Ato Quayson will present the first Digital Africas keynote address, “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 and visiting professor in the Department of English at New York University. 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.
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 judgement 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 judgement, 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 storytelling throughout human history, to newspapers and the novel in the 19th and much of the 20th century (recall Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities), through the soap operas and telenovelas 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 judgement? The lecture will be devised as a series of provocations around these and related questions.
The symposium addresses how 21st-century sub-Saharan African writers use and respond to digital technologies when they publish traditional print texts, experiment with online platforms or interact with local and international audiences through social media. Apart from showcasing the formal innovations such new modes of delivery facilitate, we will consider the often unanticipated connections they facilitate among writers, texts and reading publics. Ultimately, the questions we hope to explore about the relationship between forms of representation and modes of production will help re-situate the work of today’s African writers and artists within the digital contexts that have enabled and circumscribed their success.