1-9 of 9 Results  for:

  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present) x
  • African Literatures x
Clear all

Article

African Fiction and Philosophy  

Jeanne-Marie Jackson

Though the two fields have rarely been put in conversation, African philosophy and African fiction share a set of foundational concerns. These include the relation of the individual to the community; the significance of culture to unseating exclusively Western universalisms; and the tension between “lived” and a priori claims to truth against a background of political and epistemological decolonization. In addition to this substantive thematic core, both fields have also been shaped by an acute and even anguished degree of self-definitional questioning. What is “African” about African philosophy, or about the African novel? And inversely, what is fundamental to philosophy or the novel as such? Orality has served in both fields as a means of gauging the relative knowledge value afforded experience, on the one hand, and ideas’ formal contestation, on the other. While strong advocates of orality as a distinguishing feature of African intellectual production have extolled its collective dimensions, critics have been wary of its potential for cultural reductiveness and essentialism. Textuality, some argue, is an epistemological orientation that exceeds the literal practice of writing, and need not be viewed as a historical development at odds with African knowledge traditions. A number of influential African philosophers have homed in on the related problem of individualism in an effort to differentiate philosophical from social-scientific claims. This makes African philosophy an ideal interlocutor for African novel studies, which has sought in its own right to reconcile the form’s historical premium on the individual with African social contexts. While countless African novels from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century represent the challenge of negotiating between collective and individual as well as oral and textual elements, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s masterwork Kintu is an exemplary study in how the subgenre of the “philosophical novel” can narrativize the interaction of different African knowledge paradigms. In its staging of an oral, embodied system of knowledge alongside a textualized, meta-epistemological one, it invites the reader’s mutual evaluation of each vis-à-vis the other.

Article

Dictatorship and Global Anglophone Fiction  

Peter Leman

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

Form and History in Modern Arabic Poetics  

Huda Fakhreddine

Modern Arabic poetic forms developed in conversation with the rich Arabic poetic tradition, on one hand, and the Western literary traditions, primarily English and French, on the other. In light of the drastic social and political changes that swept the Arab world in the first half of the 20th century, Western influences often appear in the scholarship on the period to be more prevalent and operative in the rise of the modernist movement. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental forces that drove the movement from its early phases is its urgent preoccupation with the Arabic poetic heritage and its investment in forging a new relationship with the literary past. The history of poetic forms in the first half of the 20th century reveals much about the dynamics between margin and center, old and new, commitment and escapism, autochthonous and outside imperatives. Arabic poetry in the 20th century reflects the political and social upheavals in Arab life. The poetic forms which emerged between the late 1940s and early 1960s presented themselves as aesthetically and ideologically revolutionary. The modernist poets were committed to a project of change in the poem and beyond. Developments from the qas̩īdah of the late 19th century to the prose poem of the 1960s and the notion of writing (kitābah) after that suggest an increased loosening or abandoning of formal restrictions. However, the contending poetic proposals, from the most formal to the most experimental, all continue to coexist in the Arabic poetic landscape in the 21st century. The tensions and negotiations between them are what often lead to the most creative poetic breakthroughs.

Article

The Postcolonial  

Mary N. Layoun

First used in post–World War II historical accounts as a designation for the period that followed the independence of successful anti-colonial struggles in Asia and Africa, the origins of the postcolonial as a category of thought are multiple and diversely located: in anti-colonial movements such as Pan-Africanism and the Négritude movement and thinkers and writers including Amilcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, and Léopold Sédar Senghor; in the work of Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, founded and directed by Richard Hoggart in 1964 and subsequently directed by Stuart Hall; in the analysis of colonial discourse introduced to the Anglophone world by Edward Said’s Orientalism; in the work of a generation of well-known scholars of the postcolonial (and, often, of literary studies) that include Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Aijaz Ahmad, Ranajit Guha, and Robert J. C. Young and drawing from the Central and South American intellectual and political traditions of anti-colonial and postcolonial struggles that began over a century earlier, Mary Louise Pratt, Walter Mignolo, and John Beverly; and in the colonial historiography and history of anti-colonial resistances in South Asia of the Subaltern Studies group. After some three decades as a category of thought in and beyond the academy, a capacious and diversely defined postcolonial has produced a plethora of studies, academic and otherwise, as well as a marketing category, and a now-conventional use as a journalistic descriptor. Broadly, however, the postcolonial as a category of thought can be understood as a situated response to shifting apprehension and efforts at comprehension of the complex inequities of the late 20th and 21st centuries in the wake of European colonialism. And as important as the what of the postcolonial is the when; where; and by-, to-, and with-whom.

Article

Postcolonial Avant-Garde Fiction  

Adam Spanos

Postcolonial novelists face a difficult double bind. On one hand, they are expected to produce fiction that accurately represents the political and social circumstances of the nations to which they belong. Yet realism came to them as an inheritance of imperial rule, and as such it served as a tool for organizing colonial understandings of time, social relations, and interior experience. On the other hand, experiments in novelistic form that would break with the tenets of realism are often understood as frivolous capitulations to Western fashions or as bitter attacks on cherished traditional aesthetics. For if literary experiments are conducted with the intention of transforming popular tastes, they may very well be taken as analogues of the imperial civilizing mission, which claims to be justified in forcing cultural transformations on colonized populations by virtue of their purported indolence and backwardness. Evidently there is no position that a postcolonial writer can adopt that does not involve some kind of complicity with imperial interests or mimicry of its aesthetic forms. Yet the postcolonial avant-garde can be defined by its refusal of the binary choice between colonial-national and metropolitan-imperial imperatives. Its aesthetic innovations are defined by the intention of challenging not simply the realities created by empires but the very social imaginary, often uncritically adopted by colonial or postcolonial populations, on which the imperial project rests. Writers working in this tendency develop non-, pseudo-, or para-mimetic narratives to force readers to entertain the possibility of realities existing outside the terms of the real as this has been prescribed by dominant agencies, including imperial ones; alternatively, they turn their prose to ends other than representation in order to demonstrate the embeddedness of ordinary language in imperial discourses and to indicate other possible usages of a shared tongue. Magical realism, most influentially and spectacularly, began as a challenge to the disenchanted and positivist nature of the Western gaze: writers like Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, and Ben Okri reveal the everyday power of forces not recognized by modern secular reason. Other writers, like Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, disclose the relation between realist literary representation and the very order of rationality that consigns heterogeneous or dissident elements to the status of madness. Postcolonial avant-garde fiction is thus distinguished intellectually from realist writing by its assault on the presuppositions or unconscious preconditions of imperial domination as these have been taken up among colonized populations. Insofar as imperialism, in its liberal varieties at least, works through an epistemological register to transform the ways in which colonized populations think, avant-garde artists must direct their polemical energies against both foreign and domestic audiences simultaneously. The obscurity and difficulty of postcolonial avant-garde fiction is thus the result not only of the novel narrative and descriptive strategies it employs but also of the tenuous and often untenable situation of the avant-garde writer in the postcolony, a gadfly to all implied readers. The formal innovations developed by postcolonial avant-garde writers are vast, but all serve the project of offering new modes of perception that cannot be contained by either imperial or nationalist worldviews. In this sense the avant-garde is a democratizing agency, opposing consensual fictions and opening up multiple possible avenues for experiencing and responding to the problems and potentials of postcolonial existence.

Article

Postcolonial Writing and the History of Revolution  

Nasser Mufti

Integral to the idea of revolution in postcolonial thought is a theory of the intellectual. The problem of the bourgeois elite—and, by extension, the bourgeois intellectual—is central to how postcolonial thought has understood the unfolding of bourgeois revolution in the colonial peripheries. This is why postcolonial thinkers such as Edward Said, Ranajit Guha, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak have frequently turned to Karl Marx’s aphorism about the peasantry from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” Far from originating in postcolonial theory, Marx’s claims about the peasantry have a prehistory in Pan-Africanism and anticolonial thought of the mid-century (Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, C. L. R. James, and Frantz Fanon). These encounters with the contradictions of bourgeois revolution in the colonies (Partha Chatterjee) are also a motif in postcolonial reflections on the failures of decolonization (V. S. Naipaul, Ayi Kwei Armah, and Ama Ata Aidoo).

Article

Psychoanalytic Theory  

Marshall Alcorn

Although Freud’s key claims regarding unconscious processes are pervasive in psychoanalytic theory, psychoanalysis is not a singular unified system. Early originating frameworks have evolved to adapt to changing clinical practices. In Britain, Freud’s work was complicated by the work of Klein, and later by the British Object Relations school, and still later by the inclusion of empirical research from John Bowlby’s attachment theory. In France and Latin America, Lacan gained dominance; in the United States, early work in “ego psychology” was supplemented by Kohutian “self-psychology” and later by “relational psychoanalysis.” In the academy, the work of Slavoj Zizek, synthesizing Lacanian and Marxist theory, has had wide influence. All these perspectives offer different accounts of the legacies of the past in their impact on unconscious expression. Early applications of psychoanalysis to literature were concerned with the origins of creativity and the neurotic conditions of literary characters or authors. Subsequent interests have focused on the nature of literary language and the dynamics of readerly engagements. In the early 21st century, use of psychoanalysis as an analytic tool follows the model of a conversation. The goal is not to apply a theory to a text to illustrate a psychoanalytic truth but to tease out the “unsaid” of a text or set of texts. Psychoanalysis in literary engagements, as in clinical engagements, is not about establishing a truth; instead it is used in “dialogue” with another discourse to discover implicit or unacknowledged dimensions of that articulation. The diversity of psychoanalytic schools and concepts allows scholars to give attention to wide-ranging interests: to the grip of ideology on subject, to the unconscious thematics of authors, to the symptomatic conditions of culture. Popular subjects for the psychoanalytic study of literature or film are psychic conflict, suffering, anxiety, enjoyment, the uncanny, and the repressed. Following World War II, the Frankfurt school synthesized Freud with Marxist thought, laying out enduring parameters for the psychoanalytic study of social processes. Adorno and Horkheimer sought to understand totalitarian character and mass culture and explored literature as a response to ideological enlistment. Recent work by “the Lacanian Left” in political theory explores libidinal and affective dimensions of discourse. “Psychosocial studies” scholars in Britain utilize psychoanalytic principles to gain more complex information from interviews and social research designs. Contemporary work in neuropsychoanalysis develops empirical evidence to document psychoanalytic processes in the organizational patterns of the brain, particularly in the dynamics of dreaming, memory, and nonconscious behavior. All these newly emerging engagements with psychoanalytic thought offer opportunities for contemporary research.

Article

Publishing in South Africa  

Elizabeth le Roux

South Africa’s literary history is divided across both language and race. A survey of the country’s publishing history provides a lens for examining these diverse literatures in an integrated way, by focusing on the production context, the circulation, and the readership. The key threads in South Africa’s publishing history can be traced to influences operating outside publishing: the influence of colonial governance, followed by the nationalist government and its apartheid system, and then the post-apartheid influence of transformation. All these factors reveal ongoing attempts by the government of the day to regulate and control publishing and the circulation of information. However, publishing history requires further study to better understand how publishing has evolved in South Africa, and how that permitted or prevented authors from circulating their work to readers.

Article

The Arabic Novel: New Roots, New Routes  

Elizabeth Holt

In the mid-19th century, the Arabic novel emerged as a genre in Ottoman Syria and khedival Egypt. While this emergence has often been narrated as a story of the rise of nation-states and the diffusion of the European novel, the genre’s history and ongoing topography cannot be recovered without indexing the importance of Arabic storytelling and Islamic empire, ethics, and aesthetics to its roots. As the Arabic periodicals of Beirut and the Nile Valley, and soon Tunis and Baghdad, serialized and debated the rise of the novel form from the 19th century onward, historical, romantic, and translated novels found an avid readership throughout the Arab world and its diaspora. Metaphors of the garden confronted the maritime span of European empire in the 19th-century rise of the novel form in Arabic, and the novel’s path would continue to oscillate between the local and the global. British, French, Spanish, and Italian empire and direct colonial rule left a lasting imprint on the landscape of the region, and so too the investment of Cold War powers in its pipelines, oil wells, and cultural battlefields. Whether embracing socialist realism or avant-garde experimentation, the Arabic novel serves as an ongoing register of the stories that can be told in cities, villages, and nations throughout the region—from the committed novels interrogating the years of anticolonial national struggles and Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, through the ongoing history of war, surveillance, exile, occupation, and resource extraction that dictates the subsequent terrain of narration. The Arabic novel bears, too, an indelible mark left by translators of Arabic tales—from 1001 Nights to Girls of Riyadh—on the stories the region’s novelists tell.