World literature

6th October 2000 at 01:00
TEXTS FROM OTHER CULTURES. Edited by Rachel Redford. Oxford University Press pound;6.50.

Teaching about different cultures and traditions is a difficult and even dangerous task - a danger shown up in the title of this book, which still adheres to the wording of the old national curriculum, with all its implications of norm (us) and deviance (them).

How do you open up access to different types of experience and understanding without falling into the twin traps of patronage on the one hand and emasculation by assimilation on the other? Partly, at least, by providing students with a book like this, which, for all its shortcomings, offers glimpses of an extraordinarily wide range of cultural experiences.

The book is usefully divided into two sections, Foundation Texts and Higher Texts, in each of which the nature of the texts is accompanied b appropriately differentiated activities which move from enabling students to demonstrate basic comprehension to supporting sophisticated exploration and analysis. The chosen texts range from South Africa to South Korea, from the Netherlands to Iran, from India to China, and deal with such differing experiences as the arrangements for a marriage in India and a pilgrimage across the Meshed in Iran.

There is an understandable tendency to select episodes that are either picturesque or extreme, so that the ordinary tenor of life in other lands remains impenetrable. But there is already a great deal here to get to grips with.

It is as difficult as it is crucial to shake off the assumptions of our cultural heritage and allow others the dignity of speaking for themselves - this book represents one small, important step along that way.

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