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The Great Estrangement: Post-Colonial World-Building in the Age of the Anthropocene

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Organizer: Gabriel Sessions

Co-Organizer: Greg Forter

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Postcolonial literatures have consistently sought to call into being other worlds--to give at least proleptic form to orders more just than those we currently inhabit. This writing often finds its foothold in alternative visions of time and space: it uncovers disruptive temporal logics germinating in the homogenous, empty time of modernity, and invokes diasporic and indigenous space to subvert the geo-metric gridding and partitioning of the earth facilitating colonial expansion since around 1500.


Yet how, precisely, does postcolonial literature take the leap from this foothold to substantiate its alternative world? How do these worlds, or world-building, relate to the messy, real-world effort to forge non-dominative social or ecological arrangements? And how does the fictional world function as an aesthetico-political concept as the globe itself is revealed to be "authored" by a carbon economy's changing centers of power in the global North and South?


Our seminar poses this question in its full aesthetico-political implications. Papers will deal with not only where and when, but with how the world originates in postcolonial literature. Are such worlds reducible to mere language and representation? Do they emerge as something else from within their distribution networks, readership communities, or arrangements of words? Do they appeal to concepts of totality or ground themselves in the fragmentary, ruined, constellated, or elided? Do they end up concrete: populated by consciousnesses, collectivities, and environment? Or as negations intended to expose our incapacity to imagine radical otherness? Do these worlds preclude or embrace their status as global or world literature?


Papers might alternatively address questions concerning the relation between individual desire and collective world-making. Jameson has famously referred to "the desire called Utopia" in sci-fi, where subjectivity must remake itself in so momentous a change as the overthrow of capital. So, we ask: does postcolonial literature too imagine new forms of desire and subjectivity that enable novel power relations? Can these desires scale up, beyond lack or affect, in literary worlds to engage climate or global justice? What does a properly post-colonial and post-capitalist subject feel like? What do they have to say to writers of climate fiction?


Third, papers might explore particularities of literary form and trouble postcolonial as a category. Does a text's linguistic transparency and plot or, conversely, its opacity and achronolgy, work better to jar the reader into seeing alterity? Do writers outside our usual understanding of the postcolonial (in time and space) engage in critiques of colonialism and offer compelling imaginings of other, non-dominative social worlds? How might we conceive the critique offered by "postcolonial form," however defined, in/of the Anthropocene?


We welcome any national postcolonial literatures.

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