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Authors in the global Anglophone world have long been interested in the phenomenon of dictatorships, often more by necessity than by choice as many of them personally witnessed the horrors of authoritarian rule. Among scholars, increasing attention is being given to dictatorships and the fictions that depict or otherwise respond to them in Anglophone contexts. Africa, in particular, has seen an explosion of literary texts and scholarly output, although there are important contributions from authors in South Asia, the Caribbean, and even the United States. Throughout these texts, which include novels, short fiction, plays, and poetry, authors take the authoritarian and his methods, enemies, and inevitable downfall as their subject. The reasons for doing so vary. Some authors barely veil the inspiration for their fictional leaders, intending to challenge actual dictators, sometimes at great risk and sacrifice. Others use fictional dictatorships to explore issues of sovereignty, neocolonialism, gender inequality, literary form, and more, suggesting the extent to which dictatorships cannot simply be thought of as a “third-world” phenomenon, as many do in the West, but as a problem that has both global implications and, often, global (i.e., colonial and neocolonial) origins. Whatever their reasons and whatever their narrative approach, writers throughout the Anglophone world and beyond are engaged in a widespread and ongoing conversation about ultimate power and the cultish personalities that strive for it. The growing body of research from the social sciences underscores the diversity of circumstances and factors that give rise to dictatorships in different parts of the world, but the equally diverse fictions also reveal recurring patterns and themes. Nearly every dictator depends deeply on performance and spectacle, for example. They also seek to control their nations by controlling narrative, something writers are particularly equipped to challenge. Dictatorships and the fictions that portray them are also extended meditations on the nature of sovereign power, which dictators believe, and try to prove, to be absolute. This belief and a need for proof are fed by desperation and lead to various forms of personality worship, transcendence, and the dictator’s self-deification. At the same time, dictatorships also employ some of the least transcendent techniques imaginable to control populations (i.e., bureaucracy and red tape). Finally, as dictators discover they are not gods but mortals and even puppets, they are inevitably brought down from their imagined heights by international forces, other aspiring dictators, freedom fighters, and death itself.

Article

Understood as a system of actions designed to reduce the suffering of distant humans across the world, humanitarianism is intimately connected to storytelling as a means of raising awareness and generating empathy. Humanitarian beliefs and efforts are as diverse as the religious and secular moral philosophies that motivate them. Both aid organizations and government leaders have drawn on humanitarian discourses to gather support for such things as shipments of clothing and medical supplies to those in need, resettlement opportunities for refugees, and even military interventions in the Global South. As cultural platforms that promote themes of human dignity as well as liberal freedom and autonomy, humanitarianism and literature share long histories of influencing each other since the late 18th century. With the adoption of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II, humanitarianism and the related discourse of human rights have received an increase in popular and literary interest in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Whether or not these discourses are enough to counter the incredible violence of the contemporary period has been the subject of much debate. Global literatures support and critique humanitarianism and human rights as they retell histories of disaster, warfare, and state violence. As literature continues to variously imagine the causes of and responses to world suffering, the intersections of humanitarianism, human rights, and global literature embody a rich site of contestation and possibility for study in the 21st century.

Article

Hannah McGregor

Podcasts are a new kind of digital text that demands new analytical approaches rooted in an understanding of the medium’s history, affordances, and politics. Emerging at the intersection of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and digital audio technology, podcasts were originally framed as an accessible medium for amateur creators, an audio version of the blog. Although the early technological challenges of both making and downloading podcasts biased the medium toward the same demographic as tech culture (white men), the constant expansion of affordable recording technology and the lack of industry restrictions have led to podcasting’s rapid growth, with Apple announcing that it had reached 2 million podcasts in 2021. While only a small percentage of those podcasts are capable of drawing large-scale audiences, producers have found success catering to microcommunities through highly niche content. The ability to engage communities is enhanced by some of the defining characteristics of podcast aesthetics, namely their parasocial intimacy—that is, the tendency for listeners to think of their favorite podcast hosts as “friends in their ears.” Compared with radio, podcasts are less likely to adhere to professional production standards, and podcasters tend to be less formal and more “chatty” than radio hosts are. While podcasting has amateur and DIY roots, however, the success of true crime podcast Serial has contributed to the formalization of the industry around podcasting networks and a shared set of entrepreneurial practices, largely focused on attracting advertisers or otherwise monetizing shows. Although the most financially successful shows are still disproportionately produced in the United States and hosted by white men, the medium has also continued to diversify. The creation of podcasts that speak directly with and from the perspective of communities drives listenership within those communities, which in turn drives further podcast creation; this pattern can be observed in the expansion of African American podcast production between 2010 and 2020, and similar patterns are evident in Indigenous podcasting, queer and trans podcasting, and both international and non-English-language podcasting. The tendency for podcast listeners to become podcast producers can also be seen in the emergence of new podcasting genres. Serial, for example, has inspired a new genre of audio crime fiction, while WTF with Marc Maron has led to a slew of comedian-hosted interview podcasts characterized by an intimate, confessional tone. The huge range of podcast genres, alongside the broad spectrum of production quality, means that podcasts remain a multifaceted medium—and the scholarship about them is similarly multifaceted. Media studies scholars are interested in questions of what defines podcasting and whether a move away from RSS technology to platform-exclusive shows is signaling the end of the medium’s golden age, whereas those looking at podcast genres are more interested in exploring how podcasting has generated a space for new forms of sound-based storytelling. While the most robust field of podcast scholarship focuses on the use of podcasts for pedagogy, scholars have also begun to theorize podcasting through the act of producing podcasts themselves. The incorporation of podcasting into the landscape of scholarly communication points to how the study of podcasting has the potential to transform not just what scholars study but also how scholars do their work.

Article

Myths and legends are the way in which human beings try to understand the divine or supernatural and their relationship to it. Created by humans, myths are reflections of the values and beliefs of the people, time, and place from which they emerge. Once they are in circulation and affirmed by religious doctrine or official historiography, myths are used as an explanation and then a legitimation of why things are the way they are. They become instruments of vigilance and control of human behavior, which in patriarchal cultures means principally of female behavior. Patriarchal cultures produce myths that justify and reproduce the principles of male supremacy. In the early centuries of Christianity, the Virgin Mary supplanted and absorbed the rituals and feast days of some of the pagan goddesses, but she was not endowed with their powers. Christianity reinforced an insistence on the one, true, male God. The mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, is the lone female figure in Christianity. The Catholic Church has sought to limit the Virgin Mary’s role to that of vessel bringing the son of God into the world, but she has resonated in the hearts of some believers to an equal or even greater degree than Jesus. The Church has responded to the popular religious zeal for Mary by making every effort to rein it in. The Church has officially recognized Mary, but with each proclamation it has put a nail in the proverbial coffin of women’s equal representation in the Church. Mary has been described as a Trojan horse for the perpetuation of male hierarchical control and supreme power in the Catholic Church. The principle way in which the Church’s construction of the Virgin Mary is detrimental to Catholic women is through the virgin–whore dichotomy embodied by the Virgin Mary and Eve. As the “great exception to women,” the Virgin Mary is held forth as an unattainable ideal against which to find fault with real women. In particular, any woman who does not remain a virgin until marriage and a chaste wife is automatically cast as sinner, as whore. There is no middle ground. The Virgin Mary and Eve follow a parallel trajectory in Catholic history by which each one is increasingly sexualized, one hypo- and one hyper-. The virgin–whore polarity has been handed down in Mexican Catholicism through the Virgen de Guadalupe and the woman who has been called the Mexican Eve, La Malinche, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés’s interpreter and the mother of his son, who has been considered the first mestizo (historically, he was not). In México, the process of usurping and replacing pagan goddesses with the Virgen de Guadalupe replicated almost exactly that seen with the Virgin Mary in the early centuries of Christianity. The popular legend cluster of La Llorona, the archetypal Weeping Woman, also dates to the colonial era in New Spain, a territory that comprises what is now México and the southwestern United States. The real woman who kills her children out of revenge for her lover’s abandonment and becomes the phantasmagorical La Llorona falls squarely on the whore end of the dichotomy. She is meant to serve as a negative role model that girls should do everything in their power to avoid following. But a funny thing happens on the way to the moralistic legend about female blamewothiness and untrustworthiness. Legends are notoriously recounted by women to their children, and in women’s narrations the legend of La Llorona takes on other contours. Girded in a cultural nationalism with the traditional Mexican family as its foundation, the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s invoked Malinche and Malinchista as epithets against women who pursued leadership roles or feminist principles. In response to these efforts to reaffirm and justify the virgin–whore dichotomy—personified in the figures of La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche—Chicana writers, artists, and scholars produced work in the late 20th century that exposes the patriarchal values that undergird all three figures and offers empowering feminist reinterpretations and positive affirmations for female sexuality.

Article

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the fall of 2016. News of this drew predictable reactions from fans and naysayers who, each in their own way, either praised or lamented the judgment of the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor a songwriter and performer for a prize traditionally reserved for novelists, poets, and playwrights. Despite arguments about whether or not Dylan’s work is or is not sufficiently literary, his award confirmed something that, at least for Americans, has always been true: that popular music is as important a part of American literature as anything written in between the covers of a book. The folk and blues traditions from which Dylan emerges as a musical artist are also major sources of mythopoetic cultural production operating at the heart of American culture. These are first and foremost oral traditions, offered up in the form of songs and tales (and everything in between) and passed down from person to person, across regions, and through time. A folk and blues approach to American literature is one that understands there are no originary, primary folk and blues texts. It is also one that necessarily envisions a tradition as belonging to the future rather than the past. The American folk and blues method is, in other words, one of invention and adaptation, and its embedded notion of a tradition is something that is always shifting according to practice. Instead of only searching out primary textual examples of form, a folk and blues–influenced literary critical approach is drawn to figures—like Robert Johnson, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan—who are practitioners of folk and blues traditions. These performers are also experts in and vectors of folk and blues cultures. A prescriptive notion of an artistic tradition is determined based on what it was. In folk and blues, a tradition is what it does. There are also conventionally literary figures who seem to benefit from and understand the musical roots of American literature. Authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison incorporate musical elements into their plays, novels, stories, and poems in such a way as to make these otherwise written forms sound American. Folk and blues idioms and aesthetics encircle these authors’ literary works and enhance their meanings. A critical approach to such artists is in search of these meanings. This involves listening and developing a feeling for folk and blues traces in song and prose. The historical echoes of the many folk and blues myths, figures, and refrains that float around the nation’s culture are resurrected, from generation to generation, in its art. In the end, a folk and blues method seeks out these originators and reproducers of folk and blues traditions, insisting on an interpretive practice that is closer to hearing than reading.

Article

Many critics, Michael André Bernstein prominent among them, have noted similarities between the 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and the 20th-century French modernist Louis-Ferdinand Céline. These critics often compare the underground man and similar characters in Dostoevsky’s work to Céline’s singular, auto-fictional narrator. Two novels, Crime and Punishment and Death on Credit, grounded in a common literary-historical narrative—that of French Realism and Romantic Realism—show that Céline has a distinct philosophical vision, which is the opposite of Dostoevsky’s. At first glance, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Céline’s Death on Credit seem to be entirely different in terms of their aesthetics, engagement with national traditions, and thematic preoccupations. The former is a novel with a religious message and a traditionally teleological narrative, while the latter reflects a deeply nihilistic vision of human existence and deconstructs narrative structure and style. Examining the two novels in another light, however, draws attention to Dostoevsky’s treatment of squalid, modern situations and puts Céline into a different, nonnational lineage of authors, while also highlighting the unity of his philosophical vision. For both authors, desperately poor people and acts of extreme violence create the impression of a godless world. The two novels’ focus on poverty and crime seem to have their origin in the two epic cycles written by the most famous practitioners of French Realism and Romantic Realism, Balzac and Zola. In Balzac’s La Comédie humaine and Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart, the two authors’ most consistent focus is the way systems of economic power force people to commit crimes and the consequences that ensue. This might be said to be so of Realism and Romantic Realism in general: all of the intensive worldbuilding it entails is performed to offer verisimilitude to the desperate crimes by impoverished people it dissects. At the very least, this is what Dostoevsky and Céline both took from the genre.

Article

Sarah Juliet Lauro and Christina Connor

A general discussion of literary living dead might begin with the Epic of Gilgamesh, European Gothic tales, some of Edgar Allan Poe’s perturbations, or any number of well-known walking corpses from classic literature. However, zombies are one particular kind of living-dead creature among many others, separate from the fleshy embodied ghosts of diverse cultures, including the Jewish golems, European revenants, and Chinese jiangshi. The zombie is distinct because of its origins in the folkloric myth of the corpse raised by a bokor (a witch doctor, for lack of a better term), a Caribbean belief that has roots in African soul-capture mythologies and that was a direct reflection of the transatlantic slave trade. This folkloric figure migrated into U.S. popular culture via anthropological narratives and thereafter was repurposed in cinema. Any discussion of the zombie in literature is inseparable from its cinematic sibling, but for the creature that developed out of Caribbean mythologies, folklore is its ultimate ur-text. Zombies were first registered in a few scattered colonial accounts documenting the beliefs of the enslaved population of Caribbean isles. These accounts were penned by authors who denigrated the foolishness of the enslaved people’s belief in reanimated corpses (17th–19th century). The first zombie stories to be popularly consumed came out of nonfictional pseudo-anthropological texts reporting on the culture of Haiti during the U.S. occupation (1915–1934), but the zombie quickly moved into the horror genre. Its marketability was recognizable after the 1932 film White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin) depicted the threat that the Vaudou zombie could pose for white protagonists. The zombie’s migration into U.S. fiction occurred first in the pulps of the early 20th century. This would continue throughout the 1950s, as many zombie-like living dead dripped and oozed across the pages of EC horror comics. The Vaudou zombie, a folkloric living dead that was deeply shaped by the Haitian people’s history of slavery and colonialism, remained visible in Caribbean literature but this iteration very rarely cropped up in U.S. fiction after the cinematic transformation of the zombie into a flesh-hungry viral undead. Primarily, the zombie is considered a cinematic monster because it underwent its major transformation on screen with George Romero’s ghouls rising from the dead to devour their victims in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. The zombie’s evolution from a mindless Vaudou slave to a cannibalistic, contagious reanimate can be traced throughout the middle decades of 20th-century horror films and this same transformation occurred in horror literature. During these middle decades, many crossover monsters in science fiction tales incarnated the fears of the period—particularly fears of technological capability and Cold War tensions. Various characters in these works had traits that have come to be associated with zombies, such as mindlessness and cannibalism. One might point to a kind of lull in zombie fiction (both on-screen and in literature) in the 1980s and 1990s, but the zombie experienced a resurgence in the new millennium and a return to prominence in both cinematic and textual narratives. In the era of the new millennial zombie, the living dead could be found everywhere, spawning beyond even the boundaries of genre fiction. The cinematic zombie’s newfound speed (associated with Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later) mirrored the rapidity of the zombie’s production and proliferation: no longer consigned to the pages of horror paperbacks or science fiction dystopias, zombies appear in comedy, romance, historical fiction, literary mash-ups, parodic how-to guides, and even children’s books. In addition, zombie-themed video games and merchandise flooded the market, and one could find a plethora of zombie cultural events, including college courses, art exhibits, and costumed foot races during this zombie renaissance. In a few short centuries, the zombie evolved from a folkloric figure associated with Vaudou cosmology and its reflection of slavery, to a horror and science fiction bogeyman representing a range of social ills, to a perplexing liminal figure that cannot be contained in one genre or medium. But no matter how much the zombie changes—perhaps because of its ancestral origins in the slave trade—zombie narratives continue to have resonance with colonialism, critiquing capitalism’s abuses of humans by their fellows.

Article

African American children’s literature includes a broad array of writing for Black children in the United States. The genre necessarily crosscuts the “children’s literature” and “African American literature” genres. Although Black children have always read literature not intended for them, and scholars have rightly addressed the negative effects of racist depictions on Black child readers, definitions of this genre have most often prioritized writing for children written by African American authors. African American children’s literature is a broad and rich field, with a history originating as early as the 18th century; it includes Black writing addressing children and literature of the present, engaging forms from oral and folkloric traditions to printed books and ranging across a variety of literary genres. Emerging alongside the dominant prioritization of white children and white authors in mainstream publishing, writers of literature for Black children have worked against structural difficulties that continue to leave African American depictions and authors underrepresented in proportion to the country’s Black population. African American children’s literature has also necessarily contended with the preponderance of anti-Black racism in US popular culture, including in white children’s literature. Thus, African American children’s literature has often addressed issues of racial representation and racism in addition to (and often intertwined with) the wide variety of other topics included in this œuvre.

Article

Hywel Dix

Since the term autofiction was coined by Serge Doubrovsky in the 1970s, a key scholarly debate has been whether autofiction is a genre in its own right, a subvariant of autobiography, or whether it is better approached along lines other than generic. Although researchers have approached this question in different ways, many agree that autofiction is a form of writing that responds to the specific cultural conditions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including the relationship between celebrity and everyday life, a variety of scandals and controversies, and forms of public confession. Because writers of autofiction often frame their work either as a form of confessional writing or as writing produced in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, they have typically taken a serial approach to life writing. In some cases, this entails splitting aspects of their lives across separate published works, while others return several times to a single experience in various written texts as part of the process of repetition and working through that marks the aftermath of trauma. Among writers from postcolonial societies, the process of representing trauma is often imbued with a testimonial function, bearing witness to the conflicts and injustices of the colonial era. Autofictional techniques can be used to allow writers to appear as minor characters in narratives that are not ostensibly about them, to activate this testimonial function. In another variation, writers narrate historical incidents that occurred before they were born but which nevertheless concern their community, ancestry, or family. Since these cannot be entirely separated from the life story of the author, to tell the story of those ancestors is also, in a meaningful sense, to narrate an aspect of one’s own history: autofiction at one remove. Renée Larrier has used the dance martial art danmyé as a suggestive metaphor for how Caribbean writers merge individual with social and historical interests in bearing witness to the legacies of the colonial period and slavery. Among various innovations, this use of dance raises the possibility of autofiction existing in media other than print—including graphic novels, fine art, documentary film, and television. By this point, a new generation of media-savvy autofiction writers has emerged capable of using interactive media to promote and extend their published work. Just as the growth of reality genres represented television reversing its own belatedness with regard to literature, so transmedia emanations of autofiction re-reverse this trend, pointing to a complex interaction between what happens in literature and what happens in other media.

Article

The Latin American avant-garde—more widely known by the Spanish vanguardia or vanguardismo—emerged after 1910, roughly contemporaneously with parallel literary movements in Europe and Anglo America, and often in direct dialogue with them. Although vanguardistas worked across various media and genres (novels, theatre, film, painting, sculpture), the primary modes of vanguardismo were poetry and, curiously, poetic manifestos that blur lines between poetry and performance (a hybridized “performance manifesto” as Vicky Unruh has called it). Like many other facets of Latin American culture and society, the historical trajectory of vanguardista poetry roughly traces patterns of political-economic dependency between rich and poor countries in the 20th century. Vanguardismo was born of the rapid transformation of Latin America from rural-agrarian to urban-industrial societies between 1870 and 1920. New modes of transportation made circum-Atlantic travel and communication more fluid than ever. A poet like Vicente Huidobro (considered the foundational figure of vanguardismo) could follow new artistic developments in Europe from his native Chile, reject the traditionalism of prior generations, and reformulate symbolism, cubism, futurism, and so forth into his Creacionismo—a movement he then “exported” back to Spain, fomenting vanguardismo in the former colonial metropolis. Huidobro would be followed by several major “international” vanguardistas—notably Pablo Neruda (Chile), César Vallejo (Peru), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), and Nicolás Guillén (Cuba)—who ingrained themselves in key literary circles like Dada, negritude, surrealism, and other Parisian avant-garde “-isms.” Back in the Western Hemisphere, vanguardista poetry flowered in the 1920s and 1930s, yet mainly by way of small, close-knit intellectual circles in urban centers publishing their own small, ephemeral journals. This “localized” vanguardismo most forcefully began in São Paulo, Brazil with the “Modern Art Week” held in the city’s beaux-arts Municipal Theatre in February 1922. The three-day event abruptly altered the literary culture of the entire nation and continues to influence poetry, popular music, film, and art. Brazilian poets would be followed by other small movements in other large Latin American cities. Although these movements often had minimal contact with one another, they almost uniformly promised the creation of a national utopia by means of new poetic practice. Such movements did not merely rehash or regurgitate Europe and Anglo-American “advancements” so much as they attempted to reformulate Latin American identity vis-à-vis Europe. Rather than colonial copies of European development, Latin American poetry would now be exported back to Europe as a utopic beacon of a new modernity; while Europe fell into decadence, the Latin American vanguardia remained largely hopeful and positive despite its frequent attacks on tradition. Poetic utopias failed to materialize even as vanguardismo continued to influence poetic innovation in the latter half of the 20th century. In retrospect, vanguardista poets transformed literary arts, yet could not revolutionize the rest of society. The era was dominated by the poetic production of white males (with very few black, indigenous, and female poets) who continued to perpetuate legacies of colonial appropriation even as they sought to dismantle them.