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.
Mary N. Layoun
Realism has a bad reputation in contemporary times. Generally thought to be an outdated mode that had its heyday in Victorian fiction, the French bourgeois novel, and pre-revolutionary Russian literature, literary histories tend to locate realism’s timely end in the ferment of interwar modernism and the rise of the avant-garde. Outside of the West, realism might be said to have met an even worse fate, as it was a mode explicitly presented to colonized societies as a vehicle of modernity, in opposition to what were deemed the poetic excesses, irrational temporalities, and/or oral-storytelling influences of indigenous literature. Yet despite this sense of realism’s outdatedness and political conservatism, the first decade-and-a-half of the 21st century has witnessed, across a wide range of literature and cultural production, what might be seen as a return to realism, not simply as a resistance to today’s new culture of heterogeneity and digitization but as a new way of imagining literary and political futures in a world increasingly lacking the clear-cut lines along which politics, history, and capitalism can be imagined. The arc of 21st-century realism can be seen through contemporary debates around the term, suggesting that considering 21st-century realism not as a residual mode or grouping of texts but as a particular perspective on literary futures—as the coming together, for instance, of unresolved and newer conflicts over relations of power and the politics of knowledge—offers a different story of global form making.
“South Asia” is the term used to refer to that part of Asia that comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. South Asian American literary studies emerged from the ethnic studies movements in the United States during the late 1960s. Asian American literary studies has analyzed poetry, fiction, memoir, and drama by writers of South Asian descent living in the United States, first by looking at the principal thematic impulses found in the writings and the literary techniques employed by authors from the early 1900s into the 21st century. Scholars have also argued that the worldviews and representations of South Asian American writers, sometimes considered within the category of “postcolonial” literature rather than multiethnic literature, gesture beyond the narrow confines of genre, nation, religion, ethnicity, and culture. South Asian American literary studies illuminates these texts’ unexpected connectivities, global vision, and entwined histories and highlights how those who read them have the opportunity to enlarge their consciousness.
Rita Indiana Hernández (b. June 11, 1977, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) is a Dominican writer, musician, and performer. In addition to her popularity as a singer-songwriter, she is widely regarded as one of the most important Dominican authors of her generation. Her literary career began in the 1990s with short works included in zines such as Vetas. By 2001, she had self-published three books: two collections of short stories—Rumiantes (1998) and Ciencia succión (2001)—and one novella, La estrategia de Chochueca (2000). A second novel, Papi, followed in 2005. About that time, she began experimenting with musical and visual projects as part of different performance groups, such as Casifull and Miti Miti. In 2009, she was the youngest Dominican author to be honored in the Santo Domingo Book Fair, where she was also booked as a musical performer. Her popularity as a musician grew even more after the 2010 release of the album El juidero, recorded with her band Rita Indiana y los Misterios. She subsequently published two more novels, Nombres y animales (2013) and La mucama de Omicunlé (2015). Scholarly interest in her writing and her music has centered on the way they give voice to contemporary subjectivities and put forth imaginaries of citizenship, social relationships, and belonging that depart from institutionalized discourses of identity. Rita Indiana has stated on various occasions that she sees her literary projects and her musical projects as intertwined endeavors. This is evident not just in the thematic unity between them but also in the aesthetic strategies she uses. In her work, she references mass media, Dominican popular cultural production, and global youth cultures to highlight the interplay between the local and the global in the postmodern Caribbean. Rita Indiana also explores issues pertaining to the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and migratory status. Since approximately the middle of the 2000s, Rita Indiana’s work has been embraced increasingly by critics. She was also named one of the one hundred most influential Latino/a personalities by the Spanish newspaper El País.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
Twenty-first-century Asian American literature is a developing archive of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and multimodal cultural texts. As a field, it is marked by its simultaneous investments in exploring the United States’ imperial geopolitical relations and the concurrent rise of Asia. Global India, a shorthand for the nation’s ascendance onto the world stage after the liberalizing market reforms of the early 1990s, is discernible in Asian American—and particularly South Asian American—depictions of a range of figures including call center agents, entrepreneurial farmers, art gallery owners, and globe-trotting filmmakers. It is an India to which many writers imagine returning, given its heightened standing in the world economy and the prospect of American decline. This change marks a shift in the literature from the Americas being the primary locus of attachment to Asia as a site of possible reinvestment, both psychic and material. Asian American writers frequently focus on parallels between the experience of international migration and that of in-country migration to India’s major cities. They also tacitly register the rise of India in narratives about the abortive promises of the American dream. In comparison to Asian American literatures of the 20th century, which were primarily read as part of the multiethnic canon of American literature, Asian American literatures written under the sign of Global India are equally legible as part of diasporic, postcolonial, world, and global Anglophone literary formations. Many writers considered postcolonial in the 20th century may be profitably read in the 21st century as Asian American as well, whether because of a move to the United States or a professed affiliation. This expansion of the field is a consequence of the evolving diasporic and global imaginaries of Asian American writers and scholars.
Animals have prowled literature from its beginnings in the ancient world through medieval bestiaries and out from the margins of the novel in the modern era. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, animals’ literary presence has generated increasing critical interest. Animal studies, a relatively new interdisciplinary field, calls attention to the accelerating exploitation of animals in the period of industrial modernity and questions what it is possible to know about animals’ own experiences. Foundational theoretical approaches to understanding the historical and philosophical condition of thinking about animals—John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?” (1972), Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974), and Jacques Derrida’s “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” (2002)—propose a fundamental aporia or gap between human and animal experiences, and they caution against the projection of anthropocentric categories onto animal lives. Many novels from this recent period likewise treat animals as charismatic strangers. Yet other contemporary literature sometimes reimagines human-animal relationships to insist on affinity and continuity. In such novels, animals prompt diverse and often experimental stylistic choices that put pressure on the novel’s traditional association with everyday life, the individual self, the boundaries of the nation, and empirical observation more broadly. Still, many recent novels remain essentially committed to a realist tradition. Some of these—most notably by J. M. Coetzee—depict relations of care between humans and often vulnerable or dependent animals that prompt reflection on the meaning of ethical action. In novels that purport to narrate from animals’ own perspective, writers likewise meditate on the ethics of interspecies relations as they use language innovatively in an effort to realistically evoke the sensorium of another species. Pushing the boundaries of realism, other novels reinvent the animal fable, using varying degrees of fantasy to imagine wild or domesticated animals as tropes that reflect upon human embodiment, community, and politics. Whether realist or fabulist, the novels of contemporary postcolonial and world literature particularly explore the power and limits of mapping histories of human belonging and domination onto animal figures, even as they often highlight the limitations of these comparisons. Not all of these approaches are equally invested in creating a literature that could materially impact the lives of animals in an era of diminishing biodiversity. However, uniting this varied and ever-growing array of novels is a question of how literature can represent the lives of intimately entangled bodies in a globalizing world.
The Indian novel has been a vibrant and energetic expressive space in the 21st century. While the grand postcolonial gestures characteristic of the late-20th-century Indian novel have been in evidence in new novels by established authors such as Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh, and Salman Rushdie, a slate of new authors has emerged in this period as well, charting a range of new novelistic modes. Some of these authors are Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, Githa Hariharan, Samina Ali, Karan Mahajan, and Amitava Kumar. In general, there has been a move away from ambitious literary fiction in the form of the “huge, baggy monster” that led to the publication of several monumental postcolonial novels in the 1980s and 1990s; increasingly the most dynamic and influential Indian writing uses new novelistic forms and literary styles tied to the changing landscape of India’s current contemporary social and political problems. The newer generation of authors has also eschewed the aspiration to represent the entirety of life in modern India, and instead aimed to explore much more limited regional and cultural narrative frameworks. If a novel like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) took its protagonist all over the Indian subcontinent and indexed a large number of important historical controversies in the interest of broad representation, Padma Viswnanathan’s The Toss of a Lemon (2008) limits itself to a focus on a single Tamil Brahmin family’s orientation to issues of caste and gender, and remains effectively local to Tamil Nadu. There is no central agenda or defining idiom of this emerging literary culture, but three major groupings can be identified that encapsulate the major themes and preoccupations of 21st-century Indian fiction: “New Urban Realism,” “Gender and Secular History,” and “Globalizing India, Reinscribing the Past.”
As the second decade of the 21st century draws to a close, Indigenous literary studies in Aotearoa New Zealand are characterized primarily by tension between abundance and scarcity. The abundance relates to a wealth of writers, texts, and forms, both contemporary and archival. Many historical texts and literary contexts are being revealed and investigated for the first time. Abundance in this context also signifies the richness of approach, technique, and language use in both contemporary and archival texts. The significance of this deep archive is yet to be fully realized, due in part to the scarcity of scholars in Indigenous literatures of Aotearoa, a lack which is cemented and institutionalized by the absence of university courses that focus primarily on Indigenous literatures in English. A paucity of published Māori and Pasifika creative texts, particularly long-form fiction, further solidifies a perceptible absence in New Zealand writing. Significant scholarship is being developed despite this, however. And rather than being limited to viewing Indigenous literatures through the lens of English or New Zealand literary history, Indigenous scholars present innovative historical, geographical, and creative genre frameworks that open up multiple ways of reading and engaging with Indigenous literatures. In New Zealand, Māori literature is any writing produced by the Indigenous population. Māori and Moriori are the name of the Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, who also identify within distinct tribal groupings. In international contexts, the word “Indigenous” may be used more frequently to describe Māori, but in a New Zealand context, the term “Māori” is almost exclusively used. It should be noted that Māori is not a literary category, however. It is a cultural identity. It therefore follows that any form of literature can be produced by a Māori writer, and may be labeled “Māori writing.” Drawing on a long literary whakapapa, or genealogy, Māori writers and literary scholars are crossing colonially imposed boundaries to recognize distinctively Indigenous creative and critical epistemologies. Having passed through the Māori cultural renaissance of the 1970s to the 1990s, Māori writers no longer grapple with the need to articulate their right to existence as distinct peoples, but instead enjoy the autonomy to decide how that distinctive existence may best be expressed. One of the most lively aspects of contemporary Indigenous literature in New Zealand is the emphasis on new ways to present, read, incorporate, and interpret te reo Māori in English language texts.
Twenty-first-century anglophone literatures of the Global South are increasingly contending with the waning of the postcolonial welfare state and the rising hegemony of world markets. As a result, contemporary anglophone writing, predominantly from India, Nigeria, and Mexico, offers a re-descriptive matrix for postcolonial studies. Ranging from novels about neocolonial expansion to nonfiction about rising economies of scale, both diasporic and national anglophone literatures use the narrative conceit of entrepreneurship to diagnose the sheer reach of neoliberalism. Whether casting it as a mainly US-backed economic regime, the latest iteration of first-world developmentalism, or a post-1989 fallout of world economies toward a universalized market logic, neoliberalism has had a significant impact on the narrative forms and subjects produced within contemporary anglophone literatures. In the wake of the 2008 collapse, recession economics has precipitated varied reflections on the pernicious effects of hyper-valuation and its effects on the Global South by postcolonial and diasporic novelists like Aravind Adiga, Mohsin Hamid, and Teju Cole. Global Anglophone writing, broadly conceived, insistently calls attention to the material and psychic damage inflicted by the peripheralization of postcolonial nations in the production of a profitably global market imaginary. By tracking the formal centrality of the Bildungsroman, Indian, Nigerian, and Mexican writers demonstrate how they reject the universalism of Bildung as global development and instead gravitate toward a politics of compromise, failure, and refusal. They offer a grim counternarrative to the aspirational and upwardly mobile ethos that characterizes nonfiction from economically ascendant postcolonial nations. In modes of novelistic and nonfiction writing, a variety of figures, from murderous entrepreneurs to discontented psychiatrists to cynical bloggers, complicate the landscape of global neoliberalism. If the framework of the global troublingly obfuscates questions of labor and economic justice, then these diverse subjects self-consciously mediate between marginal cosmopolitanisms and precarious work regimes to reveal the stakes of transnational capital. In doing so, Global Anglophone literatures attest to an urgent need to rethink free market economics by finding new, egalitarian solutions to the problem of uneven development.
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.