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2013/14 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL3205 Disposable Lives?

20 creditsClass Size: 27

School of English

Module manager: Dr Samuel Durrant

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2013/14

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

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 first on Conrad’s colonial representation of Africa as ‘the heart of darkness,’ before moving on to consider novels about life in apartheid South Africa (Fugard and Coetzee). We then focus on contemporary Africa: on child soldier narratives (Iweala and Abani); on life after civil war in Sierra Leone (Forna); on the painful losses of Algerian women (Djebar); and the adventures of a Zimbabwean immigrant in London (Chikwawa). We will also look at the film versions of Tsotsi, set in post-apartheid South Africa, and Mia Couto’s Sleepwalking Land, set in war-torn Mozambique. As our characters wander amidst chaotic, fractured landscapes, the possibilities for conventional human development seemingly stalled, we will explore how these novels and films refuse to accept the idea that human life has become disposable. 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.


Teaching methods

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

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: 26/02/2014


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