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Many Freedoms: Rethinking Ideas of Liberation in Postcolonial and World Literature

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Organizer: Mukti Lakhi Mangharam

Co-Organizer: Eric Morales-Franceschini

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Much postcolonial theory has been preoccupied with the ambivalence that plagues universalisms such as freedom. In The Intimacies of Four Continents (2015), Lisa Lowe demonstrates how Enlightenment notions of freedom were constructed through and against suppressed colonized populations. “The social inequalities of our time,” says Lowe, “are a legacy of these processes through which ‘the human’ is ‘freed’ by liberal forms, while other subjects, practices and geographies are placed at a distance from ‘the human’.” For Lowe, the historical promises of freedom fall apart because they hinge upon discourses that construct the “human” as a category of exclusion.   This seminar asks, however, whether such a thesis can properly attest to the meanings and uses of “freedom”—as well as salient cognates like “emancipation” and “liberation”— in heterogeneous (post)colonial contexts and literary imaginations. Are there thinkers and texts that articulated and used Enlightenment notions of freedom for emancipatory ends? Are there other precolonial and colonial genealogies of freedom that were not burdened with the same Enlightenment legacies of oppression? How does postcolonial and world literature recuperate diverse marginalized notions of freedom? Can literature open us up towards a larger vocabulary of freedom not confined to the person as individual property, or the person as free to exchange/trade, or of individual agency as resistance? And how do literary genres articulate claims to freedom through their form?   This seminar brings together a diverse array of scholars and papers that dwell on these questions. It does so through three panels that rethink freedom’s (i) political and economic, (ii) gendered, and (iii) generic profiles and possibilities in various (post)colonial literary and critical works. The first panel draws on Senegalese, Irish, and Indian writers to reframe freedom beyond Eurocentric, hegemonic narratives, including the French colonial narrative of saving “savages” from themselves or the neoliberal narrative that defines “freedom” in terms of private entrepreneurial agency and conspicuous consumption. The second panel looks to Arab and Southeast Asian women and queer writers to explore how literary recuperations of anti-colonialist women and queer Muslims open up spaces for other identities and bodily practices. The third panel critically elaborates on genre innovations that rethink liberation, including the epic and the comedic in Cuba, the tragic and the ecocritical in Angola, the mathematical and the science-fictional in South Asia, and post-disaster fiction in the global south.

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