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Modern Sudanese Literature  

Afis Ayinde Oladosu

Modern Sudanese literature presents an extremely interesting landscape that mirrors the problems that the category “Sudan” represents for scholars across disciplinary barriers and specializations. To account for its extremely slippery trajectories and, through that, show how vital its contributions have been not only to Sudanese but also to African literature, questions relating to its existence or otherwise have to be explored: To what extent is it true that literary writing in Sudan should be referred to as Sudanese Arabic literature (al-Adab al-ʿArabī al-Sūdānī), not Arabic literature in Sudan (al-Adab al-ʿArabī fī al-Sūdān)? What cultural artifacts are there in Sudanese history that can be cited in support of the latter? To provide answers, these arguments can be situated against data on the medieval, Turkish, Mahdist, and Anglo-Egyptian Sudanese histories; perspectives on the cultural affinity between Egypt and Sudan as exemplified by the Nile Valley (Wādī al-Nīl) can be explored; and these can be shown to have accentuated the birth and development of modern Sudanese literature. Further, its trajectories—poetry and prose, including the traditionalist, the romanticist, the realist, and the postcolonialist—can be explored. Some Sudanese literary-critical writers, including Muʿāwīyah Muḥammad Nūr (who wrote the first Sudanese short fiction in 1930), Malikat al-Dār Muḥammad, al-Tījānī Yūsuf Bashīr, ʿArafah Muḥammad ʿAbdullāh, Ṣalāh Aḥmad Ibrāhīm, and Muḥammad Miftāḥ al-Faytūrī, contributed to the field. Others include al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ (Tayeb Salih), whose novel Mawsim al-Hijrah ilá al-Shamāl (published in 1966 and translated into English as Season of Migration to the North in 1969) remains unrivaled in contemporary Sudanese literary history; ʿAbdullāh Maḥjūb; Sayyid al-Fīl; Ibrāhīm Khālid ʿUways; Buthaynah Khiḍr Makkī; Istilā Qaytānū (Stella Gaytano); and Safia Elhillo. The works of these writers have continued to give modern Sudanese literature the global attention that it deserves. Plotting the geography of its large corpus can therefore be likened to enumerating pebbles in the desert. But there is a thread that runs through the works. From Muʿāwīyah Muḥammad Nūr to Muḥammad Miftāḥ al-Faytūrī, whose sharp vision and creative spirit preceded al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ, and from Buthaynah Khiḍr Makkī to Safia Elhillo, modern Sudanese literature is consistent in its attention to the inner schisms in pre- and post-independence Sudanese society. The corpus thus represents the slippages and the shifting identities of postcolonial Sudanese modernities. In modern Sudanese literature, thoughts and reflections on race, gender, and nation by Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Kadiatu Kanneh, and Muhsin al-Musawi find ample representation.

Article

Continuity and Change in Postapartheid Fiction  

Louise Bethlehem

What language is adequate to describe the coming into being of the new South Africa? What literary forms does newness take? What promises does the new “postapartheid fiction” deliver (or fail to deliver)? For many observers, the May 10, 1994, inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected president of South Africa captured the optimism of the political settlement that ended apartheid. Writers finally seemed able to suspend the imperatives of a literary culture oriented primarily toward political struggle. Yet while regime change informs “postapartheid fiction” in the literal sense of the term, literary and political periodization do not wholly coincide. The divisive legacies of racism are not easily dismissed. This understanding informs a category of writing often called “transitional literature” that emerges in tandem with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, 1996–1998) as the site where the new nation comes into being. Often autobiographical or confessional in tone, it remains bound up with the country’s racist past. Transitional literature thus points toward the ambivalent nature of the “post” in “postapartheid fiction,” which scholars argue functions here much like it does in the term “postcolonial.” Both prioritize the continued unfolding of a long historical sequence rather than a punctual transition that abrogates the reckoning with the past. “Post-transitional literature,” in turn, includes fiction dating from roughly the second decade after the beginning of the political transition. A layered engagement with earlier writing and with the immediate past preserves the porous negotiation of temporality already at work in transitional literature. However, black writers in particular have stressed that the continuities between the apartheid regime and its democratic successor pertain less to the intertwining of temporalities than to political economy—given the nature of inequality in South Africa where class remains tightly bound up with race. Postapartheid fiction is not merely the preserve of continuity, however. In South Africa, the preoccupation with race has given way to other vectors of subjectivity involving gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, youth culture, and autochthony or foreignness, as well as their intersections. New concerns focused on gay and lesbian subjectivities, HIV/AIDS, or on the possibilities of conflict and conviviality opened up by the desegregated and increasingly cosmopolitan character of urban spaces, have accompanied a changing literary market. Newness proliferates through the devices of creative nonfiction, eco-fiction, and genre fiction. Crime fiction has become more popular. Partly serving as the index of social disorder in South Africa and partly as the arena where this disorder is worked through in fictional form, crime fiction tacitly offers the prospect of redress—however remote. Speculative fiction similarly pits utopian aspirations against dystopian skepticism, in dialogue with Afrofuturism elsewhere on the continent. Intra-African lines of influence, and indeed of migration, announce new pathways for literary expression in English. Afrikaans literature has similarly come to assimilate transnational and diasporic motifs. Using the idea of “postapartheid fiction” to convey the exceptionalism—rather than distinctiveness—of contemporary South African writing may thus have run its course. This is itself a telling marker of how far South African literature has come since the fall of the apartheid regime.

Article

Race and Blackness in Premodern Arabic Literature  

Rachel Schine

The signal works of poetry that prominently feature racialized Blackness in early Arabic literature (c. ad 500–1250) include works composed by authors of Afro-Arab heritage as well as by Arab authors who satirized and panegyrized Black subjects. These poets include the pre-Islamic author ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād and the ʿAbbasid-era figures al-Mutanabbī and Ibn al-Rūmī, and thus reflect the shift, across an extensive timeline, from a local, Bedouin poetics to a self-styled cosmopolitan, courtly aesthetic characterized as muḥdath, or modernist. The works are situated not only within the changing conventions of genre, but also within an arc that traces the emergence of new race concepts and racialized social institutions in the transition from the pre-Islamic era to Islam and from the early conquests to ʿAbbasid imperialization. Critical instances of these works’ intertextual movements demonstrate how racial logic accretes in various Arab-Muslim textual traditions, showing how poetry intersects with popular epic as well as high literary geographical, ethnological, and commentarial corpuses. As verse moves across a myriad of later literary forms, its context-specific representations of racial difference are recontextualized and received in ways that contribute to a broader transregional and transtemporal discourse of racialized Blackness.