book?

  • What happens to the characters' command of language at the end of the book? (Show specific evidence from the text.)

  • At the very end of the book, Achebe makes a sudden shift into the perspective of the colonizer. Why?

Things Fall Apart -- Part II

  • What else in Things Fall Apart--other than the tortoise tale--might show the importance of language, what language someone is speaking, that language means power? Is Okonkwo really powerful, if he doesn’t have mastery over language? Is language feminine or masculine? Whose stories are better?

  • What possible arguments (thesis statement) might you make about the role of language in the book?

Things Fall Apart - Part I

Lots of possible questions....

  • What is/are the major element(s) that spur the formation of Okonkwo's personality? What's he measuring himself against? Why?

  • Who speaks well, and who doesn't speak well, in the book so far? Can Okonkwo speak well? What do you think this means about his character, and his future?

  • What does Achebe mean by: "Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten"?

  • Is Achebe praising/defending his culture? Is he criticizing it? Some of both? (Be specific, cite evidence from the text.)

  • What sort of picture of women do you get from this book? If you could make any sort of argument (thesis statement) about the role of women--or "feminine characters," which could include Unoka--in Things Fall Apart, what might it be?

August 14, 2006

'An Image of Africa in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness'

Do you think what Achebe says of Heart of Darkness also applies to "An Outpost of Progress?" Do you see examples of what Achebe's talking about? Where? (Cite specific quotes.) Or do you find flaws in Achebe's argument? If so, what are they? (The more specific the examples, the better.)

Another question, then: Should English teachers (in high school, university, elsewhere) continue to teach "Outpost of Progress," Heart of Darkness, and other Conrad works? If so, with what context and caveats? Why or why not?

'An Outpost of Progress'

Possible entry-points to discussion:

1) Why is Henry Price--or Makola--not allowed to determine his own name?

2) Which characters speak for themselves in this story? Which do not? What impression does their speech--or lack of speech--give the reader? Why does Conrad choose to let certain characters talk, and not others? What do you suppose Conrad's conscious motivations might have been?

3) How is the African (Congolese) landscape described? If the landscape could be said to have a personality, what would it be?

4) Would you call this a "successful" story? Did you enjoy it? Why, or why not?

August 2, 2006

Global Rift and 'The Myth of the West:' What is the 'Third World?'

Answer one or both of these questions, or discuss some other aspect of Global Rift or "The Myth of the West."

1) Do you agree with Stavrianos, that the "development" of the First World and the "underdevelopment of the Third World are related, "organically and functionally"? Do you agree with him that the First World is overdeveloped to the same degree that the Third World is underdeveloped? What do you think the relationship is between these "worlds?"

Why do you agree or disagree with Stavrianos?

2) Are there things Stavrianos seems to miss or gloss over in his broad-brush history? What?

3) Do you agree or disagree with the idea that there isn't really a "West?" What are areas of overlap between the "East" and "West?" What are areas of differentiation in the "Third World?"

4) Does it make sense to use the term "Third World?" Developing, underdeveloped? What are the connotations of these terms? What are the downsides to grouping so many diverse nations under one umbrella? (List of "developing" nations with which the United Nations Development Program works.) Possible benefits, or upsides to grouping nations this way?