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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

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

“Chinese workers’ literature” is an umbrella term that comprises diverse writings by workers, for workers, and about workers. In the 1930s, roughly at the same time that an international proletarian arts movement was flourishing, a factory-based reportage literature—mostly written by leftist intellectuals and partly inspired by Russian and Japanese experiments—developed in semicolonial Shanghai. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, writings by workers themselves were officially promoted and published in state-supported venues. Largely consisting of edifying stories, poems, and plays, workers’ literature from the 1950s to the 1970s provided models of behavior and contributed to a shared sense of dignity among industrial workers; it was, however, severely limited in its expressive range. Along with the implementation of market reforms beginning in the 1980s and the privatization and contracting out of most state-owned industry, a new literature emerged in the Special Economic Zones of South China and has grown into a heterogeneous phenomenon encompassing poetry and prose written by countless rural-to-urban migrant workers, the mainstay of the country’s new workforce. These writings have been appreciated for their intimate portrayals of the human costs of economic development, for giving voice to the silent majority of precarious laborers who have made it possible, and for potentially restituting a measure of dignity to a social group whose members were once considered “masters of the country” but who, in the early 21st century, enjoy little job security and few rights. While it is possible to hear resonances across these disparate times and locations, much has changed along the way, including the social position of the worker and the groups associated with this term, the forms they have experimented with and the media through which their writings circulate, and the extent to which the workers have actively contributed to its production and circulation.

Article

Law and literature both involve storytelling theory and practice. The study of law and literature takes legal and literary narrative acts to be complex, interrelated, and formative for institutional and political systems. While this interdisciplinary project at times has presumed a national frame, it also has questioned the relationship between nationalism and the global scale, highlighting links between the formation and circulation of literature, the transnational political order, and the contestations of international law. That the modern state itself is a legal form of political sovereignty that arose within an imperial international order serves to remind us that any national literature and any legal system has been shaped from the beginning through encounters across political geographies and epistemologies. Contemporary fiction—whether categorized as global, postcolonial, world, or transnational literature within a national tradition—uses narrative form in fashioning characters and storyworlds that contend, even implicitly, with the world we inhabit; one organized through legal decisions about which entities shall hold what set of rights, how movement and emplacement get practiced, who shall be excluded from which forms of legal recognition, and under what conditions shall exploitation and criminality be defined. Law and contemporary global fiction, then, raise basic questions about how we read and what reading does in the world. They also pose new questions about the relations of law, jurisprudence, and imaginative fiction to some of the most pressing challenges for humanity and the planet in the 21st century.

Article

Adela Pineda Franco

Summing up the literature of the Mexican Revolution involves the challenge of defining, assessing, and comparing an extensive and heterogeneous corpus of novels, chronicles, testimonial accounts, and short stories under a set of organizing principles, which cannot be thought of as static and invariable. It is important to consider the connection of this literary corpus with the historical event known as the Mexican Revolution; the defining role of this literature in forging a postrevolutionary national culture in Mexico; and the aesthetic and cultural significance of its main practitioners in and beyond Mexico. Besides fictionalizing events related to the revolution’s armed phase, the literature of the Mexican Revolution provides myriad interpretations on the revolution’s outcome and legacy. Hence, as historical inheritance, these literary works were intricately linked to the sociopolitical and cultural struggles of their own time, during the 20th century. Yet, even novels that were published in the 19th century, such as La bola (1887) by Emilio Rabasa, La parcela (1898) by José López-Portillo y Rojas, and Tomochic (1893) by Heriberto Frías, have been included in this corpus, since they foreshadowed the revolution’s outbreak. Los de abajo by Mariano Azuela is considered the foundational novel of the Mexican Revolution. Originally published in 1915, it set the precedent of approaching the revolution as a potentially emancipatory movement gone awry. Its second edition (1920) marked the beginning of the revolution’s literary historiography, a process of selection, exclusion, and reinterpretation of myriad works under the influx of postrevolutionary nationalism. Many literary works of the Mexican Revolution exceed simple classifications. This is the case of José Vasconcelos’s four-volume autobiography; Nellie Campobello’s enigmatic collection of tales Cartucho: Relatos de la lucha en el Norte de México (1931); and novels, such as El águila y la serpiente (1928) and La sombra del caudillo (1929) by Martín Luis Guzmán, Se llevaron el cañón para Bachimba (1941) and ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! by Rafael F. Muñoz, Al filo del agua (1947) by Agustín Yáñez, and El luto humano (1943) by José Revueltas. Such works entail inventive intersections of life-writing and experimental fiction, mordant critiques of power relations; self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and intermediality, among other formal and thematic features. A revisionist overview of this literature sheds light on the significant role that underrepresented actors played in the history of the revolution and its literature. It also brings forward the actuality of the literature of the Mexican Revolution in the 21st century, prompting a reflection on the role of literature as a lens, capable of turning history into a meaningful dimension of the present.

Article

Sindiwe Magona started writing in pursuit of agency as opposed to victimhood. With no training in writing, she felt nonetheless she could paint a much better, more realistic picture than what she found in stories of her people written by white people, to say nothing of how history books represented black Africans or “Bantu” as the terminology of the day went. Another fact that pushed her to dare to write was the almost total absence of records left to her generation by the preceding one. She wanted to close that lacuna. Her first book, To My Children’s Children, was published in 1990 when she was almost fifty years old. Magona wrote the autobiography as a record of life lived in a specific period, by specific people, using hers as an example. The book references other lives, not only that of her family. The cultural milieu and the overarching theme, given the times, however, is of the oppressive system of apartheid—legalized racism. Memory represents not only what is remembered but the inescapable past as represented by the still felt, still visible, still “performing” insights, ideas, ideology, actions, and reactions of South Africans almost a quarter of a century since the end of apartheid came with the first democratic elections of April 27, 1994. Each of her books—four novels, two collections of short stories, two autobiographies, two published plays, three biographies, a book of poetry, as well as her articles, essays, and talks—gives evidence of Magona’s witness of what happens, how it happens, and its observed or acknowledged consequences. She takes the journey further, exploring the inner meanings of the observed. The inner lives of victims and perpetrators, of oppressed and oppressor, and all the other binaries of which she is aware concern her. She set out to write, to leave a record for all posterity, not only black posterity, for it is her firm belief, hope, and prayer that, ere long, humanity will find itself, regain its former oneness or sense of belonging, and understand there are no races but one, the human race.

Article

Postcolonialism, decoloniality, and epistemologies of the South (ES) are three main ways of critically approaching the consequences of European colonialism in contemporary social, political, and cultural ways of thinking and acting. They converge in highlighting the unmeasurable sacrifice of human life; the expropriation of cultural and natural wealth; and the destruction, by suppressing, silencing, proscribing, or disfiguring, of non-European cultures and ways of knowing. The differences among them stem in part from the temporal and geographical contexts in which they emerged. Postcolonial studies emerged in the 1960s in the aftermath of the political independence of European colonies in Asia and Africa. They focused mainly on the economic, political, and cultural consequences of decolonization, highlighting the postindependence forms of economic dependence, political subordination, and cultural subalternization. They argue that while historical colonialism had ended (territorial occupation and ruling by a foreign country), colonialism continued under different guises. Decolonial studies emerged in the 1990s in Latin America. Since the political independence of the Latin American countries took place in the early 19th century, these analytical currents assumed that colonialism was over, but it had in fact been followed by coloniality, a global pattern of social interaction that inherited all the social and cultural corrosiveness of colonialism. Coloniality is conceived of as an all-encompassing racial understanding of social reality that permeates all realms of economic, social, political, and cultural life. Coloniality is the idea that whatever differs from the Eurocentric worldview is inferior, marginal, irrelevant, or dangerous. The ES, formulated in the 2000s, aim at naming and highlighting ancient and contemporary knowledges held by social groups as they resisted against modern Eurocentric domination. They conceive of modern science as a valid (and precious) type of knowledge but not as the only valid (and precious) type of knowledge; they insist on the possibility of interknowledge and intercultural translation. ES share with postcolonialism the idea that colonialism is not over. However, they insist that modern domination is constituted not only by colonialism but also by capitalism and patriarchy. Like decolonial studies, the ES denounce the cognitive and ontological destruction caused by coloniality, but they focus on the positiveness and creativity that emerge from knowledges born in struggle and on how they translate themselves into alternative ways of knowing and practicing self-determination.

Article

The new framework of critical post-colonial studies adds the innovative feature of a broader geopolitical view to an existing branch of critique that challenges the postcolonial regime of knowledge as a whole, simultaneously taking into account the impact of the “traveling concepts” of postcolonial theories on contemporary thought. A radical scrutiny of its core tenets questions postcolonial studies’ perception and representation of colonialism that are selectively confined to the areas of the West and the formerly colonized non-West. The new research field of critical post-colonial studies, by contrast, deploys a multidirectional framework that strives to unthink the quasi-Manichean reverse division of the world into a devalued West and an upgraded non-West characteristic of the postcolonial mainstream. Critical post-colonial studies is thus not intended to be yet another subdivision of the wide academic field of postcolonial studies but one that departs from a broadening of the geopolitical space and shows how this inevitably inflects conventional understanding of the postcolonial. Important steps for a critical dismantling of mainstream postcolonial studies are a conceptual disengagement of the mechanisms of “othering” and a disentanglement of the components of the specific postcolonial continuity thesis. Discarding these and other restrictions makes room for the urgently needed paradigm shift in postcolonial scholarship and for the fashioning of a new academic language of critical post-colonial studies that, on the one hand, meets the needs of the multidirectional conditions of imperialism and colonialism and their various semantics and is, on the other hand, able to grasp universal patterns in different geopolitical and historical conditions.

Article

Susan McHugh

In countless ways, plants have been in literature from the start. They literally provide surfaces and tools of inscription, as well as figuratively inspire a diverse body of writing that ranges from documenting changing social and ecological conditions to probing the limits of the human imagination. The dependence of human along with all other life on vegetal bodies assures their omnipresence in literatures across all periods and cultures, positioning them as ready reference points for metaphors, similes, and other creative devices. As comestibles, landscape features, home décor, and of course paper, plants appear in the pages of virtually every literary text. But depictions of botanical life in action often prove portentous, particularly when they remind readers that plants move in mysterious ways. At the frontiers of ancient and medieval European settlements, the plant communities of forests served as vital sources of material and imaginative sustenance. Consequently, early modern literature registers widespread deforestation of these alluring and dangerous borderlands as threats to economic and social along with ecological flourishing, a pattern repeated through the literatures of settler colonialism. Although appearing in the earliest of literatures, appreciation for the ways in which plants inscribe stories of their own lives remains a minor theme, although with accelerating climate change an increasingly urgent one. Myths and legends of hybrid plant-men, trees of life, and man-eating plants are among the many sources informing key challenges to representing plants in modern and contemporary literature, most obviously in popular genre fictions like mystery, horror, and science fiction (sf). Further enlightening these developments are studies that reveal how botanical writing emerges as a site of struggle from the early modern period, deeply entrenched in attempts to systematize and regulate species in tandem with other differences. The scientific triumph of the Linnaean “sexual system” bears a mixed legacy in feminist plant writing, complicated further by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers’ creative engagements with the unevenly felt consequences of professionalized plant science. Empowered by critical plant studies, an interdisciplinary formation that rises to the ethical challenges of emergent scientific affirmations of vegetal sentience, literature and literary criticism are reexamining these histories and modeling alternatives. In the early 21st century with less than a fraction of 1 percent of the remaining old growth under conservation protection worldwide, plants appear as never before in fragile and contested communal terrains, overshadowed by people and other animals, all of whose existence depends on ongoing botanical adaptation.