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In Session: Empathy, Narrative and Cultural Politics
1: Cultural Translation and Empathy in a South Asian Literature Classroom in London
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom
In this paper I will look at the idea of community, diaspora and context in a South Asian literature classroom in London. To what extent do students empathise, understand and connect with the curriculum? In what ways does it engage with the experiences of the South Asian diasporic community who make up the majority of the classroom and how do students identify with the readings, imagined experiences and emotions of characters that they encounter? I will engage with Suzanne Keen’s ground breaking study Empathy and the Novel and her textbook on narrative form to tease out the tensions of reading in the classroom. The classroom offers a space for negotiating culturally sensitive territories from Partition to Kashmir, North to South traversing the Indian ocean and talking about sexualities. It also brings together diasporas in the plural rather than the singular. What are the parts of the curriculum that most appeal to students and why? The experiences of community in the classroom are both global and local, encapsulating London and the world. How does empathy work through those individual experiences and the shared space of the classroom. Do certain narrative forms enable trust across different groups in the classroom or do they reaffirm boundaries of class, caste, gender and region. As my case study, I offer a close reading and analysis of student interactions with the Canadian writer Shyam Selvadurai’s novel, Funny Boy.