“English Literature” or Literatures in English

Devyani Sharma

 Discussing the movement to decolonise the field of “English Literature”

Postcolonial studies in English Literature bring forward the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism by focusing on the consequences of control and exploitation of the colonised.

One such cultural consequence of colonisation can be seen in the Eurocentric approach towards Literature as a whole. The English Literature syllabus of most Universities and Educational Institutions around the world majorly consists of Literature from England while unabashedly ignoring the indigenous writers who use English as a medium of expression.

“The fact that in a country like India, the English Literature syllabus in schools include writers like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge but hardly any Asian or African writers in English, speaks a lot about the hegemony that exists in English Literature.”

The fact that in a country like India, the English Literature syllabus in schools include writers like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge but hardly any Asian or African writers in English, speaks a lot about the hegemony that exists in English Literature.

According to Varud Gupta, author of ‘Chhotu: A tale of Partition and Love’ and the award winning ‘Bhagwaan ke Pakwaan,’ “Institutions should be rapidly renovating their curriculum to include indigenous, minority, and marginalized communities.”  Being a writer of the ‘rising generation’, Varud believes that “This change isn’t not warranted only for the idea of inclusivity, but also for us to broaden our perspectives.” He thinks that “The longer we continue to classify ‘The Greats’ as those historically revered in the colonial world, we will continue to silence countless voices and lived experiences.”

Apart from the syllabus imposed, it is heart-breaking to witness the illogical imposition of English language in schools and colleges. Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’s recollection of his school days is a perfect example of such an imposition. Ngugi’s school rules mentioned that those who were caught speaking the native language, Gikuyu, would be caned or humiliatingly made to wear a metal plate with the words ‘I AM STUPID’ inscribed on it.

“The situation still remains the same as even today most schools in non-English-speaking countries prohibit and even penalise the use of native language and use only English as the medium of instruction.”

Though Ngugi graduated from school around half a century ago, the situation still remains the same as even today most schools in non-English-speaking countries prohibit and even penalise the use of native language and use only English as the medium of instruction.

“Most people argue that English is a global language and being fluent in it only brings about positive impacts and access to universal knowledge. Unfortunately, the Eurocentric approach towards the language has created a greater global divide as racism is forged in the transmission of this knowledge.” 

Most people argue that English is a global language and being fluent in it only brings about positive impacts and access to universal knowledge. Unfortunately, the Eurocentric approach towards the language has created a greater global divide as racism is forged in the transmission of this knowledge. Carol Boyce Davies, professor of English and African Studies at Cornell University believes that English departments are often like “colonial relics stuck in time”, retaining a formidable streak of eurocentrism, a legacy of the discipline’s central role in Britain’s so-called “civilising mission”.

This comes after Cornell University’s first step in decolonising English Literature as the University’s English Department staff voted to change the department name from ‘English Literature’ to ‘Literatures in English.’ The University became the first in the United States to change the department name to reflect the global diversity of writers using English as their medium of expression.

This decision has been welcomed by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who told Al Jazeera that this renaming “opens up to more literary streams in their own right, not just under the umbrella of English literature.”

However, this decolonisation of English is still in its embryonic stage, an onset of a paradigm shift in how we perceive Literature and the world around us. Dr Prantik Banerjee, Associate Professor of English in Literary Studies, Cultural Studies and Indian writing in English at Hislop College, Nagpur believes that along with the writings in English from around the globe, English Departments must also incorporate Translation Study Centres “to restore parity among different languages.” 

“Dr Banerjee further explains that the “trade-off between English and Bhasha literature will go a long way in removing “the colonial hangover and the tag of ‘Black Skins White Masks’ for non-native learners of English. To achieve this, it is imperative to encourage the study of classical regional texts in English as “the former Colonial Master’s tools cannot dismantle his house.””

Dr Banerjee further explains that the “trade-off between English and Bhasha literature will go a long way in removing “the colonial hangover and the tag of ‘Black Skins White Masks’ for non-native learners of English. To achieve this, it is imperative to encourage the study of classical regional texts in English as “the former Colonial Master’s tools cannot dismantle his house.”

Devyani is an aspiring writer who strongly believes that words have the power to revolutionise the world. She is a Commerce and Literature Major student who loves watching movies, listening to music, reading books, talking to people and doing everything which helps her gather new stories and perspectives.

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