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Products of Imperialism? Commodities in Literature after 1945
full name / name of organization:
Jennifer P. Nesbitt
NeMLA 2012 Conference, March 15-18, Rochester, NY
This panel explores commodities of empire as symbols and agents in later twentieth- and twenty-first century literature. How is postcolonial subjectivity structured by interactions with commodities? How do commodities materialize relationships between diverse peoples and states, harnessing the influence of the past to the contemporary moment? Proposals approaching post-1945 literature from diverse disciplinary and theoretical angles are welcome. 250-word abstracts and short biographical statements to Jennifer Nesbitt, email@example.com, by September 30, 2011.
This panel explores commodities of empire as symbols and agents in later twentieth- and twenty-first century literature. Commodities (from sugar and tea to bauxite and oil) exist at the interstices of economic and cultural relationships, since commodities are part of global trade systems and symbols for beliefs not necessarily related to their physical nature. Commodities structure and regulate relationships among diverse and geographically distanced populations, thus providing insight into the economic basis of postcolonial subjectivity and the role of cultural texts in reproducing these relations. Analyzing commodities in literature extends our understanding of the difficulty of “decolonizing the mind,” as Ngugi Wa Thong’o put it (1986), when the material culture of everyday life remains saturated with colonial products. While contemporary products may not be produced under the sign of empire, they carry with them a legacy that works to the economic advantage of what we call “the West” or “the North." In literature, contemporary representations of commodities might be said to both represent and mystify the ways past material relations are reproduced in the post-colonial era, to the detriment of a “really” post-colonial vision. Or, these commodity-based relationships may offer ways through the systems of advantage and disadvantage imposed by our imperial pasts.
Abstract and Bio Deadline: September 30, 2011. Send to Jennifer P. Nesbitt, firstname.lastname@example.org