Reterritorializing the African Novel-Syllabus

English 8xx-Reterritorializing the African Novel

In 2010, popular Afrikaans writer Annelie Botes committed a particularly heinous gaffe while being interviewed; when asked what group of people she disliked, if any, she responded with “Black people.” This sentiment, coming from a woman writer speaking a language only 13% of South Africans learn as their first language, had wide-reaching repercussions for Botes—google her name, and six years later, this is still the first story to come up about her. Obvious racism aside, Botes’ declamation of South African blacks is problematic because it represents a striking example of reterritorialization, or, a reabsorption into dominant discourses of hierarchy and power by minority figures whose own work strives to break away from those very practices. Indeed, reterritorialization seems to threaten not only the novelists and artists whose work fuels the practice of literary criticism, but perhaps ever more virulently, academia itself.

This course is indebted to exploring instances of reterritorialization in the modern and contemporary African novel. To that end we will be particularly attentive to ways in which authors writing against the Western tradition of the novel remain beholden to discourses of white and/or hegemonic power in African society or art while still stmultaneously functioning as a diagnosis or panacea of its virulence. This course intends to broach questions of assimilation, colorblindness, poverty, gender, sexuality, and, of course, race, in order to determine where our own scholarship becomes most vulnerable to reterritorializing practices (despite our best interests). We will begin with Botes’s own novel Mountain of Lost Dreams, then move into more urban spaces with Kgebetli Moele’s Room 207. Aminatta Forma’s The Memory of Love will then provide some context on how history itself functions as an archive of discourse. Finally, we will close this interrogation with the work of Berni Searle, a contemporary artist whose bodily preoccupations gel well with the last novel we’ll be reading, A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass.


Course Goals:

-Better understand how and why the African novel has difficulty extricating itself from discourses of power.

-Gain a familiarity with the state of the contemporary African novel.

-Develop a clear understanding of the relationship between criticism and literature as a product of knowledge production.

-Demonstrate the ability to synthesize themes from the course into a coherent term paper.


Required Texts:

Botes, Annelie. Mountain of Lost Dreams. Johannesburg: Penguin SA, 2012.

Moele, Kgebetli. Room 207. Cape Town: NB Publishers, 2011.

Forma, Aminatta. The Memory of Love. New York: Grove Press, 2011.

Barrett, A. Igoni. Blackass. Minneapolis: Greywolf Press, 2016.



Week 1

Tuesday: Mountain of Lost Dreams

Thursday: Finish Mountain of Lost Dreams

Verwey, Cornel, and Michael Quayle. “Whiteness, racism, and Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa.” African Affairs 111.445 (2012): 551-575.

Week 2

Tuesday: Room 207

Thursday: Finish Room 207

Milazzo, Marzia. “Racial Power And Colorblindness: The ‘Sad Black Stories’ Of Kgebetli Moele’s Room 207 And Twenty-First Century Black South African Fiction.” Journal Of Commonwealth & Postcolonial Studies 1.1 (2013): 33-59.

Week 3

Tuesday: The Memory of Love

Thursday: Finish The Memory of Love
Harrow, Kenneth W. “Suturing Two Worlds: Aminatta Forna’s The Memory Of Love.” Journal Of Commonwealth & Postcolonial Studies 1.1 (2013): 13-32.

Week 4

Tuesday: Blackass

Vincent, Louise, and Simon Howell. “Embracing Racial Reasoning: The DASO Poster Controversy and ‘Race’ Politics in Contemporary South Africa.” Journal of Southern African Studies 40.1 (2014): 75-90.

Thursday: Finish Blackass

Berni Searle—I have no idea how to put artwork on a syllabus.



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4 Responses to Reterritorializing the African Novel-Syllabus

  1. lilyh92 says:


    This looks like a really interesting course design! It has a clear focus and I can easily see the links between your primary and secondary material. I would love to read Room 207 as I have heard great things about it!


  2. The secondary reading material you’ve provided looks like it would engender engrossing converstation, and I would be interested in reading The Memory of Love. What would you do with Searle’s art? A lot of it seems to be concerned with erosion and the value of her/a female body. She highly influenced by the elements, but from the syllabus, it seems like you’re interested in the question of representation as it relates to race policitcs. Would you ask your students to write/read criticism in repsponse to visual artwork? I might be worth having them take some kind of virtual tour.


  3. Anne Gulick says:

    Fabulous opening hook to your course description. I know you’ve written a post on Mbembe’s “Decolonizing Knowledge” essay (haven’t read it yet), which seems pretty perfect for this syllabus; along those lines I’m also wondering whether some Ngugi or Fanon would be useful in this course. And I’ll also admit that “reterritorialization” is a new critical term for me – clearly a very useful one, but if there’s a theorist who’s associated with coining or elaborating on or popularizing it, maybe include that text so you’ve got an “origin story” in place for your students?


  4. Johnathon Hall says:

    That initial grab to get people interested was awesome. I struggled to actually say the word reterritorialization about 5 times before I could. The texts you chose along with that hook are interesting in both their names as well as their direction and I’d be interested to actually read more of them. An interesting article I found in regards to students reading recently was all about creating a shock factor. You definitely have that initially and I think, if I was to actually take the course, the visceral nature of titles of texts as well as essays would at least incline me to take a look and see what it was about.


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