“Environment at the Margins” and Global Anglophone/Postcolonial African Novels-ASLE Panel
Byron Caminero-Santangelo and Garth A. Myers describe peripheral African environments as “Environment at the Margins” in the book of the same title. The field of postcolonial ecocriticism, which has been flourishing over the past one decade, is now widely perceived to be an interdisciplinary, transnational, and comparative field of inquiry as it recognizes the complexities of interdisciplinary dialogues and critiques a universalizing or homogenizing impulse of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. In “Situating Ecology,” Anthony Vital notes that the ethics of place and the experience of displacement are “two sources of tension [that] can be considered definitive of any postcolonial understanding of ecology and crucial to any ecocriticism alert to postcolonial conditions” (298-99). Postcolonial environmentalism/ecocriticism is “unrepentantly anthropocentric,” posits Vital, thereby generating “inevitable friction between the tendency to value human need and the recognition (supplied by ecology) that the natural world has its own value” (299). Colonialism had a complicated relationship with nature in colonies; it exploited nature in various forms and instilled the fear of untamable wilderness, primitiveness, and barbarism, while instituting policies of conservation to protect the native flora and fauna. The ideas of conservation are historically linked to empire as much as environmental exploitations are linked to ecological imperialism and are replicated in contemporary forms of capitalist modernity, modernization, and development.
In this regard, the novel form remains a productive way of imagining the nation and thinking about complex formations of culture both within the boundaries of nation and beyond. While the novel’s imaginative power is crucial to understand entangled social and environmental problems, novelistic representation is always fraught with ideological ambiguities in postcolonial contexts. The novel form, because of its European origin, is ideologically and formally associated with empire, as Edward Said bears out in Culture and Imperialism, and becomes a site of political and ideological contestation. In postcolonial contexts, writers from formerly colonized regions write back to empire, employing counter-discursive narrative strategies to construct new ideas of national identity, local culture, and history. In the current situation of despair and “imaginative failure,” to use Rob Nixon’s phrase, the possibilities of telling stories of all kinds are, however, increasingly being foreclosed.
Given the complexity of environmental problems we face today, this panel, which has been accepted for the 2019 ASLE biennial conference, seeks to respond to the following questions, among others: How do contemporary African novels inform us about the cultural formations and emerging global realities in the post-1960 world and help us reimagine African environments at the margins? In what ways postcolonial ecocritical engagements with African fictional narratives are crucial to open up the imaginative horizon of non-Western environmental epistemologies and ontologies? Why is the novel form significant in invoking both the place-based and the planetary sense of environmental imagination? And finally, how are comparative literary and environmental approaches effective means of making sense of our being in a globalized world, and articulating the visions of more just societies and sustainable futures in the age of Anthropocene?
To be a part of this panel exploring some of these broader environmental issues in global and postcolonial African contexts, please submit an abstract of 400-500 words, preferably by attachment to an email, to Dr. Arun Kumar Pokhrel at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 10, 2018, Monday at 11:59 pm. The abstract should be accompanied by an up-to-date CV. All submissions (both accepted and rejected) will be notified no later than January 10, 2019.