Prizewinners: Anglophone Novelists and the Nobel Prize, 1991-2007

English 153d, Spring Quarter 2010, MW 3:15–5:05, 160-319

Instructor: Andrew Goldstone (Office/Hours: 460-315/TuW 1:30-3:00)

Printable syllabus (pdf)

CourseWork Site for this course


This course is an experiment in examining the global phenomenon of the late-twentieth-century novel in English through the most naive possible lens: the Nobel Prize in Literature. We read works by the five English-language novelists to win the Nobel since the Cold War: Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, V.S. Naipaul, J.M. Coetzee, and Doris Lessing. We will have two aims: to read each novel carefully, as a work which (as the Nobel Prize promises) merits serious, close attention; and to reflect on the meanings of the prize and the kinds of literature it has celebrated in the last twenty years. If the Nobel singles out certain writers as representatives of a world literature, what is world literature? How do we—or, at any rate, the Swedish Academy—come to see these novelists, operating in the most disparate contexts, as somehow sharing this ultimate literary value in common? And what is that value? Is it aesthetic, ethical, political?

Topics include: postcolonial writing and race, realism and novelistic form, the relation to American and British canons, and the sociology and politics of the Nobel. In addition to a major novel by each writer, we will read their Nobel lectures, as well as a certain amount of scholarly work on the Nobel and on individual writers.

Swedish Academy Pages for our Authors, maintained by the Swedish Academy, has wonderful minisites devoted to each laureate, with biographies, bibliographies, Nobel lectures (often recordings as well as transcripts). The accompanying articles and other commentary are not always as helpful, but they do reflect the Swedish academic perspective which influences the choice of prizewinners.

Nadine Gordimer
Toni Morrison
V.S. Naipaul
J.M. Coetzee
Doris Lessing

Note on assigned Nobel Prize documents (presentations and lectures): As part of our reflection on the idea and the institution of prizewinning literature, we will be reading and reacting to the official Nobel presentation speeches and to authors' own Nobel lectures. Where audio or video is available, you are welcome to listen or watch rather than read. Occasional short, ungraded response assignments, announced in class the previous week, will help you to think critically about these materials.

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Schedule of Readings

All novels assigned in the course are also on reserve at Green Library, as is a copy of the course reader (call number GPRC 1811; table of contents [pdf]).

I. Literary Dynamite?

March 29. Introduction. What is prizewinning fiction? What is Anglophone fiction? What does the Nobel Prize mean? What does the Nobel Prize do?
Nobel journalism assignment distributed

March 31. Theory and background. Prize culture.
James English, The Economy of Prestige, chaps. 3 and 13 [packet]
Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, chap. 4 (excerpt) [packet]
[Note: For those still shopping, a copy of the course reader will be on reserve at Green Library (call no. GRPC 1811).]
Optional: Kjell Espmark, "The Nobel Prize in Literature"
Nobel journalism assignment due

II. Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), 1991

April 5. Nadine Gordimer, July's People (Penguin, 9780140061406)

April 7. Gordimer, July's People
Gordimer, "Writing and Being"
Sture Allén, "Presentation Speech" (1991)
Stephen Clingman, The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside, chaps. 1 and 6 (excerpt) [packet]
Optional: Gordimer, "The Gap Between the Writer and the Reader" (SU network only)

III. Toni Morrison (United States), 1993

April 12. Toni Morrison, Beloved (Random House, 9781400033416)
Concentrate on the first half, up through 156; read Morrison's foreword.

April 14. Morrison, Beloved (concentrate on part I, up through p. 195)
Alessandro Portelli, "Beloved (Toni Morrison, United States, 1987)," trans. Michael F. Moore [packet]
Optional: Nancy J. Peterson, "Canonizing Toni Morrison" (SU network only)

(April 16. Add/drop deadline)

April 19. Morrison, Beloved
Allén, "Presentation Speech" (1993)
Morrison, "Nobel Lecture"
First paper assignment distributed

April 21. Morrison, Beloved
Mark McGurl, The Program Era (excerpt) [packet]

IV. Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (Trinidad; United Kingdom), 2001

April 26. V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas (Vintage, 0375707166)
Concentrate on the prologue and part 1, especially the first four chapters.
Preliminary work on first paper due

April 28. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas
Concentrate on part 1, but read as far as you can.

May 3. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas
First paper due: 5–7 pp. on a single novel

May 5. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas
Horace Engdahl, "Presentation Speech" (2001)
Naipaul, "Two Worlds"
John Thieme, "Naipaul's Nobel" (SU network only)
Mervyn Morris, "Sir Vidia and the Prize" (SU network only)

V. John M. Coetzee (South Africa), 2003

May 10. J.M. Coetzee, Foe (Penguin, 014009623X)

May 12. Coetzee, Foe
Derek Attridge, "The Silence of the Canon" [packet]

May 17. Coetzee, Disgrace (Penguin, 0143115286)
Per Wästberg, "Presentation Speech" (2003)
Coetzee, "He and His Man"

May 19. Coetzee, Disgrace
Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (excerpts) [packet]
David Attwell, "Race in Disgrace" (SU network only)
Optional: Any other article in the special issue of Interventions on Disgrace, ed. Derek Attridge and Peter D. McDonald (2002)
Research warmup assignment due

(May 21. Course withdrawal deadline)

VI. Doris Lessing (Persia; Rhodesia; United Kingdom), 2007

(May 24. No class)

May 26. Coetzee, Disgrace (continued)
Lessing, The Fifth Child (Vintage, 0679721827)

(May 28. Dead Week begins)

(May 31. Memorial day; no class)

June 1, Tuesday, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., 420-371
Optional class. Note special date and time

Lessing, The Fifth Child
Claire Sprague, "Doris Lessing: 'In the World, But Not of It'" [packet]
Eve Bertelsen, "The Quest and the Quotidian: Doris Lessing in South Africa" [packet]

June 2. General reflections: what unifies these prizewinners? What divides them?
Lessing, "On Not Winning the Nobel Prize"
Wästberg, "Presentation Speech" (2007)

(June 3 Extended to June 7.)
Research paper due at 12 noon: 10–12 pp.

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20% Seminar Participation

You are expected to come class prepared and ready to engage in discussion. The purpose of the seminar format is to allow you to take intellectual risks, trying new ideas, ways of expressing yourself, styles of argumentation, and modes of collaborating with others; the purpose of including participation in your grade is to encourage you to do so. Participation also includes your work in any presentations or other short exercises I assign. You are, of course, expected to attend every class. If you have a serious reason why you must miss class, please contact me ahead of time. More than two unexcused absences will place you in danger of failing. If however you become seriously ill—especially if you have flu-like symptoms—please stay home, and get in touch with me as soon as you are well enough to do so.

30% First Paper

50% Second Paper

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Administrative Details

My standing office hours are to be determined. I am frequently available by appointment. I respond quickly to e-mail and am happy to discuss anything related to the course electronically or in person.

All students are to observe the Honor Code.

Students who have a disability that may require an academic accommodation or the use of auxiliary aids and services in a class should contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) as soon as possible so that accommodations can be arranged.

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