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African-language literatures and the ‘transnational turn’ in Euro-American humanities

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This article relates the recent ‘transnational turn’ in Euro-American humanities to African literary criticism – and African-language literatures in particular. While some African intellectuals embraced the new globalist way of analysing literature, there is a strong resistance in African studies against it, as African intellectuals often work with a set of intellectual priorities and philosophical premises that are very different from those who inspired transnational criticism. The article argues, in particular, that world literature theories, just like postcolonial studies before them, perpetuate a vision of African-language literatures as locally constrained, peripheral, and pre-modern. Contrary to this vision, the article claims for African literature a right to disconnectivity on the one hand, and on the other calls for the construction of new epistemological connectivities between Afrophone and Europhone, oral and written literatures. At the same time, though, the transnational turn in the humanities offers some important insights into how to overcome the influence, in African literary criticism, of rigid forms of nativism and nationalism (including linguistic nativism and linguistic nationalism). Following these observations, the article proposes a study of African literature based on the idea of intersecting and multi-layered literary systems, some existing in relative autonomy, some interacting with each other across regions or within the same sociocultural space.
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Keywords: African intellectual history; literary theory; literatures in African languages; oral literature; transnational criticism; world literature

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Africa/Centre for Cultural Literary and Postcolonial Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK

Publication date: January 2, 2015

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