Lectures: African Literature

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The Therapeutic Potential of African Literature: Focus on Yvonne Vera and Tsitsi Dangarembga

After explaining the enormous impact Vera and Dangarembga had on African literature and feminisms, this lecture looks at the ways in which their novels not only highlight mental health, but also offer a range of therapeutic approaches to what mental health care means in the postcolonial African context.

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Words in Search of an Author: self-conscious currents in African fiction

In self-conscious literature, the text itself seems to be aware of being written and being read, thus posing a fascinating overlap between what actually happens in the story vs how text comes into being and dialog with the reader. African literature frequently employs such self-conscious currents in order to communicate philosophies around signifier/ signified, contested histories of narration/ being narrated, and the existential capacity of the Word. This lecture highlights some of these instances in five novels and several short stories in order to show how various African authors utilize self-conscious text as stylistic method, narrative structure and philosophical modality.

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Science, Spirits and Superstition: ‘keeping it real’ in African literature

This lecture offers a rare comparative approach to a selection of African and American Indian texts and explores how these texts describe the epistemological and ontological conundrums of negotiating the imposed dichotomy between scientific knowledge and non-scientific knowledge, frequently branded as superstition, in the postcolonial context. The discussion component of this lecture highlights questions like: How does fiction afford us a space for the study of so-called indigenous knowledge? What possibilities emerge when we study American Indian fiction side by side with African fiction?

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African fiction as battleground for the language debates

When we speak of the language debates in African literature we usually refer to the question of writing in English, French or Portuguese as opposed to indigenous African languages. This debate is at least fifty years old, but still as relevant, fraught and complicated as it was when Ngugi wa Thiong’o appealed for the use of African languages in Decolonizing the Mind (1986) while Chinua Achebe advocated for using all linguistic capacities that are at an author’s disposal. This lecture looks at how some of the most contemporary African authors navigate the challenge of multilingualism within African societies and texts that represent these societies.

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Translingual readings of anglophone African fiction

Derived from preliminary findings of my dissertation research, this lecture takes a look at modes of translation and transadaptation within African literature written in English. I propose a close reading method that attempts to follow the proverbial footprints of a multilingual author. This entails a particular line of inquiry into languages unknown to the reader. Apart from show-casing numerous examples from various texts, this lecture also includes reading activities in which audience-participants stretch their multilingual muscles.

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When the author is ethnographer: the politics of anthropological fiction

With a focus on American Indian and African literature, this lecture synthetizes major lessons learned from the intersection/ boundary of Literary Studies and Anthropology. This intersection is indeed volatile as it comes with a fraught and contested past connected to conquest and empire. The dilemma, however, is that as African and American authors aspire to thrive in the publishing industry via the globality of English, they often find themselves in situations where they end up explaining, translating and decoding cultural practices to the English reader. What are the politics of such self-translation?

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Studying African literature through a post-national lens: Focus on Petina Gappah and Mia Couto

Although concepts like transnationalism have gained considerable momentum in the last decade, it is still difficult to snap out of the regional or nationalist way of categorizing literature. We speak of African literature, and within that category we have categories for Zimbabwean literature, Mozambiquan literature, and so on. On one hand, such labeling is essential (yet essentializing), but on the other hand it has become increasingly debatable what actually constitutes a national literature, especially when the authors themselves have transnational identities, have lived and written in exile, or make major efforts to show how cosmopolitan and diverse their respective countries are. A further complication revolves around the difference between nationalist identity (via government and state) vs cultural or historical identities (via shared experiences and values). This lecture show-cases how Petina Gappah and Mia Couto have experimented and negotiated post-nationalist writing in their novels and short stories. For discussion, this lecture poses questions like “In light of African literature, what is the difference between post-national and transnational?” and “Is post-nationalism the answer to pan-African questions?”

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Introduction to African historical fiction: Focus on Zoe Wicomb, Rayda Jacobs and Petina Gappah

Aika Swais Books, African Literature

This lecture introduces three Southern African authors who are writers of fiction as much as they are historians. After examining some of the theoretical frameworks around the intersection between history and fiction, this lecture offers close reading analysis from Playing in the Light (Wicomb), The Slave Book (Jacobs) and Out of Darkness, Shining Light (Gappah) in order to highlight the connection between text, historical context and texture of experience.

Ghosts, spirits, ancestors – African literature is full of post-mortal voices that frequently feature as central or pivotal characters. This lecture examines how and why they communicate. Be it through apparitions, dreams, hallucinations or the occurrence of coincidences – African authors have devised a variety of stylistic strategies for communicating consciousness beyond the physical realm. The question is “How do we read and understand what the spirits say?”

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Post-mortal voices in African literature