School of English and Theatre Studies

ENGL 2130 (03)

Literature and Social Change

Fall 2013

Classroom: ANNU, Room 306
Office: McKN 442; EXT # 53259
Office hours: Tuesday & Thursday 11:45 am – 12:45 pm
Class time: Tuesday & Thursday 1:00 pm – 2:20 pm

Soundin’ Canaan: Music, Citizenship, and Social Change in African Canadian Literature

This course closely examines various Canadian blues texts, jazz texts, and hip-hop texts read through the lenses of cultural theory, resistance, aesthetic practices (musico-poetic), and questions of Canadian multiculturalism and citizenship. For example, jazz performances provide formal models for numerous writers and theorists to approach the complex interweaving textures and soundings of Canadian culture and community. The writers the course looks at are George Elliott Clarke, Esi Edugyan, Wayde Compton, Dionne Brand, K’naan, and some “abbreviated” readings, critical theory texts, and music recordings. Aside from the reading of the texts, there will be a fair amount of direct listening of the musical material, which comprises key intertextual soundings in the texts themselves. In some ways these texts demand not only to be read but also heard. We will explore questions of historicity, autobiography, gender, race, form and production, crossing disciplinary as well as media boundaries, as we attempt to theorize the activity of listening and re-writing that informs the hybridizing, conflicted and assimilative work of culture, poetry, and music, primarily within a Canadian context. These texts are engaged with the communities from which they write and respond to, and they are largely concerned with the task of changing society. By looking at citizenship through the lens of music in poetry as an often dissonant site (or text) of struggle and identity formation, the course aims to show that music in African Canadian poetry is not solely aesthetic, but a form of social, ethical, and political expression with the intent to challenge social norms, provide critical interventions, and often enact social change. Ultimately, this course will offer you innovative ways to reflect and engage with how we fundamentally interpret texts, as well as how we understand social movements, popular culture, and broader struggles for social justice, particularly as articulated by the writers explored.

Required texts:

*George Elliott Clarke, Blue
*Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues
*Dionne Brand, Ossuaries
*Wayde Compton, Performance Bond
*K’naan, The Dusty Foot Philosopher

Recommended Style texts:
*MLA handbook (7th Edition)
*Strunk and White, Elements of Style
*Diana Hacker, Rules for Writers

Additional readings and music will be available in courselink (on reserve) or found online.

Additional Course Readings

Method of instruction: Student-led seminars, with the occasional short lecture.


In-Class Writing Assignments  10%
Short Poetry Analysis (1 page, 350 words)  10%
Collaborative seminar presentation   20%
Creative Intervention (with one-page overview)  20%
Quiz  5%
Final Paper Workshop (Thesis/outline)  5%
Final (Research) Essay (5-6 pages, 1500-1700 words)  30%

Assignment Breakdown:

1. In-Class Writing Assignments (10%): Due Periodically

There will be 12 in-class writing assignments, but only the top 10 marks will count. See the syllabus for when these writing assignments take place. We will spend around the first five minutes of a given class on these and they are intended as daily prompts to test students’ ability to critically engage with the text or texts assigned for that day (prompts for days on which secondary and primary materials are assigned will ask you to think about intersections between these texts). Each assignment is marked out of 10. Please note that your grade is based on quality rather than quantity. Please take time to formulate your ideas rather than writing for the sake of writing. All in-class writings are open book unless otherwise specified by the professor.

2. Short Poetry Analysis (10%): Due September 17th

Your first assignment begins now. Your task will be to provide a close reading of one of the following poems from George Elliott Clarke’s Blue: “Negation,” “Calculated Offence,” or “Onerous Canon.” You will provide a close reading of the poem you choose. Given the short length of the assignment, I am looking for attentive readings of the selected poem.  Please do not use any secondary sources. To prepare we will do a close reading (or two) of a poem from Blue with further instructions for this assignment in our 2nd meeting together.

3. Collaborative seminar presentation (20%): Due on Selected Dates.

In groups of four you will present on a specific primary work along with the music or secondary article assigned for that day (please see the schedule below for presentation dates). The group will not simply summarize the material. The presenters should assume that the class is familiar with the material (primary and secondary) since it is required reading. The purpose of the exercise is to identify key ideas from the secondary material and apply it to one of the assigned poems or chapters for that day. The suggestion is to spark discussion rather than tell the class what they should know. Open ended, thought provoking questions are encouraged. Didactic dissection of the text is discouraged. Creativity through media, performance, or whatever else is encouraged but not necessary. Please ensure that such creative ventures are tasteful and serve as learning aids rather than detracting from the material’s focus. All members of the group will share the presentation mark. Presentations will be graded based on clarity, comprehension, class discussion, analysis and (creative or interactive) approach. There will be a signup sheet on our 2nd meeting together.

4. Creative Intervention (20%): Due November 12th

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).

Taking up the above Baudelaire epigraph, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. Through a combination of analytical and creative pedagogies we can create new hybrid spaces that allow for alternative epistemologies and learning spaces. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, a creative journal, a one act play, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. There are any number of possible approaches to this assignment: your piece could be prose, drama, visual, musical, dance, culinary, or photography, etc. You could riff off of an episode in one of the texts or you could work with one of the larger themes of the course. You could examine an issue of African Canadian literature or history even. This assignment asks you to think a little outside the box/book, and go into the world and listen. After that listening you are called to produce a “creative intervention.”

Through critical creative work and soundings—interventions—we can further develop and help to define interdisciplinary approaches among the bordering fields of literature, music, and theories of multiculturalism and citizenship investigated in this course. By “creative intervention” I mean: to intervene through creative means, using the word as the OED defines as “‘stepping in,’ or interfering in any affair, so as to affect its course or issue.” I am also using intervention as in to be “intermediate”: to be between things, as in this case between the creative and the analytical, the scholar and the citizen. For example, Wayde Compton’s notion of acoustic intervention through his DJ poetics imagines a democracy (as embodied in sound) that is most effective when it is most discordantly free. The method of the assignment is itself an intervention against simply writing another paper. The intervention could also be a very real and tangible one.

For instance, given that one of the lenses through which we are reading the writers of this course is their focus on social change, it might be appropriate to think of these creative interventions as having a public or community-facing dimension. Broadly, try to imagine how your creative intervention might move beyond the walls of academia and make an intervention in a broader community. Essentially, how might we take many of the tools we learn in academia (particularly in English Studies) to enact social change or challenge simple conceptions of the citizen? You may draw on local resources and social organizations, many of which are right here in Guelph, or you might simply relate to a larger web-community through a blog, a podcast, radio, or through some other media. It is not required for you to have a direct community-facing dimension to your project, you could simply write a poem, but I do want you to think and theorize about how the works studied in this classroom challenge us to move beyond a simple reading of them to some sort of enactment, however conceived.

You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavor. It is for the above reasons that you are required to write a one-page (around 350 words) discussion of why the intervention was conceived as it was. You will also be graded on your ability to critically explain the efficacy and process of your “intervention.” I am also open to the idea of you collaborating with another student, although, like the seminar presentation, the grade will be shared. More details will follow in class. 60% of the mark will be for the creative piece and 40% of the mark will be for the analysis.

 5. Quiz (5%): Due November 21st

There will be one closed book quiz on November 21st. Students will be asked to identify the name of a work and the author from unidentified quotations.

6. Long Essay Workshop (5%): Due November 14th

In one paragraph you will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis), as well as an outline that shows a critical engagement with both secondary criticism and the primary text(s) you have chosen. On a second page you will provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. An unmarked version of your essay’s argument (essentially a proposal) will be handed (or emailed) in to me at the beginning of class. More detailed instructions will be provided.

7. Long Essay (30%): Due November 28th

You may write on the same text you presented on. The Long Essay will be around 5 pages in length, not including a Works Cited list. You are required to actively engage with three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. More detailed instructions, as well as possible topics, will be provided. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. You are strongly encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing.


Week One

TH, September 5th

*Course Introduction (history from below)
* Prologue to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
*Ch. 1, Pedagogy of the Oppressed assigned.
Listening: Louis Armstrong “Black and Blue”

Week Two

T, September 10th                                                       

*Pedagogy of the Oppressed (courselink: CL)
*How to do a close reading of a poem: George Elliott Clarke’s “Antiphony” and “Blank Sonnet” (online)                  

Listening: Audio Reading from Clarke’s Whylah Falls.

TH, September 12th 

*George Elliott Clarke, introduction to Odysseys Home  (available online)
*Introduction to Tenth Anniversary of Whylah Falls (available online)
*Blues and Bliss: “How I Became a Songwriter” (CL)
*Clarke, Blue (poems: “Africadian Petition,” “1933,” “Bio- Black Baptist/Bastard”)

Additional, reviews by me:

review of George Elliott Clarke’s Directions HomeToronto Review of Books. Web.

A review of George Elliott Clarke’s Red. Bull Calf Review. (June 2012): Vol.2 N.1. Web.

Listening: Bob Dylan, “The Times they are a Changin'” (Student video remix)

Week Three

T, September 17th
{Short Lecture: Clarke’s_Blue_jazz}
*Clarke, Blue (poems: “Calculated Offence,” “Canto XXXIX,” “Tobago,” “Nu(is)ance,” “Onerous Canon”)

Short Poetry Analysis due

Overview of Group Presentation Marking Scheme.

Listenings: Clip from interview between Paul Watkins, Katherine McLeod and George Elliott Clarke.
*Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues

*Bessie Smith, “Back Water Blues”

TH, September 19th                 

*Miles Davis’s Autobiography (very short excerpt, CL)
*Clarke, Blue (poems: “Miles Davis: An Autobiography”; “Secret History”).
Listening: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue

Additional: “Cool Politics: Styles of Honour in Malcolm X and Miles Davis” by George Elliott Clarke.

Week Four

T, September 24th  

*Clarke Blue (poems: Blue Elegies (I.i; III.i; III. iv) ; “À Dany Laferriè”; “Naima”; “Burning Poems” )
*How to Make Love to a Negro (short excerpt, “The Nigger Narcissus,” pages 7-12 online)
*Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Signifying Monkey (intro, online)

Group One Presents

Listening: John Coltrane, “Naima”

Th, September 26th    

*Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany (introduction, available online)
*Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (part I)

Listening: Armstrong’s “Heebie Jeebies”

*Oscar Peterson, Hymn to Freedom

Week Five

T, October 1st   

*Half-Blood Blues (part II and III: read till the end of III.ii., pgs. 19-140)

-Additional Content: Interview, Esi Edugyan in Studio Q.

TH, October 3rd     

*Half-Blood Blues (part III.iii and part IV, pgs. 141-193)
*Houston A. Baker Jr., Blues Ideology (intro, online)
Group Two Presents    

Week Six

T, October 8th

*HalfBlood Blues (Part V and VI)

TH, October 10th

*Short Lecture
*Ossuaries (I-II)

Listenings: John Coltrane, “Venus”

*Charlie Parker, “Ornithology

Week Seven

T, October 15th

Ossuaries (III-VI)
Dionne Brand, “Jazz,” Bread out of Stone (CL)

Listenings: Thelonious Monk, “Epistrophe”

*Charles Mingus, “Pithecanthropus Erectus

Group Three Presents

TH, October 17th  

*Ossuaries (VII-X)

Week Eight

T, October 22nd

*Ossuaries (rest)

TH, October 24th   

*Wayde Compton, Performance Bond (poems: “Declarationof the Halfrican Nation”; “Afro-Saxon,” “To Poitier”; “The Essential Charley Pride”)
*Compton, “Mixed Race, Schizophonophilia…” (CL)

Listenings: Grandmaster Flash

*Kid Koala

*Girl Talk; Alvin Lau, “For the Breakdancers” (slam)

Week Nine

T, October 29th

*Performance Bond (poems: “Performance Bond”)
*49th Parallel Psalm (poems: “DJ”, “JD,” “The Book”- online)
*Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Rhythm Science (excerpt, CL)

Listenings: DJ Spooky; Interview with Compton (Wayde_Compton_transcription); Christian Marclay on Night Music

TH, October 31st

*Performance Bond, “The Reinventing Wheel”
*Siemerling, “Transcultural Improvisation […] Wayde Compton’s Textual Performance” (CL).

Group Four Presents

Listening: Compton’s “The Reinventing Wheel.”

Fortieth class day—Last day to drop one semester courses

Week Ten

T, November 5th

*Performance Bond (poems: section- Rune)
*Compton, “Seven Routes to Hogan’s Alley” (CL)
*Final paper preparation.

Compton talk on Hogan’s Alley.
Jimi Hendrix’s Shrine in Vancouver.

Th, November 7th                                                                       

*Anthology of Rap (Foreword and Intro, CL)
*K’naan (song: “Wash it Down,” “Soobax,” “My old home”)

Group Five Presents

Additional Listenings: Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”

Week Eleven

T, November 12th

*Tricia Rose, Black Noise (“Voices from the Margins”, CL)
*K’naan (“Smile,” “The Dusty Foot Philosopher,” “Strugglin’”; “Somalia” (from Troubadour)
Creative Interventions Due

Th, November 14th                                                                       

Final Paper Workshop

Week Twelve                                                            

T, November 19th

*K’naan: “African Way,” “In the Beginning,” “Until The Lion Learns to Speak,” “This is Africa” (from Troubadour)

*Will Kymlicka, “Multicultural citizenship” (online-library)
*Success Story, K’naan (CIC online)
*Trudeau, “Towards a Just Society” (CL)


Th, November 21st                                                                       

*K’naan (“Wavin’ Flag”)
*Cecil Foster on Multiculturalism (online)
*Multicultural Act (online)
*Maclean’s Interview (online)
Group Six Presents
Listening: Kardinal Offishall. Quest for Fire, “Bakardi Slang”

Week Thirteen

T, November 26th                                                                      

*Discussion/ display of Creative Interventions.
*bell hooks, “When White People Change” (CL)

Th, November 28th                                                    

Final “Mix”                                   

Final Paper Due