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2011/12 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL3205 Disposable Lives?

20 creditsClass Size: 30


Module manager: Dr Sam Durrant

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2011/12

Pre-requisite qualifications

Grade B at 'A' Level in English Literature (or equivalent) or an achieved mark of 56 or above in a Level 1 module in English (or its non-UK equivalent).

Please note: This module is restricted to Level 2 and 3 students.

Module replaces


This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

In On the Postcolony, the sociologist Achille Mbembe has argued that life in many postcolonial states has been rendered "disposable" by global capitalism, neo-colonial exploitation, despotic national governments, environmental degradation and borderless, perpetually mutating civil wars.This module looks at the problems facing writers who have attempted to represent these seemingly disposable lives and the fragile, barely human conditions of their existence: - How to measure character development when the life of the individual is determined by the whims of national and transnational power? - How to construct meaningful plots when day to day life has been rendered arbitrary and uncertain? - What happens to the infrastructure of the novel when the infrastructure of the state has crumbled away?We will begin to answer such questions by focusing on recent African literature. Starting with a novel which is traditionally read as a postcolonial bildungsroman or coming-of-age narrative, we will then focus on novels (and a recent film, Tsotsi) in which the possibilities for human development are seemingly stalled and characters wander amidst the chaotic, fractured landscapes of war. We will explore how these novels refuse to accept the idea that human life is disposable, how, drawing on the remnants of indigenous African mythologies, they work to recover regenerative possibilities even in the bleakest of historical times.


To explore contemporary African literature and modernity.

Learning outcomes
Understanding of African literature, culture and society.

Skills outcomes
Close analysis of literature; socio-political analysis; research and essay writing.


The following texts will be read, roughly one per week:

- Tsitsi Dangarembga. Nervous Conditions, (Ayebia, 1988)
- Athol Fugard. Tsotsi, (Canongate, 1979)
- J.M. Coetzee. Life and Times of Michael K, (Vintage, 1983)
- Mia Couto. Sleepwalking Land, (Serpent's Tail, 1988, trans. 2006)
- Yvonne Vera. The Stone Virgins, (Farrah, Strauss and Giroux, 2002)
- Uzodinma Iweala. Beasts of No Nation, (John Murray 2005)
- Chris Abani. Song for Night, (Telegram 2006).

The 2006 adaptation of Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, will also be screened.

Criticism/ Cultural Theory will also be discussed, in particular Mbembe's On the Postcolony, listed as preliminary reading.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours185.00
Total Contact hours15.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Reading, seminar preparation and essay writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- Seminar contribution
- Unassessed essay.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4,000 words100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

One unassessed essay of 1700 words is required (submitted in week 7) which will be returned individually. This does not form part of the assessment for this module, but is a requirement and MUST be submitted. Students who fail to submit the unassessed essay will be awarded a maximum mark of 40 for the module (a bare Pass).

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 07/03/2012


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