Book features

“Qui a peur du postcolonial?”

Postcolonial thought today is seemingly the preserve of British and American academic institutions and of English-speaking intellectuals. Yet much of it was initially inspired by French thinking – from Fanon, Césaire and Senghor; to Glissant and Merleau-Ponty, Sartre and Levinas, as well as Foucault, Derrida, Cixous, Kristeva and even Lacan.

Today, many works of African francophone literature have taken their place among the canonical texts of postcolonial criticism. It is therefore, as Mbembe notes, “a way of thinking that in several respects is very close to a peculiarly French approach to reasoning.” But because of its cultural insularity and the narcissism of its elites, France has cut itself off from these new ventures in world thought. As Mbembe puts it, “It’s as if the colonial event belonged to another age and another place, and as if it had absolutely nothing to teach us about how to understand our own modernity, about citizenship, about democracy, even about the development of our humanities.”

Drawing on specific examples we explore how this strange disjuncture plays itself out outside of the academy: in politics, life and in the cultural imagination. How does it manifest in artistic and aesthetic practice? What is its effect on the relationship between Anglo- and Francophone Africa? What is the implication for publishing, translations and the flow of knowledge on the continent?

 

Crime fiction

How does one write crime fiction in a space where ‘criminality’ takes the form of daily life itself?

Crime fiction is getting serious attention in the literary world, panels on South African crime fiction have become practically obligatory at international lit festivals; books pages in the media are filled with crime fiction write ups and even Cassava Republic publishers in Nigeria are launching a crime imprint, “Cassava Crime”. But how does one write crime fiction in a space where ‘criminality’ takes the form, in many instances, of daily life itself – where the very institutes designed to fight crime are corrupt; where shadow economies built on models of extraction that follow the logic of colonial mercantilism are the norm; where immigration laws make people themselves illegal; where ‘fixes’, racketeering, subterranean business relations are tangled in daily activities; and where violence is endemic and illegal practices form a vital part of the daily struggle for basic survival.

This multi-authored, multiple-narrative feature writes from key urban centres such as Lagos, Johannesburg and Nairobi, exploring how crime and cities define each other in an open-ended process, to ask how does one write crime and what constitutes crime fiction “in this place”?

 

Third Text: art and the canon

 Can art work from inside, so to speak, and challenge the institute without itself becoming institutionalised?

Since its inception in 1987, Third Text set out to challenge the West’s position as the ultimate arbiter within arts and culture. Under the editorship and vision of London-based artist and cultural theorist Rasheed Araeen, it sought to challenge the boundaries of the visual arts and the confines of the Western academy. Over the past two and a half decades it has featured leading critics alongside new voices, publishing advanced scholarship interspersed with radical interdisciplinary work that goes beyond the confines of the academy and eurocentricity. Published in London, but designed to raise the critical temperature and the political stakes for art and cultural practice in the age of globalization, its regional focuses has given voice to many writers and artists outside the Western academic canon. In this respect the journal has played a vital role not only in liberating already colonized discourses but also in prompting the coloniser to “decolonise his/her mind”, as the editors put it.

Twenty five years after its inception, Third Text is in crisis following the ousting of Araeen by the very Trustees put in place to safe-guard the intentions of the journal Araeen himself established. Drawing on the heated, often impassioned correspondences and debates that followed the coup (by Third Text’s trustees, advisory council, editorial board, and its contributors, friends and supporters, as well as by Araeen himself), we explore the complex, fraught relationship between art and the academy. Necessarily subjective, but not myopic, the piece engages multiple voices to probe the terrible irony that Araeen was taken down by the structures and processes that his journal sought to subvert. Using this as a basis it asks difficult questions regard art and the institute and possibilities and constraints of them co-existing. Can art work from inside, so to speak, and challenge the institute without itself becoming institutionalised?

References: Third Text correspondence emails and response

Political publishing

Political publishing has a long history in South Africa. Underground presses, the publishing arms of black political parties and ventures that view publishing as primarily a political medium or activity served a vital roll, not only in spreading the message that mobilized the anti-apartheid struggle, but also in promoting reading and writing as essential tools for liberating minds. These days their roll is often over-looked and under-played. Yet for many the political press still provides the only real point of regular access to reading material. With a nod to historic initiatives like Frank Talk, but more focused on today’s literary landscape, we explore the vital roll that political publishers continue to play. From initiatives that have been going for decades such as the PAC stalwart, Motsoko Pheko’s Pheko & Associates and Tokoloho Publishers, Khanya College Publishing and the various labour presses, to new upstarts like Sankara Publishers. What inventive alternative approaches do they employ to create material the actually reaches people? What are there means and methods? How are they funded? What are their print runs? How do they distribute material – political rallies, party meetings etc.

From the archives

A regular section that revisits and republishes archive material – from important collections, to lost letters, unpublished material etc.

  • The Baldwin letters – Ed Pavlic
  • Tuola’s papers, letters, and holographic manuscripts collected at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin
  • Phillip Zhuwao, unpublished material and unpublished novel – Robert Berold
  • The Best of Quest – Achal Prabhala

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