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African Literatures: Politics and Poetics

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Organizer: Alexander Fyfe

Co-Organizer: Kirk Sides

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Many of the critical flashpoints in the history of modern African writing have been underwritten by questions about the relations between politics and aesthetics. From the language debates ensuing from the 1962 Makerere conference, which itself sought to address the future of African writing, to arguments about the kinds of representation rewarded by certain literary prizes, there has frequently been a shared sentiment that African writing should carry a certain political import, often one that is legible as anti-colonial. In recent decades, the influence of postcolonial studies–especially the notion of “writing back” to empire–has often influenced scholars’ sense of what politics in literature should look like.

This seminar acknowledges the ongoing history of these debates and seeks to expand the conversation around the political and aesthetic beyond narrow definitions of the political. Preferring the more embodied notion of poetics over aesthetics (but without wishing to impose this distinction), we wish to explore the range of ways in which the political and the poetic interact in African writing. Given the continued significance of postcolonial studies, this seminar also seeks to interrogate the aesthetic, political and discursive relationships between African literary studies and various formations of “the postcolonial.” How are the futures of these faultlines articulated within African literary and aesthetic imaginaries?

We invite papers that explore relations between the political and poetic in new and ambitious ways, in relation to new and old formations in the study of African literatures. Potential topics might include:

Queer African poetics
Interventions concerning useful frameworks for thinking about the political and the poetic in African writing, such as the postcolonial, anticolonial, decolonial, etc.
African ecologies
Climate futures
Politics and poetics in African-language literatures
Non-literary cultural forms (visual, musical, filmic) that stage questions of politics/poetics
Reassessments of key debates about politics and poetics in African literary history
Poetics and politics in “early” African literatures
The Politics (and Poetics) of Translation
The (Geo-)Politics of Prize Culture

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