Literary and Artistic Productions of the Third World: Performing Nationalism and Sovereignty

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Third World Literary and Artistic Production

Literary and Artistic Productions of the Third World:

Performing Nationalism and Sovereignty

FRSEM-UA 589-001

Spring 2016
Instructor: Eman S. Morsi

Office: 19 University Place, room B07

Office Hours: Tuesdays 1:00-3:00pm

Course Time: Thursdays 3:30pm-6:00pm

Course Location: 194 Mercer Street, Room 208

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of national liberation movements in what came to be known as the Third World. These movements fought for the sovereignty of “the people” – the masses deprived of their freedom and dignity by imperialism, dictatorship or feudalism. But these movements were not merely political; they also brought forth literary and artistic vanguards and experiments. Thus, Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novels gave voice to silenced Indonesian histories during and after European colonialism; Pablo Neruda’s poetry helped construct not only a Chilean identity but also a pan-Latin American one that stood against political and economic oppression; and Alfred Faraj’s development of a politically committed theatre created a space for the expression of daily struggles for social and political justice in Egypt and the Arab world.

The sociopolitical and economic upheavals of the mid-20th century thus went hand in hand with the emergence of national theatres, folk dance troupes and the proliferation of patriotic songs. As the interests of the common man were prioritized in the political arena, the cultural scene produced an aesthetic of everyday life in new works and experimental movements— in Syria, with the socialist realism of Sa’dallah Wannous’ plays; in Nigeria, with the folkloric recoding of Chinua Achebe's novels, or in Cuba, with the advent of Julio Garcia Espinosa’s “imperfect cinema” and documentary style. Ironically, since many of the decolonization movements were led by militant authoritarian figures, the period also saw a rise in populist and propagandist arts that helped establish and enforce different personality cults. These, too, had their aesthetic and mass culture ambitions.
Who are “the people” and what does it mean to become a nation? How are nationalism and sovereignty performed in the cultural sphere? What were the main literary and artistic trends that emerged from such movements, and how did these works inform them in return? What kind of utopian or dystopian worlds did the writers and artists of the time portray? Why did the quotidian and the “everyman” become central to so much of the literature of the time? We will take up these questions as we survey the main literary and cultural trends of a period of great sociopolitical and aesthetic influence.

All articles, short stories, poetry, and short-length visual material will be made available through NYU classes. Novels can be bought from any online or store outlets. They will also be available at NYU’s library reserves. Feature films and long documentaries will be made available at Bobst’s Avery Fischer Center for viewing.


Punctuality, regular attendance, and participation in class discussions are a must. If you have to miss a class because of illness or religious observance, please notify me (preferably prior to your absence). If a student misses more than two classes without explanation, their final grade will drop by one half letter grade.

All required readings have to be completed in advance of the session. Students are expected to contribute thoughtfully to the class discussion and to engage with the issues raised or arguments made by their fellow students after they have listened respectfully and attentively to them.

  • You will be required to write (a) three short papers (3 pages each); (b) one research paper proposal and outline; and (c) one research paper (10 pages).

  • Papers should be submitted through the “assignments” tab on NYU Classes.

  • Please note that, barring sudden illness or death in the family, no late submissions will be accepted.


Provide a close reading of one of the novels or two of the poems assigned linking the work(s) to the larger themes and literary trends with which they engaged.


Choose a song or a folk dance performance from the assigned material to analyze with special focus on its sociopolitical message and implications.


Choose one of the films and review it by discussing the cinematic techniques used, the historical moment within which it was produced, and its cultural significance (trend-setting, reception etc).

PRESENTATION: A 10 minute presentation on any of the secondary sources (articles/book chapters etc) assigned on a given week. A sign-up sheet with presentation slots will be provided online after the first session.

  • APRIL 21ST: Paper Proposal

  • APRIL 28TH: Paper Outline

  • MAY 12TH: Final paper due


  • Font: 12-point Times New Roman

  • Double Spaced

  • One inch margins

  • MLA, APA or Chicago style citations (whichever you choose, please be systematic).


  • Participation 15%

  • Presentation 15%

  • Literary critique (3 pages) 15%

  • Analysis of a performance (3 pages) 15%

  • Film review (3 pages) 15%

  • Research paper proposal and outline 5%

  • Research paper (10 pages) 20%

Required Books:

(Please note that these books will also be made available on reserve at Bobst Library)

Course Schedule
Week One (Jan 28th): Introduction/Colonialism:

  • Introduction: What is the Third World? History of the term

  • Geoffrey Chamberlain, Decolonization: The Fall of the European Empires (pp 1-64)

Week Two (Feb 4th): Colonialism/Decolonization:

  • Geoffrey Chamberlain, Decolonization: The Fall of the European Empires (pp 65-118)

Week Three (Feb 11th): Decolonization

  • Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Child of All Nations (Novel)

Key Words: national consciousness, justice, equality, race, hierarchies
Week Four (Feb 18th): The postcolonial nation-state/The rise of national poets

  • Pablo Neruda (poetry selections TBA)

  • Benedict Anderson, “Cultural Roots” in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (pp.9-37)

Key Words: national poets/Aesthetics of the everyday/ political commitment/socialist realism
Week Five (Feb 25th): The postcolonial nation-state

Literary Analysis due

  • Chronicle of the Years of Embers (Film)

  • Benedict Anderson, “Official Nationalism and Imperialism” in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (pp.83-113)

Key Words: Revisiting the past, national epics
Week Six (Mar 3rd): Performing the Nation: Song

  • Selected songs TBA

  • Krishna Sen, “Nation, ‘No-Nation’ and ‘Desh’: Post-Orientalism and the National Allegory in Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown and Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song” in Writing India Anew (pp75-92)

  • Fernando Rios, “Bolero Trios, Mestizo Panpipe Ensembles, and Bolivia’s 1952 Revolution: Urban La Paz Musicians and the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement” (pp. 281-317)

Key Words: National hymns, Marching band music, Civic religion
Week Seven (Mar 10th): Performing the Nation: Dance

  • National Folk Dance Troupes (selected clips)

  • Chang-Tai Hung, “Yangge: The Dance of Revolution” in Mao’s New World: Political Culture in the Early People’s Republic (pp. 82-99)

  • Paul Schauert, “Managing Culture: Discipline, Artistry and Alternative Education in Ghana’s State Dance Ensembles” (Africa Today, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Spring 2014), pp. 3-33)

  • Arzu Ozturkmen, “Politics of National Dance in Turkey: A Historical Reappraisal” (Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 33 (2001), pp. 139-143)

Key Words: origin myths, expressions of difference, national identity
[Mar 17th: Spring Break/No Classes]
Week Eight (Mar 24th): Third Worldism

Performance Analysis due

  • The Bandung Conference (select readings TBA)

  • Algeria and the Tricontinental (readings TBA)

Week Nine (Mar 31st): The New Man and Utopia

  • Che Guevara, “Socialism and Man in Cuba” (22 pages. available online: )

  • TBA (utopian novel)

Key Words: redemption, self-determination, moderation.
Week Ten (Apr 7th): A New Cinema

  • Julio Garcia Espinosa, “For an Imperfect Cinema” in Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media (pp.24-26)

  • Memories of Underdevelopment (Film)

Key Words: The Third Cinema, Audience Reception, Experimentalism
Week Eleven (Apr 14th): The Political Poster

Film Analysis due

  • Selections from the OSPAAL collections

  • Gary Yanker, “The Political Poster: A Worldwide Phenomenon” (World Affairs, Vol. 133, No. 3 (December 1970), pp. 215-223)

Key Words: Solidarity, Experimentation and commitment
Week Twelve (Apr 21st): The Popular/Populist Leader

  • The iconography of the leader in photography and cartoons (selections)

  • Chinua Achebe, A Man of the People

Key Words: populism, sovereign leader, the just tyrant, the will of the nation, icons
Week Thirteen (Apr 28th): Authoritarianism and Disillusionment

  • Sonallah Ibrahim, “The Smell of it” (Short Story)

Key Words: Allegorical distancing/displacement
Week Fourteen (May 5th): Conclusion

  • Mark T. Berger, “After the Third World? History, Destiny and the Fate of Third Worldism” (Third World Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 1, (2004), pp. 9-39)

Final lecture/discussion:

  • The Cold War paradigm and the polarization of the world

  • Neoliberalism and the postcolonial nation: economic dependency and the paradigm of development

  • The end of solidarity?

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