Teaching Jack Kerouac in a Decolonizing South African University


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In 2015, student activists at the University of Cape Town in South Africa met with the dean of humanities, arguing that Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) should be included in the first-year curriculum of the English major. In this charged political context, whatever layered arguments one might make in favour of Conrad's antiracism seemed swept away by the potential for demonstrations targeting the large lecture hall, and the anxious course director told me that Heart of Darkness would have to be canceled. Ironically, I had dreaded giving these lectures, protests or no protests, since Conrad was outside my field (I had agreed to fill in for the regular lecture, who was on sabbatical) and the assignment would have involved considerable prep work. After negotiating with the course director, I was overjoyed to lecture on another race-conscious, proto-modernist work of reasonable reading length, W. E. B. De Bois's The Souls of Black Folk (1903). While this was a happy outcome for me, one wonders if an expatriate American white male lecturing on the Souls of Black Folk was really what South Africa student and academics had in mind when they spoke of decolonization.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Beats : A Teaching Companion
EditorsNancy McCampbell GRACE
PublisherClemson University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781949979961
ISBN (Print)9781949979954
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


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