Needed: paradigm shift in English literature courses
A. S. D. PILLAI
Steps to augment employment avenues through literature courses
While the neighbouring departments of Computer Science and Information Technology boast of a hundred percent or so placement of their students, one wonders what the boast of English literature department would be like these days. A handful of English literature postgraduates enter journalism. Gone are the days when those aspiring for the IAS and IPS joined the M. A. English course. A good majority of present day entrants do not seem to dream of any job other than teaching.
Some come to master the language, not literature, given the present status of English as the lingua franca of the computer era. Isn’t it time English literature departments took steps to augment the employment avenues for their wards, considering also that these courses are, on and off, described as non-utility courses?
The core function
The English faculty cannot respond saying, “Look! We’ve changed a lot. We now offer our students training in soft skills, communication and interview techniques.” For this, alas, cannot be said to be the core function of literature courses. Soft skills and the like are but extra department courses, job-oriented, to be sure, to be offered by the specially qualified among the English faculty to those students aspiring for them.
What, indeed, are the specific skills that are sought to be imparted through literature courses? Pat will come the reply: critical skills, literary appreciation skills, etc. But the development of literary and critical skills of the learner can only enable him or her to become a teacher of literature in turn.
English literature departments must, therefore, take to multi-skilling their wards — not just connoisseurs of literature, but also translators, creative writers and comparatists. Literature students must equip themselves with the skills of translation, for translation is now a fertile field for employment in postcolonial India.
A paper on “Translation: Theory and Practice” must form part of English literature programmes in India, with more of practice than theory, or rather, theory evolving out of practice. The translation must be a two-way affair: English to mother tongue and mother tongue to English. It puzzles one to reflect as to why we haven’t ever required our students to translate, say, an English lyric into Tamil /Bengali/Hindi. Those not poetically inclined must be asked to translate extracts from fiction or drama.
Next, students having a flair for creativity must be required to create in English or their mother tongue. A paper on Creative Writing must be instituted and entrusted with the most suitable faculty. Creative writers among the faculty would be the fittest. Students can be told to create a short story in English or a very short play. Interesting to note, Malcolm Bradbury’s seminars on Creative Writing at UEA, Norwich, which this writer attended on request, dealt with short stories only. And Kazuo Ishiguro, now a world famous novelist, read his stories there. Short stories must be the easiest, to start with. Playwriting will require mastery of conversation skills.
The most gifted may even go to write poems. Successful novelists, playwrights and poets must be invited to deliver expert lectures and conduct seminars. Not that every literature student can be expected to metamorphose into a creative writer. This can be an optional paper and paired with the paper on English Language Teaching.
The time is ripe for the English literature courses in India to suffer a paradigm shift. “In the sixth decade of Independence, there is neither need nor justification for the wide continuance of traditional English programmes of British or Anglophone bent,” says the UGC Model Curriculum 2001.
These courses ought to cease to be traditional and become English courses of an Indian bent. They can do so by adopting the comparatist mode. And the literature to be compared with will not be American or Canadian Lit but literature in Tamil /Malayalam/Hindi/Marathi. Regional Literature texts will thus be given due attention in English departments. They will be read along with English texts and not totally ignored, as is happening now. And English literature will be read not with sole reference to Britain but with reference to the world.
Send this article to Friends by