November 12, 1998
Vol. 18 No. 4

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    Bhabha teams up with Toni Morrison to explore Global Fictions through discussion

    By Jenny Adams

    The University has attracted yet another Nobel laureate to campus. Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen professor in the council of the humanities at Princeton University, has teamed up with Homi Bhabha, the Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities, for Bhabha’s newly created course, Global Fictions, which will be offered each Fall Quarter for the next three years.

    Bhabha, who crafted the course syllabus in conjunction with Morrison this past summer, sees it as “a creative and challenging collaboration. I wanted students to be able to move between registers of conceptual thinking and textual working,” he explained.

    The course draws upon the work of authors as diverse as Joseph Conrad, Salman Rushdie and J.M. Coetzee, and it centrally features three of Morrison’s own novels, Beloved, Jazz and her most recent book, Paradise. Coetzee is also teaching at the University this term.

    Along with the 10 novels on the syllabus, students read a substantial amount of literary theory, including selections from The Location of Culture and other works by Bhabha.

    The course initially came as a surprise to students, many of whom perceive Bhabha and Morrison as occupants of two distinct literary camps–theory and writing.

    However, according to many students, the classroom conversations have proven that theoretical issues are closely linked to specific literary pursuits. “I don’t think it’s about theory versus literature,” said teaching assistant Selena Horn, “but a place where students can bring together two traditionally very different approaches to literature and see what kinds of productive questions arise.”

    The student demand for Global Fictions far exceeded its capacity. Each of the more than 50 students who signed up for the class wrote an essay, and those accepted to the course were chosen with an eye for diversity and interest. Although most are at the master’s degree level, the class includes two undergraduates and a smattering of advanced doctoral candidates. The students also come from a wide variety of backgrounds and concentrations, including English, psychology, philosophy, comparative literature, anthropology and history.

    Those who received a space in the class are enthusiastic about Morrison’s and Bhabha’s course. “I love it,” said Amelia Cowen, a student in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. “I enjoy the balance that the two often provide.”

    Sarah Rose, a student in General Studies in the Humanities, described Morrison in particular as “a very generous presence. You feel free to ask almost anything,” said Rose.

    Talking about her 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Beloved, earlier in the course, students exercised this freedom of discussion as they queried Morrison about her characters, her interpretations of her own writing and her thoughts about the recent movie adaptation. Class members seemed very interested in Morrison’s and Bhabha’s thoughts about the novel’s contribution to the larger themes in the course, namely globalization.

    Many students were also curious about Morrison’s writing process and her goals in crafting this particular tale. When asked by one student to sum up her goals in writing the book, Morrison explained, “I wanted to feed the reader with small sips of the impossible life, the life of slavery.” Although she was quick to emphasize, “This is not a novel about slavery but about people.”