Course Spotlight: Seminar in Modern African Literature – Melodrama

mourning-700Course Description

This course explores the epistemological foundations and critical applications of the concept of melodrama, with particular emphasis on African literature and screen media. In ways that are increasingly amenable to cultural studies analysis, melodrama has attracted a body of theory paying simultaneous and innovative attention to the formal, historical, and political properties and production of texts. It also calls attention to disciplinary traditions of reading. From Peter Brooks’s work on Balzac and Henry James, to recent scholarship on Nigeria’s “Nollywood” and Pentecostal television in the Congo, melodrama is being used to understand the ways, both formal and thematic, that texts respond to and register major social transformations. Readings in this course will come from these and other contexts, including samples of scholarship on Latin American, South Asian, and East Asian cultural production. Graduate students from any discipline are welcome in this seminar and invited to pursue their research through the course focus. At stake in our exploration of these critical traditions are (often competing) conceptions of modernity and the role that such conceptions can play in the kind of reading we do.

Course Objectives

Students will form a foundation understanding of melodrama theory, through various global examples of secondary sources and through focused attention on selected primary and secondary material from Africa. Through weekly discussion and formal reading responses, students will also advance their skills for interpreting, applying, and generating literary and critical cultural theory. Finally, students will further hone and demonstrate their scholarly proficiency by submitting and workshopping advanced-level seminar papers, focused on forms of cultural production of their choosing, in which methods of melodrama theory are applied and elaborated.

Sample Readings

  • Lila Abu Lughod: “Modern Subjects? Egyptian Melodrama and Postcolonial Difference”
  • Peter Brooks: Selections from The Melodramatic Imagination
  • Brian Larkin: “Extravagant Aesthetics: Instability and the Excessive World of Nigerian Film”
  • Buchi Emecheta: The Joys of Motherhood
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Devil on the Cross
  • Christine Gledhill: “The Melodramatic Field: An Investigation”
  • Katrien Pype: The Making of the Postcolonial Melodrama

Enrollment details

African Languages and Literature 901: Seminar in Modern African Literature – Melodrama
3 credits
M 1:20-3:15pm, 1051 Van Hise Hall
Spring 2016

About the Instructor

Matthew H. Brown is Assistant Professor of African Languages and Literature. He is a specialist of African screen media, with a focus on “Nollywood,” Nigeria’s video film industry, but he also writes about television, literature, and popular music. He is also the co-founder of the UW-Madison workshop on Mass Media and Popular Culture in the Global South. Brown’s current book project is tentatively titled Indirect Subjects: Nollywood, the Nation, and Neoliberalization.