World Literatures in English
Studying World Literatures in English:
Why and How?


(For a short definition of World Literatures in English, please look at our course description.  Or go to Introduction to Postcolonial Studies--remote at Emory U.--for a longer description of postcolonial studies.)

  1. They are great: There has been resistance to the challenges to the canon posed by World Literatures in English.  (Some might argue that Shakespeare, or Milton, or Spenser, after all, is still the best.)  Without denying the values of these canonical figures, we believe that World Literatures in English also have masterpieces which had been and might still have been ignored without postcolonialist consciousness in the readers or in some departments.

  2. As an English major (whether with a focus on literature or on linguistics), we need to study British and American literatures so that we have in-depth knowledge of their cultures and their histories.  However, so many other places and nations use "english" as their official language (and/or native language), and so many other "english" literatures have been written.   De-centeringthe British and U.S. literatures (but not replacing them with another center) is necessary, so that we can be led to the many english literary worlds and their cultures.
  3.   They are relevant to us: Colonialism is not the thing of the past; nor are these literatures foreign to us.

  4. Most of the major themes and issues in this field concern us in Taiwan.  For instance,
  5. They are eye-openers!  They broaden our perspectives on ourselves and about the human world(s).

  6. Sharing similar concerns, the different regions in the field of World Literatures in English have their cultural and historical distinctness.  If learning a language means entering a world, then learning these exemplary texts from this enormous field initiates us to take a journey into many worlds.
  1. Approach the text, feel its emotions and art directly while trying to find out more about its contexts through searching on the Internet.



    Context matters.  For instance,
    -- socio-historical: (Wide Sargasso Sea) without knowning the complicated post-emancipation history in the Caribbean area or the conflicts between the English island (Jamaica) and French island (Martinique), we will not be able to fully understand Annette's sense of constraint in Jamaica, nor Antoinette's extreme sense of isolation.

    -- socio-historical: (Salaam Bombay!)  the knowledge of the poverty and ghetto problems in Bombay, and especially the fact that the film is played by some street kids, will add to our sympathy for the characters in the film and Bombay society.  On the other hand, reading about the present Bombay on some websites ( Images of Bombay; or The Bombay pages) can offer us a broader view of Bombay and thus help us avoiding unnecessary pitying, with the understanding that the discrepancies between the haves and have-nots is still a big problem there.

    -- authorial: the fact that "The Concubine's Children" is written by the concubine's grand-daughter (Denise Cheong) makes us feel the impact of this family tragedy.

  3. Be sensitive to the range of possible issues; examine how the text is engaged in these issues, and then engage yourself criticallly.  (See more extended lists in final exam 2000, 1999, 1998)

    Some possible issues are:   To use Language and Postcolonial Resistance as an example, some points may possibly made:  
    1. Power relations happen not only between different nations or peoples, but also between different languages.  Being able to use/write a certain language means being in a position of power.  For instance,
    2. The use of language--as well as one's names-- is related to one's cultural identity.
    3. Postcolonial resistance: Closely related to the character/author's cultural identity is their (the authors' and teh characters') ways to resist colonial influences.

    4. (Here on this page "Language", there is a theoretical discussion of some postcolonial writers' different views about the use of language.)