RAL Special Issue on Interrogating the “Post-Nation” in African Literary Writing: Globalities and Localities
Guest Editor: Madhu Krishnan
What is Africa? Where is Africa written and in whose image is Africa constructed? These questions have become commonplace refrains in discussions surrounding African literary writing, appearing on the pages of scholarly journals, at large-scale celebrations of African writing around the globe, and through often-vitriolic debates held in cyberspace. Despite, or indeed because of, the global expansion of anglophone African literature over the last ten years, the tensions that mediate the fraught relationship between aesthetic and political representation in the dissemination of this body of work remain as acute as ever.
At the center of the debates and conflicts that mark the continued emergence of African literatures in a global literary market has been the role of the nation and the author’s position within it. Helon Habila, in a Guardian review of NoViolet Bulawayo’s Booker prize-nominated We Need New Names, for instance, castigates the appearance of what he calls an “aesthetic of suffering” in African literature, an aesthetics which, he argues, evokes “pity and fear, but not in a real tragic sense, more in a CNN, Western-media-coverage-of-Africa, poverty-porn sense,” pandering to an authorized global image of Africa. Instead, Habila calls for writers of African literatures to strive toward what he terms a post-nationalist aesthetic as “the best potential [for African writing] to liberate itself from the often predictable, almost obligatory obsession of the African writer with the nation and with national politics.”
While not unwarranted as a commentary on the voyeuristic aesthetics that have enveloped much contemporary African fiction published in North America and Europe, Habila’s comments have not been without rebuttal. Brian Bwesigye, writing on the influential African arts blog This Is Africa, for instance, accuses Habila of imposing his own “single story” (c.f. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s now-famous TED talk) on the continent through an insistence on what Ghanaian writer Taiye Selasi has dubbed “Afropolitianism”, a sense of simultaneously situated and diffuse cosmopolitanism particular to Africa. Indeed, Bwesigye highlights the importance, for writers from the continent, of engaging with the social and political issues most pressing to their respective localities, no matter how bleak, a view seemingly supported by the emergence of locally based and nationally rooted independent publishers across Africa.
Taking Habila’s comments and the responses they have engendered as its premise, this special issue invites papers that explore the following questions:
- What does it mean to suggest that African writing today is “post-nationalist?”
- Is post-nationalist the same as post-national?
- How does the ethnonation interact with the notion of post-nationalist African writing?
- Under the imperatives of transnational capital, what forms of “post-nationalism” are available to the African writer?
- Has the label “African writer” outgrown its utility?
- What sorts of localities and globalities are being constructed in writing from the African continent?
- Can we make distinctions between “local” and “global” African literatures?
- Is the notion of the post-national inherently incompatible with a literary vision bounded within the nation?
- How do language, location, and aesthetic forms contribute to the vision of the (post)-nation in African literature today?
Proposals are welcomed for papers within the field of literature, but also film, music, and the visual arts. Comparative and cross-geographical approaches are particularly welcomed, as are papers that take a critical view toward the construction of the “global” and the “local.”
All finished manuscripts are expected to conform to the standard RAL guidelines published in every issue of the journal. Abstracts of no more than 500 words are due by March 15, 2015 and notification of selection will be made by April 30, 2015. Final papers are due November 2015 and will be subject to peer review. The guest editor encourages potential contributors to establish early contact via email to email@example.com (Madhu Krishnan).
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