Nivesjö and Rooks on Townlife, Sexuality and the Bush

Our first seminar in the 2019 series will be delivered on 02 April in Seminar Room 2 of the Leeds Arts Humanities Research Institute at 4 pm. The open to all.

ABSTRACTS

“A revolting immoral place”: Town Life and Sexuality in R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy by Sanja Nivesjö

R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy (1928) – one of the first novels published in English by a black South African author – written in the form of a morality tale and steeped in Christian ethics, depicts the moral corruption of a black man from the countryside in the urban environment of 1920s Johannesburg, and the effects of this corruption on his family in the rural village.

In the 1920s, hegemonic forces in the nascent South African nation posited the rural as the black person’s “natural” home, at the same time as black urbanisation was rapidly increasing. I argue that Dhlomo negotiates the theme of urban-rural relations and mediates ideas of race and their relation to space through the trope of sexuality. The urban seemingly becomes a hostile environment through its sexually corrupting influence of prostitutes, single men, loose sexual morals, and syphilis, which constitute a threat to the rural Christian patriarchal family. By reading the novel from perspectives that critically interrogate sexual norms and space as a social construct, I argue that the black person’s lived experience of space and sexuality, as represented in the novel, disrupts and displaces this moral lesson of black familial happiness in the countryside to indicate Dhlomo’s engagement with a more complex spatial belonging.

An African Tragedy thus allows its reader insight into the contradictory conditions under which black South Africans lived in the city of the 1920s, and the ideological position that the rural space held, and how these conflicting experiences took expression and were imagined in early English language literature. 

“This Fucking Forest”:
The Bush as a Traumatic Space in African Literature by Elinor Rooks

The bush occupies a special place within African literature. From the earliest moments of African publishing—Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1955)—the bush has functioned as a particularly potent literary space, one which blurs boundaries between the real and fantastic, the internal and external, the past and the present. These literary uses of the bush are rooted in the history of African vernacular theories of the bush. Vernacular theories of the bush make many uses of it, including reckoning with traumatic histories. Just as the bush enfolds villages abandoned to war, it holds the spirits and ghosts that enact these troubling histories.

I propose to explore literary uses of the bush as a space of trauma, focusing on Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1957) and Chris Abani’s Song for Night (2007). Both authors use the bush as a space of death, war and memory. Set during two civil wars—the Yoruba Wars and the Biafran War—the novels track dislocated boys journeying through nightmarish, ghostly forests populated with spirits embodying the terrors of war. Abani’s protagonist retraces his steps, moving through the distorted spaces of traumatic memory, towards acceptance of his own death. For the ghost My Luck, there is no stable boundary between the inner and outer worlds—his memories are overlaid onto and merge with the blighted countryside. There is no distinction between the ruined landscape and his ruined mind. Although the bush functions similarly in Tutuola’s novels, critics have missed this. Abani’s clear use of the bush helps highlight its functions in Tutuola. Just as the physical bush resists mapping, the literary bush opens smooth textual spaces, enabling authors to tackle painful topics with fierce freedom.

About our Speakers

Sanja Nivesjö

Sanja Nivesjö is completing a joint PhD at the Department of English, Stockholm University, Sweden and Justus Liebig University, Germany. She is interested in South African literature, sexuality and gender studies, and queer theory. Her PhD project looks at the relationship between sexuality and spatiality in 20th and 21st century South African literature in English. From a queer theoretical perspective she looks at how sexuality is both represented and used as a trope in the literature to negotiate belonging to different types of spaces, and in extension a belonging to community and, perhaps, to the nation. She has published an essay on the queering of literary form and content in response to a crisis of whiteness in Nadine Gordimer’s novel The Conservationist (1974) and in J.M. Coetzee’s novel In the Heart of the Country (1977). Together with Heidi Barends from UCT, she is the guest editor of a forthcoming special issue on Olive Schreiner’s novel From Man to Man (1926) for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.

Elinor Rooks

Elinor Rooks is an independent researcher in African literature, history and culture. She completed her PhD at the University of Leeds with her dissertation, “Vernacular Critique, Deleuzo-Guattarian Theory and Cultural Historicism in West African and Southern African Literatures,” focussing on the novels of Bessie Head and Amos Tutuola. She is currently researching responses to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and is authoring a book on Tutuola. She also serves as the reviews editor for Red Pepper Magazine and works as a freelance editor.

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CFP Theorising Africa: Reviewing a History of Ideas

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CALL FOR PAPERS

Theorising Africa: Reviewing a History of Ideas

University of Leeds

Seminar Series 2018

 

The field of cultural theory has – for as long as it’s been a discipline – been dominated by Western epistemologies.  Our ways of knowing have, undoubtably, always required a framework through which they can be conceptualised – or even legitimised. The consequence of this institutionalisation of thought, which has its roots in a myriad of complex historical and structural implementations of power, is that other epistemologies often get overlooked or even rebranded under different names or theories, at the behest of fitting the demands and criteria of Western academe. The notion of a history of ideas that is grounded in a Euro-American paradigm obscures, and limits, our understanding of and engagement with the multiplicities of meaning at work in cultural analysis. Theorising Africa seeks to explore what it means to be human, to be a member of society, through the exploration of identity, aesthetics, and politics by placing cultural theory and African epistemic frameworks in dialogue.

The concept of Ubuntu finds its distorted counterpart in some versions of post-humanist thought. Ideas of community deriving from Igbo cosmology similarly find their traces – albeit inversely – in much of the discourses pertaining to community building in the fields of cultural theory, law, and literature. Subverting the closure inherent in binary oppositions, we seek to bridge the divide that has so far disadvantaged African epistemologies on the academic platform, entering into dialogue and engaging with a richly diverse history of ideas.

For this seminar series we are interested in looking to Africa for its history of ideas: How has African thought transcended boundaries and how can it continue to do so? What can African thought contribute to the many blind spots in the fields of cultural theory? How can these contributions account for the work of knowledge-making? In what ways are these contributions necessary?

We seek papers and proposals on topics including, but not limited to:

  • African literary theory
  • Reframing the history of ideas – philosophical interrogations
  • Cultural analysis
  • Psychoanalysis
  • African Futures
  • Law
  • Politics and bio-violence
  • Feminisms and policy
  • Community building
  • The creaturely
  • Animism
  • Theology
  • Art History
  • Challenges to the legacy of the writer
  • Any non-conforming inquiry which doesn’t fall into a field

Please get in touch with proposals (max 300 words + bio) in Word format to findingpocoafrica@gmail.com by 31 January 2018.

 

 

African Feminisms CFP 2016/17

African feminisms have, from the beginning, been grounded in an inclusive and intersectional discourse which seeks to challenge and unravel patriarchal, political, existential, and philosophical imbalances in society. As such they have been instrumental in bringing into question some of the ‘blind spots’ and prejudices embedded in Western feminisms. In light of current debates on decolonisation and the continued interest in intersectional politics in the global sphere, Finding Africa invites researchers to propose papers which centre on the theme of African feminisms in any field of the humanities.

Accepted submissions from the UK will comprise the lineup of the next round of seminars co-hosted with the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS) in 2017. A second call for submissions from South Africa will be made shortly.

Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):

Intersectionality and African Feminisms

Womanism in Contemporary African Feminism

The Future of African Feminisms

Human Rights and African Feminism

African Feminisms and Curricula

Contemporary African Feminisms

African Feminisms in the West

Philosophy and African Feminisms

African Feminist Manifestos

The Psychology of African Feminisms

African Feminist Literature

African Feminisms and Disability

Guide for authors:

All submissions should be 250 word abstracts in Word format emailed to findingpocoafrica@gmail.com  by 20 November 2016.

*For further details on our activities, click on the seminars section on the main menu*

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Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition: Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney by Ruth Daly

6308201._UY200_The next Finding Africa seminar, hosted in association with the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), will be on 24 May 2016. Ruth Daly will present a reading of Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney in her paper titled ‘Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition’.

The seminar will take place on 24 May 2016 at 4pm in Seminar Room 1 of the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (physical address: 31-2 Clarendon Place, Leeds). Entrance is free and all are welcome. Continue reading

On the African Intellectual Mobilities Colloquium

Rebecca Jones ‘We need new critical paradigms’: Reflections on researching a literary history of Yoruba travel writing’ © Imke van Heerden
Rebecca Jones ‘We need new critical paradigms’: Reflections on researching a literary history of Yoruba travel writing’ © Imke van Heerden

Finding Africa is delighted to have had the opportunity to co-host and participate in the recent colloquium of African Intellectual Mobilities at the University of York. Centred around a questioning and broadening of the travel writing genre and the movements of writers, the colloquium registered the significance and extent of travel writing by African and black diaspora authors and intellectuals. Such a revisiting of the genre reveals the potential for research that seeks to reposition travel and the many types of texts and voices that have been marginalised within this tradition of writing.

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Richard Stupart to speak on Compassion Fatigue, the ‘CNN Effect’ and the Need for Better Media-Humanitarian Theory

Richard Stupart
Richard Stupart (Universität Erfurt)

The next seminar in the Journalism and Media Studies stream of Finding Africa will be presented by Richard Stupart from Universität Erfurt, Germany.

Stupart is a freelance photojournalist, researcher, writer and videographer with a particular focus on the intersection between narratives of Africa and development assistance. He previously completed an MA analysing the understandings present in coverage of the 2011/12 Somalia famine, and is currently studying towards a second Masters in Public Policy and conflict at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at Universität Erfurt.

Stupart’s current academic interests include the intersection of media and development, data gathering/processing in conflict areas, and the effects of violence and representation on legitimacy. Stupart also writes at his own blog, richardstupart.com, and has contributed work to CNNGo, Matador Network, Timeline, Good Men Project, City Press (South Africa) and other assorted publications on topics ranging from    travel to aid, voluntourism and race.

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Finding Africa: Postcolonial African Studies Seminar Series

tumblr_static_89v5y9ukg64ggc0c8wc0g8kc8Finding Africa: Postcolonial African Studies Seminar Series facilitates interdisciplinary talks by researchers working in the fields of literature, film, history, sociology, politics, women’s studies, anthropology, psychology, and human rights. Although hosted by the University of Leeds’ School of English, the seminar series features academics from York, York St. John, Leeds, Bradford, Durham, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle universities.

Existing partners include the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), the Northern Postcolonial Network (Universities of Salford and Manchester), the University of Manchester’s Postcolonial Reading Group, and the Stellenbosch Literary Project.

The seminar series is committed to providing a platform for researchers and interested others to share knowledge, open up questions, and explore issues relevant to postcolonial Africa. The Finding Africa blog also welcomes contributions from writers, artists, journalists, publishers and others with an abiding interest in Africa and seeks to expand the scope of conversations in the academy.

Finding Africa’s latest partnership with Stellenbosch Literary Project housed within the English Department at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa is the first of many connections which form part of our commitment to building a cross-continental dialogue in and about Africa.