From William Shakespeare to the New English Literatures
The current profile of English literature at Chemnitz Technical University covers the entire field of English literature – from Shakespeare to the present. This complexity requires context-related, literary and cultural theoretical approaches, as well as cultural ones. Hence, the profile comprises the academic fields of English literary and cultural theory as well as the anglophone literatures and cultures beyond Great Britain, including Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, New Zealand and South Asia. In addition, the new media are considered as decisive elements in the context of the studies of English literatures, with a special focus on literary adaptations and gender studies.
Moreover, the emphasis on the literature and culture of the British Isles endows students with a substantial regional competence (England, Scotland, (Northern-) Ireland and Wales). This opens out to an intercultural process of comprehension, which is extended by providing an understanding of the New English Literatures/Postcolonial Literatures, with a significant focus on India. Consequently, the postcolonial experience broadens the “classic” study of English as it builds bridges towards transnational, socio-geographical and globalised literary and cultural studies.
Intercultural and medial competence
In addition, the current profile offers an interdisciplinary and integrative step towards the new media. In the age of globalisation and migration, intercultural competence is gaining more importance and can even be considered as the key competence of the 21st century. The primarily anglophone and medial globality of the international employment market and the growing occupational mobility with which future generations of students are confronted require concurrence of professional, literary, cultural, historical and media-specific skills.
The Current Profile: an overview
Many Anglophone countries were settler-invaded by Europeans. In these places, the Native peoples and the Europeans influenced each other extensively and have thus created hybrid cultures and literatures unique to (post)colonial countries. Furthermore, the Aboriginal peoples, who were most often oppressed by the colonisers, have established a vivid, multifaceted and rich literary tradition. Their writings reflect – among other themes – Native resistance, cultural identities that differ from typical ‘Western’ worldviews, a (re)writing of (pre)colonial history, as well as comic and imaginative art forms.
The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 21 June 1948 is most commonly referred to as the 'beginnings' of a post-war Black history that has resulted in numerous political, cultural and social changes throughout Britain. Anglophone Black and Asian British literature is, therefore, that literature written in English by Caribbean, Asian, African, and other people who have originated from the former British colonies and whose writers (and their protagonists) have been confronted by racism, social, political and cultural inequality that they 'write back' to. Second and third generation Black and Asian British writers have adopted a more transcultural approach in their writings to addresses issues of diaspora and belonging.
Children's and young adult fiction ranges from (oral) tales, picture books, poems and nursery rhymes to shorts stories to novels, and most often depicts the various historical and contemporary representations of child heroes/heroines and young adults on their quests to adulthood and recognition. Since children's literature is mostly written by adults, a whole set of questions has to be addressed with regard to aspects such as race, class, and gender, ideology, the depiction of the material world and social conditions, or the power relations depicted in these texts. The Chair of English Literatures has also established a co-operation with the annual "Schlingel International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults" in Chemnitz, which annually features more than 140 films from all over the world. Students are encouraged to actively participate in this event as part of their course work.
As the shortest literary genre, poetry has attracted authors for centuries to 'sing' to a beloved, worship nature, voice criticism, or write about one's innermost feelings and emotions. In order to do this, poets mostly took into consideration aesthetic literary devices such as rhyme, metre or verse, metaphors, similes, or other rhetorical aspects. Contemporary poetry, however, often adapts, or does away with, traditional poetic forms and playfully engages in a great range of styles, themes and expressions.
For centuries, people have been forced to leave their home countries due to displacement or war – but also due to precarious conditions such as poverty. Often being alienated and marginalised in their new ‘home’ as a minority in a majority societal group, they have created their own communities within this new space based on values, traditions and lifestyles most often reflecting those of their home countries. Furthermore, these groups often imagine (and also idealise) their homelands, and still have the desire to return. Some if not all these aspects can be identified in the writings of diasporic communities and writers who also often live in exile.
Gender Studies is concerned with issues regarding the relationship between gender, sex and sexuality – for example, the differences between masculinity and femininity that are not (only) linked to biological characteristics but to socially constructed norms, practices and codes. Some interests of gender-oriented approaches in literary studies include for example, how certain cultural and historical conditions produce and impose social limits on individual writers, their performances, texts and reception.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes-stories or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings present only a few prominent examples of literary adaptation into film in English literary history. The transfer of literature into other media (not only film, but also music or social media productions for instance) and the ensuing interaction represent a diverse field of study. Research about literary adaptation involves examining methods of adapting texts into other media, the influences the different media have on each other, the audience’s/readership’s response, or the question of “the” original.
The Literature of the British Isles includes works from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well as Ireland and the Crown dependencies (the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey and Guernsey). Famous authors (from the Renaissance to the present) are William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane and Kathleen Jamie.
Recent demographic studies have addressed the fact that more than 50% of the world's population live in cities – and numbers are steadily growing. However, studies on so-called postcolonial metropolises (e.g. Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Johannesburg, Hong Kong) mostly stress the cities' negative aspects such as overpopulation, unequal access to economic and material resources, or slumification. This research focus investigates how these cities and metropolises have been re-invented and re-shaped in literary and cultural "urban imaginaries" (e.g. novels, poems, films) to present alternative forms of contemporary urban life in the former colonial metropolises that challenge these negative stereotypes.
Postcolonial theory has been developed in the context of the former British Empire's colonies' struggles for independence. On the one hand, it addresses the end of Empire, as the prefix "post-" suggests, and, on the other, the devastating and continued effects of colonisation, in its various forms, around the globe. The concept of transculturality has been developed to challenge cultural fixities, positions and identities, and is frequently used in the context of aesthetic cultural practices, especially in situations of cultural encounter.
British colonialism and imperialism has produced a dynamic and hybrid body of literatures from the former colonies. These are literatures in English written by writers from Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, or Southeast Asia. The texts of these writers have most commonly been referred to as the "New English Literatures in English" – in contrast to the 'old' literatures written in Britain. Important themes are migration, national and individual identity, the question of belonging, cultural assimilation and diversity, globalisation, challenging established norms, as well as race, class and gender.
The early modern period (or ‘Renaissance’, as it is often referred to) was surely a golden age in the history of English literature and culture. In 16th- and 17th-century England, arts and sciences flourished and produced some of England’s most important contributions to world literature, especially (although not only) the 38 plays and 154 Sonnets by William Shakespeare. The fact that early modern tradesmen laid the foundation of what should later become known as ‘capitalism’ testifies to the considerable influence this period has on our contemporary society. The discipline of early modern studies is concerned both with the cultural and literary developments of the time and its lasting impact. Due to his unrivalled status in the literary canon, a particular focus of the field is naturally on Shakespeare and his works.
Writers like Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson and many more contributed to the extraordinary literary production of the Victorian age. The reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) also witnessed numerous life-changing technological inventions, social changes, and scientific discoveries that turned the age, despite its seeming stability, into one of the most turbulent ones in British history. The field of Victorian Studies explores these sociocultural changes and their impact on society today by investigating both Victorian culture and literature.
TU Chemnitz, Anglistik, 09107 Chemnitz
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