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The Possibilities of Contrapuntal Criticism Today: Nations, Natives and Nativism

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Organizer: Hosam Aboul-Ela

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The papers in this session will seek to deepen discussions of contrapuntal criticism as a mode of reading and with special attention to the problematics of nativism and the native both historically and in the current context. More specifically, it begins with the premise that the concept of the contrapuntal and the method of contrapuntal criticism elaborated by Edward Said offers a particularly useful approach to understanding the status of national liberation struggles and indigenous sovereignty movements. Said proposed in Culture and Imperialism (1993) a contrapuntal reading strategy for theorizing colonial discourse in a comparative framework in such a way that acknowledges colonial effects in the cultural production of the North, and at same time recognizes opposition in the cultural work of Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, and Latin Americans. While the concept of the contrapuntal has come to be powerfully associated with Said’s later work, few scholars of comparative literature have taken up in an extended manner the possible applications of contrapuntal criticism to explore cultural production among indigenous peoples, subalterns, peasants, and other groups located outside global metropolitan spaces and expressing themselves in a range of languages.
The value of the contrapuntal remains as a result unrealized even as the discipline of comparative literary studies has become increasingly global in scope and method. Colonial encounters are never monologic, monolingual, or solely Europhonic. A contrapuntal approach offers possible tools to avoid the absorption of non-European cultures into a new canon of “world literature,” or their relegation to the Bantustans of old area studies. We invite papers that engage in a comparativism that takes seriously a commitment to contrapuntal methodologies to invigorate critical discussions of colonial histories, and to complicate readings of decolonial, postcolonial, and anticolonial cultural production.  

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