This course explores the epistemological foundations and critical applications of the concept of melodrama, with particular emphasis on African literature and screen media. In ways that are increasingly amenable to cultural studies analysis, melodrama has attracted a body of theory paying simultaneous and innovative attention to the formal, historical, and political properties and production of texts. It also calls attention to disciplinary traditions of reading. From Peter Brooks’s work on Balzac and Henry James, to recent scholarship on Nigeria’s “Nollywood” and Pentecostal television in the Congo, melodrama is being used to understand the ways, both formal and thematic, that texts respond to and register major social transformations. Readings in this course will come from these and other contexts, including samples of scholarship on Latin American, South Asian, and East Asian cultural production. Graduate students from any discipline are welcome in this seminar and invited to pursue their research through the course focus. At stake in our exploration of these critical traditions are (often competing) conceptions of modernity and the role that such conceptions can play in the kind of reading we do.
Students will form a foundational understanding of melodrama theory, through various global examples of secondary sources and through focused attention on selected primary and secondary material from Africa. Through weekly discussion and formal reading responses, students will also advance their skills for interpreting, applying, and generating literary and critical cultural theory. Finally, students will further hone and demonstrate their scholarly proficiency by submitting and workshopping advanced-level seminar papers, focused on forms of cultural production of their choosing, in which methods of melodrama theory are applied and elaborated.
Taught by Professor Matthew H. Brown
Mondays 1:20 – 3:15p
Screenshots from Zina Saro-Wiwa’s mutli-channel video installation “Mourning Class: Nollywood.” According to her website, “The close-up of crying face is a classic Nollywood trope. A trademark of the genre. The sobbing female figure, a grieving widow, a repentant woman of the night, the dutiful, but put-upon, wife, the performance of pain – close up – forms the emotional backbone of Nollywood film.”