Continuity, conservatism, classicism: Reading postcolonial literature against the grain?

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Cécile Girardin / Université d'Orléans (France)
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Call for papers


Conference jointly organized by research groups META (Université d’Orléans) and GRAAT (Université de Tours), Dec. 2-3, 2010, in Orléans.

Postcolonial criticism was particularly productive in its effort to reconfigure the canon (Western, imperial, male) and to allow for the emergence of a corpus of “new” literatures; however, it is nowadays questioned as a method, due to the joint transformations in the fields of representations and of politics (critical relativism, political correctness, etc.).
As postcolonial criticism is based upon the idea of a break leading to the emancipation of the individual from colonial and neo-colonial hegemony (by committing its practitioners “to the highly tangible pursuits of making colonialism visible in the world, and of helping to make it obsolete”, G. Huggan, 2008), it could fail to account for the ideological, political and aesthetic diversity of postcolonial literature, by ignoring its forms of continuity and classicism. In a context that values multicultural positions (hybridity, creolity, relativism), a form of criticism is needed that would take into account the notions of tradition, resistance to innovation, or collaboration. One thinks, for instance, of the request for “intolerance” expressed by Slavoj Zizek in his criticism of multiculturalism (2004), or of the deconstruction by Laurent Jenny of the “terrorizing” metaphor of literature as necessarily “revolutionary” (2008), or of the reassessment of “anti-modern” writers by Antoine Compagnon (2005).
Participants may wish to discuss the work of postcolonial writers too hastily condemned for conservatism, such as V.S. Naipaul, Nirad Chaudhuri or J.M. Coetzee, at a time when a thriving publishing market is tending to favor community literatures. They may also consider the nostalgic, classical, or universal features to be found in the work of the main anti-imperialist figures, such as Rushdie, Walcott, or Achebe. Imagining the paradoxical possibility of a “rearguard” in postcolonial literature could also require a new reading of its direct predecessors, such as Conrad, Kipling, Waugh, Greene, who all offer a complex and controversial representation of the colonial enterprise.
This conference will assess the political dimension of postcolonial literature, but also its fierce resistance to established political categories (left/right, liberal/conservative). Is it possible to think in terms of conservatism and eurocentrism and yet avoid the trap of a reactionary discourse? How does one account for authors who do not feel any solidarity with the preceding generations and whose project cannot be understood as the echo of a whole community? How does one interpret classicism (in style, themes) in a critical context that calls for the rise of newness and hybridity within language, close to the cosmopolitan mélange seemingly called for by the forces of globalization? Is it possible to make sense of postcolonial literature without ignoring the economic and political demands of the publishing industry (literary prizes, film adaptation) or museology (“arts premiers” in France, etc)?
Proposals (along with a short CV), in English or in French, can be addressed to and, before 15 June 2010. Doctoral students are encouraged to send proposals; a panel will be dedicated to their work in progress.

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