Dissensus in the Postcolonial Anglophone World: History, Politics, and Aesthetics
The first international conference under the aegis of the French Society for Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies (the SEPC), and supported by the Institut Universitaire de France and the laboratory CECILLE (EA 4074), will take place at the Université de Lille SHS on January 31st and February 1st 2019.
“Sustained as they have been by a common rejection of the state, what can be the space for alternative cultural forms in a peace that is to be regulated everywhere by state institutions?” This question, asked by David Lloyd at the end of his book Ireland After History (Lloyd 107), is the point of departure for this conference which aims to investigate the history, politics, and aesthetic works within postcolonial states which were former British colonies and which have witnessed, at various historical moments, a move towards “alternative cultural forms”, but also alternative political forms. Decolonisation and the postcolonial period, although experienced differently in various states, might be said to be paradoxically characterised both by political turmoil and innovative creativity on the one hand and, on the other, by a streamlining of culture, particularly literary production and historical and political discourse, in favour of consensus. The period loosely referred to here is that which precedes and follows on from insurgency and militancy, regime change and ostensible reconciliation, in other words, that period of the mid to late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries marked by decolonisation – or lack thereof –, territorial conflict, transnational and indigenous resistance, and transformative justice, although discussion of earlier historical moments are also of course welcome.
This streamlining of discourse and cultural productions in the service of a fragile peace, reconciliation, or politically expedient consensus has been noted by several critics. Neil Lazarus for instance evokes the “relatively little attempt to suggest that not all forms of nationalist discourse are reducible to the statist master-discourse – indeed that some of the most adamantine and far-reaching resistance to the violence and repressiveness of the postcolonial state has been undertaken precisely in the name of alternative nationalisms, of different national imaginings” (Lazarus 2011, 70). Benita Parry, for her part, from very early on after the demise of apartheid called attention to the ways in which post-apartheid discourse in South Africa morphed into a narrative which has attempted to write out of existence any dissonance with the Rainbow Nation idea which has had such currency: “Concerned to narrate the new nation and rewrite the colonial past as one of cooperation and transculturation, this genre of reconciliation historiography, which significantly emerged in the 1990s, foregrounds a South African past of congruence, social assimilation and cultural osmosis, hence necessarily fostering forgetfulness of separation, exclusion and repression, and occluding the counter-memories of overt and hidden traditions of resistance” (Parry 2004, 191). In response to these tendencies, Ghassan Hage calls for a politics of transformation against a destructive global order marked by the destruction of the individual and non-human environment, for alternative modes of thinking and experiencing otherness (Hage 2015). The manifestation of Indigeneity in Australia, Canada or New Zealand through the frame of ecocritical discourse takes place through the understanding and combining of Indigenous and non-Indigenous sensibilities, through the geographic, social and spiritual environments, interrogating the relation between nature and subjectivity, between aesthetics and environmental consciousness (Glotfelty 1996). Cheryll Glotfelty’s ecocritical approach resonates with Marcia Langton’s claim that “the Aboriginal attachment to places inherited from many generations of ancestors and shaped by kinship, descent, culture and religion, does not preclude settlers from engaging with the land” (Langton 2003). The importance of documenting, reappraising, and re-imagining counter-histories of (post)colonial, queer, and feminist resistance, moments of rupture in the sensible order, has also been underlined by Sara Ahmed, in particular in WillfulSubjects. In this “willfulness archive”, she reflects, among other things, on how becoming “a subordinate part of a whole can require giving up a will other than the will of the whole” (Ahmed 2014, 140), in other words, on the tension between consensus and dissensus.
Taking their cue from the writings of Jacques Rancière, the conference organisers invite proposals on dissensus in Anglophone postcolonial countries in order “to think the lines according to which boundaries and passages are constructed, according to which they are conceivable and modifiable” (Rancière 218). Countering consensus, which for Rancière “designates a mode for representing an overall solidarity between conflicting interests” (ibid 106), this conference will address and investigate historical moments, political movements and power struggles (some of which are still ongoing), as well as artistic productions (art, literature, photography, film) which provoke dissensus, that is to say “the manifestation of a gap in the sensible itself”, the very “essence of politics” (ibid 38). If for Rancière the “essential work of politics is the configuration of its own space”, “to make the world of its subjects and its operations seen” (ibid 37), then it is quite possible to view postcolonial and decolonial struggles as having done/doing precisely that. Proposals for papers which consider the margins of history and political struggle in these countries are therefore particularly welcome, as are proposals which consider the ways in which aesthetics and politics are intimately linked. Broadening out from these questions, one might also consider the ways in which literature and the arts in postcolonial states inscribe rupture, dissonance, and reconfiguration within their aesthetics. Possible topics or approaches may include ecocriticism, queer and or feminist politics and poetics, militancy, political science, history, or performance.
Scholars working in the fields of history, politics, sociology, anthropology, critical race studies, literature, and the visual arts should feel welcome to submit proposals of 250 words to Salhia Ben Messahel (email@example.com) and Fiona McCann (firstname.lastname@example.org) before June 30th 2018. Notification of acceptance will be given by July 20th 2018.
Ahmed, Sara. Willful Subjects. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014.
Garrard, Greg (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Oxford: OUP, 2014.
Glotfelty, Cheryll & Harold Fromm. The Ecocriticism Reader. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1996.
Huggan, Graham & Helen Tiffin. Postcolonial Ecocriticism. Literature, Animals, Environment. 2010. London & New York: Routledge, 2015.
Langton, Marcia. “Whitefella Jump Up”, Correspondance, Quaterly Essay, Issue 12, 2003, Black Inc, p. 80.
Lazarus, Neil. The Postcolonial Unconscious. Cambridge: CUP, 2011.
Lloyd, David. Ireland After History. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.
Parry, Benita. Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique. London: Routledge, 2004.
Rancière, Jacques. Dissensus. 2010. Translation Stephen Corcoran. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.
Scientific committee: Estelle Castro-Koshy (James Cook University), Leo Courbot (Université de Lille SHS), Florence D’Souza (Université de Lille SHS), Hélène Lecossois (Université de Lille SHS), Christine Lorre-Johnston (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle), Alexandra Poulain (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle), Alexis Tadié (Université Paris Sorbonne), Kerry-Jame Wallart (Université Paris Sorbonne)