I’m in World Literature in English this year as an SST Alternative class. As the SST discussion occurs surrounding the campus conference, I wish to address what I feel is a major problem: the literature in SST Alternative classes.
I’m tired of the books in courses like World Literature. It is hypocritical to say they teach against the danger of a single story, as you may remember from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story” TED Talk. Why? Because all the stories are the same.
If you asked me, “Remember that book in World Lit? You know, the one with the abusive father figure, the war, a dictator and negative consequences from colonial rule?”, I would ask you, “Which one?” I said this exact sentence to two of my classmates, who gave the same response.
If a class like World Literature was the only exposure students had of postcolonial countries, they’d think that these countries are violent, plagued with wars and depressing places to live. World Literature isn’t fighting the single story. It’s enforcing it.
Now, I am not saying these stories are unimportant.
When, however, they are told back-to-back, they begin to lose their punch. It also makes people begin to tune out. One novel covering the negative impacts of colonialism is enough. However, in two months, we’ve had four books that have the same approach.
They’re also setting a trope for postcolonial writers. Adichie said in her TED Talk that her teacher told her that her book wasn’t “African enough.” By using only books demonstrating negative aspects of postcolonial societies, GC and the English department continue the trope of African novels needing to be violent with abusive father figures and a young person fighting against the culture.
Finally, these books can be hard to read. They’re very depressing, which, while important, is difficult when read back to back. Variety is needed.
I don’t feel I’ve learned anything about the countries we’ve read about.
So, what do I propose? Give us pop culture-related material from these countries.
Start with a book like “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe showing the negative impacts of colonialism because those do hold value. But then show us what is popular in other countries. Isn’t the point to make us more aware of the world? This is the perfect way to do so.
Give us superheroes from Africa, written in African nations. Give us science fiction novels with African characters.
If you want us to support international writers, then give us a variety. Classes like World Literature should be doing this.
Everyone can look up to superheroes. Characters like Captain America, Superman, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel inspire us and can be used to comment on social issues. For example, “Captain America: Civil War” and the Ms. Marvel comic where she inspires people to vote show that superheroes aren’t limited just to entertainment.
Adichie said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are not true, but incomplete.” World Literature and other SST Alternative classes give us an incomplete look at other countries.
We see only their violent pasts and not a full perspective of what their culture is like. I ask the English department to review their content and tone to better teach us.
You are the teachers. Give underread postcolonial writers of science fiction, autobiographies, action and superheroes an audience. It is important to read a variety of literature when trying to learn about other cultures.