DIGITAL AFRICAS: TEXTS, PUBLICS, GENRE
CENTER FOR HUMANISTIC INQUIRY (CHI), FROST LIBRARY
OCTOBER 12-14, 2017
Ato Quayson will present the first keynote address on Thursday, October 12 at 5:00 pm. His topic will be “Aesthetic Judgment in the Era of the Digital.” Quayson is Professor of English and Director of the Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada, and Visiting Professor in the Department of English at NYU. His teaching and research interests include: Postcolonial and Diasporic Writing, Literary Theory, Tragedy (from the Greeks to the present day), Shakespeare, Representations of Disability, Magical Realism and Postmodernism, and Urban Studies. His book, Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism was co-winner of the Urban History Association's top award in the international category for books published in 2013–14. You can view his CV at: www.english.utoronto.ca/facultystaff/facultyprofiles/quaysona.htm
Abstract: Marshall McLuhan famously noted that “the medium is the message.” At the time when he wrote this in 1964 he had in mind primarily televisual and radio cultures. But what do we make now of the specific character of aesthetic judgment in an era of electronic multimodality made available by and through the internet with respect to text (literature), still images (art and photography), moving images (film), sound (music), and infrastructure (architecture)? How are these to be explored together as part of a new paradigm of aesthetic judgment and what concepts do the humanities have to contribute to this exploration? Related to this is a second question pertaining to stories. The telling of stories has historically provided humans with the means of social identification, and also with ways by which to invite others’ identification with the self. These have changed historically from oral story telling throughout human history, to newspapers and the novel in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century (recall Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities), through the soap operas and tele novellas of the 1970s, to the reality TV shows of the 1990s and on to the social media we have today. If stories shape our view of the world, then in what ways are the different media of telling stories in the world today affecting the shaping of aesthetic judgment. The lecture will be devised as a series of provocations around these and related questions.
Akin Adesokan will present the second keynote address on Friday, October 13 at 5:00 pm on the topic “Shifting Margins: Digital Media and New African Textual Practices.”Adesokan is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and of Cinema and Media Studies at the Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include Roots in the Sky, a novel, Postcolonial Artists and Global Aesthetics, a critical study, and Celebrating D. O. Fagunwa: Aspects of African and World Literary History, an edited volume on the work of Daniel Fagunwa, the pioneer Yoruba novelist. His writings have also appeared in AGNI, Screen, Glänta, Social Dynamics, African Affairs, Black Camera, Research in African Literatures, PMLA, and Textual Practice, as well as in numerous edited volumes. He is a Contributing Editor of The Chimurenga Chronic, the Cape Town-based journal of politics and ideas. You can view his full bio at www.indiana.edu/~complit/people/adesokan.shtml
Abstract: This lecture undertakes a preliminary discussion of ways to conceptualize the evolving reconfiguration of African literary studies in the context of digital media. By supplementing current interest in the global fortunes of African literature with a central focus on conceptual issues of diachronicity and mediation, I shall make a case for the historicity of form in relation to critiques of technology as a phenomenon (Walter Benjamin, Jack Goody) and thus address the standard distinction between “literature” and “other arts.” Through short reads, blogging, curating and other social media-friendly practices, the notion of literature as well as of its relationship to other artistic media have been undergoing unprecedented changes. The changes are qualitatively different from those which informed the emergence of the field of postcolonial studies nearly three decades ago and they pertain, unequally, to production and what is often characterized as appreciation in literary studies. Scholars of new media posit that the lines between the two spheres of activity are now blurred, due to the mode of engagement which social media as a digital form of creating publics fosters. Without underestimating persistent forms of unequal exchange, and without presuming an irreducibly antagonistic relationship between old and new modes of production and communication, I argue that digital media are an opportune mode of reconstituting textuality. For scholarship invested in African artistic practices, this mode can be productively understood in terms of concepts like diachronicity and mediation which have been neglected in current discussions of “world” or “global” literature.
Biodun Jeyifo will be the respondent at Adesokan’s lecture. Jeyifo, Professor of Comparative Literature and African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, has authored more than a dozen book and essay collections. His research interests include African and Caribbean 'Anglophone' literatures; performance theory and dramatic literature, Western and non-Western; comparative African and Afro-American critical thought; Marxist literary and cultural theory; colonial and postcolonial studies. For more information, see: aaas.fas.harvard.edu/people/biodun-jeyifo.
Shola Adenekan will contribute a paper entitled “The Internet of Everything: Nigerian Poetry in the Age of Social Media.” Adenekan holds a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham Center for West African Research and works as a researcher in African literature and culture at the University of Bremen in Germany. His research interests include: “African and Caribbean literature; African Cinema; Queer Theory; New Media Fiction; Digital Media; and Feminist Theory. See Shola Adenekan’s full CV at www.fb10.uni-bremen.de/lehrpersonal/adenekan.aspx.
Abstract: In The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics, Karin Barber (2007: 40) makes a case for the study of all genres. Borrowing from Franco Moretti, she argues that the traditional obsession with "canonical texts have blocked our view of the real historical processes at work in the emergence and spread of literary forms." Barber succinctly articulates why all literary forms deserve our attention, including those that failed, those that were once successful but have now faded away, and those that are just emerging. When doing this, she asks us to pay special attention to devices and genres.
Over the past three years or so, I have been archiving poems published on social media by some of Nigeria's new voices such as Rasaq Malik Gbolahan, Dami Ajayi, David Ishaya Osu, Saddiq M. Dzukogi, Jumoke Verissimo and Omo Olokun. Some of these poets have had their online work shortlisted for literary prizes and their poetry offers a window to the state of the nation as well as to a generational shift in terms of 'agenda'. Additionally, established voices including the likes of Olu Oguibe, Amatoritsero Ede, Chuma Nwokolo and Niyi Osundare are also actively publishing work online.
In the age of book publishing, the nature of communication meant that the reach of poetry was limited and therefore exposure rather limited. Now, the platform for poets is digital and greatly magnified. And some of the most authentic poems are being published on Facebook, where there are no traditional gatekeepers to determine what is published and what is written. Poets are publishing work every day - sometimes several times daily - on their own terms. Poems also follow the news cycle and, like news on digital platforms, they travel almost instantly in real-time. Individuals can be rewarded with a global following to an online community that sees the world portrayed in poems as real and as speaking to lived experience.
My paper will address the implications of poetry on social media through an analysis of underlying cognitive and philosophical issues emerging from literature online, and these speak to the way we know Nigeria and the world.
Some of the questions I want to answer include; how is poetry as a genre impacted upon by social media and how does poetry on social media platforms impacts the day to day offline politics? Most importantly, how does poetry on Facebook depict the way in which a new generation sees Nigeria, Africa and the world?
Dami Ajayi will present a paper on “The Necessities and Exigencies of Digital Publishing.” Dr. Ajayiis a writer, critic, and medical doctor based in Lagos. His volume of poems, Clinical Blues, was shortlisted for the Melita Hume Prize and the 2015 ANA Poetry Prize. His fiction has appeared online as well as in print in several anthologies including Jalada, Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Gambit: Newer African Writing and Songhai 12: New Nigerian Voices. His music reviews, book reviews and other writings have appeared in The Guardian (UK), Chimurenga Chronic, Wawa Review of Books, OlisaTV, Bakwa Magazine and elsewhere. He edits fiction for Saraba, a literary magazine he co-founded as an undergraduate. You can learn more about Dami at www.damiajayi.com.
Abstract: Drawing from my experience in publishing Saraba, my presentation will explore the exigencies that necessitated digital publishing which is not far removed from the problems of the publishing industry as a whole. I will dwell on the challenges and successes of digital publishing in Nigeria and to discuss how digital publishing has affected the productivity and reception of both homegrown writers and those in the Diaspora.
Meg Arenberg is an African Humanities Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University. In her presentation “Swahili Poetry’s Digital Geographies,” she explores how young East African poets writing in Swahili are using social media forums such as Facebook and WhatsApp to rewrite the boundaries of traditional poetic instruction, composition and performance. Arenberg holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. Her current book project focuses on twentieth-century Swahili-language literature in its continental context, examining the interrelation of language, ideology, literary form and African identities. As a literary translator from Swahili, she is also completing an English translation of Zanzibari poet Mohammed Ghassani’s award-winning collection, N’na Kwetu. Her publications are listed at princeton.academia.edu/MegArenberg
Abstract: My paper will explore how young East African poets writing in Swahili are using social media forums such as Facebook and WhatsApp to rewrite the boundaries of traditional poetic instruction, composition and performance, and reimagine the spaces of the darasa (classroom), mkeka (woven mat), and jukwaa (stage).
Charles (Sandy) Baldwin
Charles (Sandy) Baldwin will offer a paper on “Global Asymmetries in the Field of Electronic Literature.” Baldwin is Associate Professor of English and Director of the program in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He teaches courses in electronic literature, digital humanities, and new media studies. He previously directed the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University. His most recent book, The Internet Unconscious, won the 2015 N. Katherine Hayles award for the top scholarly work on electronic literature. He is editor of the book series Computing Literature (WVU Press) and Electronic Literature (Bloomsbury), and of the peer-reviewed journal Electronic Book Review. His digital artwork has been shown all over the world.
Abstract: I'll look at electronic literature as a field of production. I'll consider the Electronic Literature Organization and its recent Collection Volume 3. I'll also discuss collaborations in Ghana and Benin, with efforts to re-cast the perspectives of this field; finally, I'll consider initial quantitative data on aesthetics and understanding of electronic literature in the region.
Kwame Dawes is Editor of Prairie Schooner magazine and Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. The co-founder and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica, he also teaches in the Pacific MFA Writing Program and is on the faculty of Cave Canem. Dawes has authored over forty books, including a critical analysis of Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius (2007), two novels, twenty poetry collections and a prose memoir, A Far Cry from Plymouth Rock. His most recent collection, City of Bones: A Testament, was published by Northwestern University Press this year. He is also director and series editor of the African Poetry Book Fund Series, which has published the work of over fifty African poets. His latest project, the Africa Poetry Portal, will establish an unprecedented digital humanities presence for African poetry. Learn more about Dawes’ work here.
Abstract: Dawes will discuss the African Poetry Portal, a project designed to create a dynamic and active digital presence for African poetry that includes digital scholarship, the establishing of a comprehensive index for African poetry and a digital archiving projects that will partner with various organizations around the world to ensure that there is accounting of the presence of African poetry from this contemporary period to antiquity. The talk will explore the challenges of establishing such an entity and the progress that has been made to this point.
Moses Kilolo will draw on his experience as managing editor of Jalada to present a paper on “Practical Vision in the Promotion of African Language Literatures through Digital Platforms.” Jalada, a Pan-African writers’ collective has become an important literary space for African writers and artists from the continent and beyond. Kilolo conceptualized and provided the editorial coordination for the Jalada Translations issue, which features Ngugi’s “Upright Revolution,” the single most translated short story in the history of African writing. He headed the team that mounted Africa’s first Mobile Literary and Arts Festival, which made stops in 12 towns across 5 countries in 28 days. Kilolo has written for the English PEN, Saraba Magazine, and other publications. You can engage with him via Twitter @MosesKilolo and on Facebook, and follow Jalada Africa via @jaladaafrica
Abstract: Ngugi wa Thiongo has used the term “practical vision” to describe the fresh opportunities for disseminating African literature that the digital age now makes possible. Drawing on my experiences conceptualizing the Jalada Translation issue, which has thus far translated one of Ngugi’s stories in 65 African languages, and co-curating the Africa Mobile Literary and Arts Festival, which introduced online literary publications to a variety of urban and peri-urban locations across greater East Africa, my presentation examines the crucial role played by the digital revolution across the continent in changing the relationship between writers, publishers, and readers. Because of our access and connectivity, we are now able to move beyond mere conversations and to execute practical ideas.
Wambui Mwangi will be presenting a paper about the modes of circulation, performance and embodiment of the ICC witness project, a digital performance piece about the Kenyan elections. Mwangiholds post-graduate degrees from McGill University and UPenn. She has taught at Vassar College, NYU, and the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on post-colonial theory and Kenyan political history and she is a member of Concerned Kenyan Writers as well as Director of GenerationKenya. Her scholarly work, fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and photography have been published in various journals worldwide.
Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang will offer a paper entitled “The Wall is a Walk Over: Ghanaian Electronic Literature and Imagining the Social Under Constraint.” Opoku-Agyemang holds a Ph.D. in English from West Virginia University and will be starting in Fall 2017 as a lecturer in English at the University of Ghana, Legon. His research interests include online writing, video gaming, and new forms of African literature. His publications are listed here: wvu.academia.edu/KwabenaOpokuAgyemang
Abstract: Conceptual poetry and flash fiction are two genres of electronic literature that operate under constraint: conceptual poetry, on the one hand, requires specific data or strategies for creation, and flash fiction, on the other hand, works within extremely limited space. These forms of constraint thus radically influence an imagination of the social, with one largely influenced by its content, and the other more dependent on form. Both genres also have examples of Ghanaian origin, and this paper examines ways in which these constraints influence an imagination of the social within the context of African literary practices.
Stephanie Santana’s paper on “The Digital Worlding of African Literatures” raises questions about the world-making capacities of digital literary forms, from “fake news,” with real-world consequences, to the remaking of the literary world in African languages. Santana is Assistant Professor of Comparative literature at UCLA. Her current book project focuses on South African, Malawian, Zimbabwean, and Zambian fiction from the 1950s to the present day. It explores how writers from these nations have developed new genres of fiction in popular media to imagine changing modes of interconnection across space. Other recent work focuses on new media literature from Africa and its diaspora. See her bio and CV here: complit.ucla.edu/person/stephanie-bosch-santana
Abstract: From e-books to Facebook, digital methods of literary creation, circulation, and consumption are playing a more and more central role in producing African literature as world literature and vice versa. But is the world in world literature the world in world wide web? In What is a World? Pheng Cheah argues that the conflation of globe and world, or the purely spatial with a category of belonging, mutes the potential of world literature to act as an ethicopolitical force. Similarly, the web’s globality obscures the many digital worlds it creates, a problem that is exacerbated by “the relative lack of attention to non-Western Internets” (Tung-Hui Hu, The Prehistory of the Cloud 7). While most accounts of world literature, including Cheah’s, focus on the novel, this paper explores and compares the world-making capacities of digital literary forms. From “fake news” with real-world consequences to the remaking of the literary world in African languages, digital forms certainly seem to have active “force,” but can they world in Cheah’s ethicopolitical sense?
Bhakti Shringapure’s paper on “Networked Feminisms: African Women Writers in the Digital Sphere” explores the tension between earlier African women writers’ agendas and the recent popular successes of African digital feminists like Adichie and Selasie. Shringarpure is Assistant Professor of English at UCONN, Storrs and editor-in-chief of Warscapes magazine. She has recently published two anthologies: Literary Sudans: An Anthology of Literature from Sudan and South Sudan (Africa World Press) and Imagine Africa, Volume 3 (Archipelago Books). Her research interests include postcolonial literature and theory, gender and sexuality studies, Cold War studies and digital humanities. Her full CV can be accessed at english.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/451/2014/03/shringarpure-cv.pdf
Abstract: Discourses on Third World Feminism are finding a renewed impetus in the works and media personas of a new generation of African women authors, many of whom have attained what can be called celebrity status in digital and social media spheres. Writers such as Chimamanda Adichie and Taiye Selasi, for example, have taken to debating women’s issues and have aligned themselves with a mainstream fashion and entertainment industry in ways that appear to fit the frame of neoliberal celebrity feminism that thrives in the existing digital environment. My paper will examine the burgeoning phenomenon of African digital feminism and ask whether its collusion with neoliberal digital discourses runs the risk of diluting the complex history of African feminist praxis credited to writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo and Buchi Emecheta. I will explore the ways in which this phenomenon has led to a re-imagining of the genealogy of African feminist literature and theory, and ask if it has reshaped what constitutes the figure of a feminist within and outside African novelistic universes.
Kristen Stern’s presentation, entitled “Digital Obsolescence? Abandoned Blogs in the Francophone African Literary Field,” discusses the evolving online presence of the writers Alain Mabanckou, Léonora Miano, and Bessora. Stern is Visiting Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Davidson College. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary francophone literature, performance studies, cultural studies, and digital humanities. In her current research project, Writing on Stage: Performative Authorship and Contemporary Francophone African Writers, she investigates how today’s African writers working in French construct their authorial personae across print and digital platforms, and in personal appearances. View Stern's publications here: https://kristenstern.net/research/.
Abstract: Digital spaces are still comparatively marginalized in the literary field when compared with institutions such as historically established publishing houses, literary prizes, and even geographical centers of the literary arts. We are in a moment of flux between these two forms of production. Today I wish to linger on these transitional, back-and-forth movements of authors between traditional and digital spaces. In this shifting moment writers often elect not to choose between the old and the new. They embrace new ways without turning their backs on the old—in their forms of producing content but also by using French, by appropriating a French-language literary heritage, and by participating in the Parisian-centered literary industry. At times, they even turn their backs on the new in favor of the historically established codes and forms.
I discuss here three francophone African writers (Alain Mabanckou, Léonora Miano, and Bessora) who at one time all had active blogs or websites related to their creative work. Of these, Bessora is the only one who still maintains her blog. Mabanckou’s online presence has shifted to other platforms like Instagram and Twitter, with more promotional (as opposed to aesthetic) motivations, while Miano has largely gone silent from the spaces she once occupied. Specifically for contemporary African writers working in French, what conclusions can be drawn about their evolving uses of digital spaces and social networks as they and their work move from margin towards center in the literary field in French?
James Yeku will offer a paper on the South African blogger, Mike Maphoto, entitled “The Text of African literature in a Digital Age.” Yeku is a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan. His primary research and teaching areas include African literature, postcolonial theory, cultural studies, and new media. He is currently completing a dissertation on performative agency in Nigerian social media culture, which, within the contexts of the #BringBackOurGirls movement in Nigeria, examines the intersections of subaltern resistance and cultural productions on social media. You can view Yeku’s CV here.
Abstract: Using Mike Maphoto’s blog and other relevant examples, I am interested in the question, what constitutes textuality in an age in which a digital agency and transmission? My response to this query is grounded in a conceptualization of textuality that appreciates the contesting notions of contexts and publics. I hope to show through analytical frameworks from textual studies and bibliographic criticism that the digital turn in African literature has important ramifications for the materiality and medium of ‘literary’ imagination in contemporary Africa.
Aniehi Edoro’s paper on “The Conquest of Likes: The Literary Work in the Age of Social Media” will be delivered remotely. Edoro holds a Ph.D. in English from Duke University and is Assistant Professor in the English department at Marquette University. She is best known as the curator of the influential African literary blog, Brittle Paper, which can be found by following this link: brittlepaper.com
Abstract: Alan Liu writes that social media is the “reorganization of one-to-many and many-to-one communications under a new hegemony of many-to-many collaboration.” Thus, one of the most foundational principles of social media is the leveling of those hierarchies that for so long have grounded the rules according to which the value of artistic work is made legible and the condition under which the production of art has been made possible. It used to be that we had producers — writers, artists, photographers, etc. — and authorized engines of distribution and then consumers. Today everyone is a producer of content. This has led to what Teju Cole, in his recent book, called a “surfeit” of media content: over a trillion photographs are taken each year, 200 billion tweets are tweeted every year; YouTube users upload 400 hours of video every minute; more than 400 million Snaps are sent every day; more than 30 billion photos have been shared on Instagram. How do you give value to content in the midst of this mind-bending surfeit? What is the principle for circulation? Where do the literary work and literary discourse fit into all of this?