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New Theories of African Literature (MLA Special Session, Vancouver, 8-11 January 2015)
full name / name of organization:
Modern Language Association
The recent history of scholarship on Africa and African literature has shown a marked preference for historicist approaches over theoretical ones. In spite of such landmark studies as Mahmood Mamdani’s *Citizen and Subject*, Achille Mbembe’s *On the Postcolony*, Sarah Nuttall’s *Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-Apartheid*, and Jean and John L. Comaroff’s work on “millennial capitalism,” theoretical scholarship has long had to labor under the suspicion that it imposes a foreign, abstract, and generally false structure to African literature. This has been especially the case for poststructuralist and postcolonial theory, which have often been characterized as overly-dependent on abstract philosophical models that separate Europe and Africa into separate ontological categories (see, e.g., Valentine Mudimbe, *The Idea of Africa*).
The panel proposes to reexamine literary and cultural theory’s fraught relationship with African literature. In particular, it asks how new paradigms from across the humanities and social sciences might help us to reposition African literature with respect to critical theory. For example, if philosophical modes of theory have presented insuperable obstacles for literary scholars, how might models taken from political science, economics, critical race theory, and environmental studies help us to escape such conceptual impasses? We seek to explore both the possibilities these models hold for African literary studies and their historical and institutional entanglements: What explanatory frameworks do such theories provide for the current state of African literature and African literary studies? What sorts of historical accounts and transnational comparisons do they make possible? And how might we historicize these theoretical models within the institutional history of Cold War-era area studies and the post-Cold War “global” university? What lines of influence and exchange can we detect between post-World War II Africanist literary theory (e.g., Fanon, negritude, and African humanism), the past and current research university, theoretical scholarship, and African literary production?
300-word abstracts and a brief CV to Matthew Eatough (firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 21st.