Akin Adesokan will present the second Digital Africas keynote address on “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.
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 shortreads, 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.
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.