Violence and Memory in Postcolonial Literature and Film: Cultural Remembrances

Date: October 2017— January 2018, see below
Venue: University of Amsterdam, see below
Fee (non-members): 250
Credits: 5 ECTS (available upon request)
Registration: Maximum participants in this seminar: 15-20
Open to: ReMa students and PhD candidates who are members of a Dutch Graduate Research School (onderzoekschool); OSL student members will have first access. PhD candidates should ask permission in advance from the seminar’s coordinator and send a short description of their research projects.
Credits & Certificate: Certificates of participation and credits are available upon request after the event. Event coordinator will decide whether the participant has fulfilled all requirements for the ECTS. Please direct your request to OSL (osl-fgw[at]uva[dot]nl) and include your address details.
Coordination: Dr Ihab Saloul, isaloul[at]uva[dot]nl

“The colonized man finds his freedom in and through violence.”
— Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth (1963:86)

The decisive role that Fanon attributes to material violence in the colonial context had an inexorable afterlife in the postcolonial world. According to Fanon, violence functions like a language in the colonial system, such that the colonised who seeks to overthrow the coloniser is only writing back in the coloniser’s own language. The texts and films we will study reflect this intersection of violation and political violence. Contrary to Fanon, however, they present it as a mutating, complex cultural phenomenon that draws its energies from multiple histories. postcolonial literary and audiovisual media, as we will see, not only locate violence in culturally specific sites and values such as shame, honour, purity and sacrifice, but they also draw their charge from the ways the corporeality or the embodied politics of “the victim” is made to stand in for the body politic. Think of the links between contemporary cases of political conflict across the world and Western colonial history of these territories. Other examples include European experiences with the so-called “violent migrant”, and how the phenomenon of migration runs the risk of being enduringly aesthetized. Among other matters, postcolonial texts and media expose the brutalities of war, the entanglement of family dynamics in armed resistance to political oppression, the ambiguities of bearing witness to violation, and the effects of metropolitan values imposed upon poverty-stricken societies on the brink of chaos. These explosive topics will be the focus of our discussion. We will explore the historical references that postcolonial cultural expressions adopt in the context of globalisation, and ask whether their symbolism adds or undercuts their political urgency? How does the extremity of the subject matter of these media effect their reaching beyond the conventions of realism into the realms of memory and the imagined (even the surreal, and the grotesque sometimes)? Of related interest will be the ways in which postcolonial literature and media experiment with anti-linear sequences and spatiotemporal continuities of memory in order to stage an apocalyptic climax that collapses past, present and future violence.

Reading materials include Asia Djebar, Algerian White (2000);  Liyana Badr, A Balcony Over the Fakihani (1983); Santosh Sivan, The Terrorist (1998); Andrew Niccol, Lord of War (2005).

The seminar’s objectives are:

  • To introduce students to postcolonial memory debates and theories in connection to contemporary media representations of memory, violence, migration, identity and globalisation
  • To provide students with analytical tools to deal with these concepts in postcolonial literature and films from different historical and cultural contexts.

Instructional Format & Examination
The course includes lectures, film viewings, and a mini-conference. Students are expected to:

  • Attendance and active participation (20%)
  • Group and Individual presentations (30%)
  • 3000 word analytical report, with a focus on the seminar’s themes (50%)


Friday 27 October, 15:00-18:00
PC Hoofthuis – 5.59 (Spuistraat 134)
Lecture: “Theory & Postcolonial Memory”

Friday 10 November, 14:00-18:00
University Library – Potgieterzaal (Singel 425)
Andrew Niccol. Lord of War (2005); readings by W. Benjamin & A. Huyssen

Friday 24 November 2017, 15:00-18:00
University Library – Belle van Zuylenzaal (Singel 425)

J.M.  Coetzee, Age of Iron (1990); readings by  F. Fanon, K. Kulavkova et al.

Friday 1 December, 14:00-18:00
University Library – Belle van Zuylenzaal (Singel 425)
Orientalism and the Subaltern
Santosh Sivan. The Terrorist (1998); readings by E. Said et al.

Friday 12 January, 15:00-18:00
Bushuis – F2.11B (Kloveniersburgwal 48)
Migration and Diaspora
Badr, A Balcony over the Fakihani ([1983] 2002), selection; A. Djebar, Algerian White ([1995] 2000), selection; readings by E. Apter, T. Sabry et al.

Friday 19 January 2018, 11:00-18:00
University Library – Belle van Zuylenzaal (Singel 425)

Instructional Format & Examination

The course includes lectures, film viewings, and a mini-conference. Students are expected to:

  • Attend and actively participate in all session (20% of final grade)
  • Prepare a presentation fort he mini conference (30%)
  • Write a 3000-word essay with a special focus on the seminar’s themes (50%)