Voodoo and Literature (Studies in Postcolonial Literature)

“Great God, maybe this stuff is really true, and if it is true, it is rather awful, for it upsets everything.'” By “everything” I meant the natural fixed laws and processes on which all modern human thought and actions are based. W.B. Seabrook, on meeting a zombie

VOODOO (vodoun, vaudou, vodou, vodu, vodun, etc.) Stereotyped, mocked, reviled, and feared as the incarnation of evil in many works of literature and film, voodoo is not a cult or even a religion but a way of living, a way of seeing, and a way of reading. Originating in West Africa, it has spread throughout the African diaspora, challenging dominant power, values, and meaning and affirming the life that exists in the worlds of the visible and the invisible. The course will seek to provide some understanding of the practice, through ethnographies and critical essays and through an examination of its symbolic systems, which combines poetry, art, music, and dance. We will also look at voodoo in literature and film, assessing these representations against what we have learned and attempting to compare the different modes of seeing, reading, viewing, and knowing inherent in each. Because these practices are primarily oral and performative, the class has an Oral Communication focus to foreground the value of engaged responses to the material other than written responses (though the class is will also have a Writing focus!).

Required Texts:

(available at Revolution Books, 2626 S. King Street)

  • Alejo Carpentier, THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD
  • William Gibson, COUNT ZERO
  • Ishmael Reed, MUMBO JUMBO
  • Course Reader.


Papers Two 4-5 page literary essays and one 7-8 page research paper

Oral Presentations Three formal presentations. One will be a group report on a particular variant of vodou/ifa (vodou, santería, candomble, obeah, hoodoo, quimbois, umbanda, quimbanda, etc.) and its historical and cultural context. The second will be to lead a discussion on one of the assigned readings, which will be done by pairs of students. The third will be a presentation of the final research project, done in the context of an academic conference.

Homework•in-class writing•quizzes For most, if not all, reading assignment you will have a written homework assignment, in-class writing assignments, or quizzes (announced and unannounced).

Midterm and Final  The midterm will be on the texts read in the first part of the class, and will be mainly identification and short answer. The final will be on all the texts read in class, and will consist of identification, short answer, and short essay questions.

Participation, Attendance, and Preparation You are required to come to class on time, having read all assigned texts and completed all assigned homework. You are also required to actively contribute your ideas on the readings in class discussions.