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Article

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

Carlos Ulises Decena

The term Afro Latina/os references people in Latin America and in the Latino United States who claim African ancestry. Although the use of the prefix Afrocan be traced back to the work of intellectuals in Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, usages were connected with anti-racist and African Diaspora struggles, organizing, and advocacy in the second half of the 20th century. More recently, the appellation Afro Latina/o has become mobilized in US Latina/o communities as a critique of the processes through which racial diversity and black populations in these communities have been rendered invisible. Because it conjures various meanings and foci, several authors engaged in the study of afrolatinidades suggest that hemispheric, transnational, and comparative approaches are necessary to appreciate the nuances of use, categorization, and experience as Afro Latina/os navigate complex histories and politics of race, ethnicity, and belonging in the United States and the Americas. The author argues that the term appellation does not resolve the complexities of racial subordination, racism, and self-making among Latin Americans and US Latina/os. He further suggests that sites of unintelligibility, confusion, and perplexity are valuable in thinking of “Afro-Latina/o” as a term that points to a cluster of urgent intellectual and political problems stemming from the irreducibility of individual experience to any term or concept. The increase in claims of Afro-Latina/o as a marker of identity must be calibrated by a consideration of how institutional sites and think tanks collaborate in the making and sedimentation of existing and emerging grids of legibility. At the same time, claiming Afro-Latina/o needs to be understood as a project related to yet distinct from one’s racial identification and relationship with blackness, and the experience of US Latina/os and other ethnic/racial minorities suggests that the work continues to be not only to understand how individuals and groups categorize themselves and others, but also to better grasp what it is that terms such as Afro-Latino/a do.

Article

Lara Harb

The Arabic language has a rich history of literary criticism and theory, starting from the 8th century ce up to the 21st century. This literary criticism and theory engages with a poetic tradition that dates back to pre-Islamic times. The inquiry into literary quality was motivated by an interest in evaluating poetry, a general concern with eloquent speech, whether in verse or prose, and by the desire to articulate the beauty of the Quran. The transmission of Aristotle’s Poetics into Arabic also spurred interest in the poetic, particularly in Arabic philosophy. The study of eloquence crystallized into a standardized science by the 13th century ce, with branches focusing on (1) the role of syntax in literary beauty (the science of meanings); (2) simile, metaphor, and metonymy (the science of elucidation); and (3) rhetorical figures (the science of rhetorical figures). The aesthetic developed in the early criticism of the 9th and 10th centuries was concerned with articulating the merits of an idealized classical style of pre-Islamic poetry, from which the “modern” poets of the early Abbasid period diverged. This classically oriented aesthetic was dominated by a concern with the truthfulness and naturalness of poetry, typical of the style of the “ancients,” on the one hand, and the limits of unrealistic imagery and affected artificiality, which characterized the more ornate modern Abbasid style, on the other. This binary outlook shifted after the 10th century, however, to an aesthetic of wonder. A theory of aesthetic experience began to develop, therefore, which was based on the ability of poetic language to evoke wonder in the recipient. As a result, wonder-enhancing characteristics such as strangeness, the unexpected, and the rare became essential components of aesthetic judgment. Moreover, the ability of language to make meaning manifest in ways that allow for an experience of discovery and hence wonder, became the foundation of aesthetic inquiry in post-10th century Arabic literary theory.

Article

Mary I. Unger

Black women readers have innovated various literacies—oral, textual, visual, and digital—as a way to validate their lived experiences, bond with one another, and lobby for their personal and collective agency. During the 18th century, black women made use of both vernacular and print cultures as strategies of survival and emancipation. Throughout the 19th century, they used reading for racial uplift in institutions such as the black press, the black women’s club movement, and literary societies. Moreover, they documented these acts of reading in cultural artifacts such as scrapbooks, which gave them the ability to manipulate print culture in deeply personal and political ways. Throughout these endeavors, black women readers deployed various literacies—reading both “aright” as well as “rogue”—to assert their agency in the era of print. In the 20th century, black women’s reading became even more professionalized in the role of editor, a position that facilitated the circulation and promotion of black women’s writing; this effort became even more urgent toward the end of the century when black feminists formed consciousness-raising groups and established new academic disciplines that depended on the recovery, anthologizing, and reading of black women’s writing. At the same time, from the postwar era through the end of the century, black women readers emerged as a significant reading demographic, courted by publishers who recognized them as a profitable consumer base. Into the 21st century, black women readers have turned to online and digital spaces in which to continue the tradition of reading for liberation and unity. In this way, the act of reading has also provided for black women a way to negotiate their relationships to American culture, each other, as well as themselves.

Article

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.