206 Chapters
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4 · Tropical Gothic

Allen F. Roberts Indiana University Press ePub

The only thing going on was a war, and no one seemed to notice but Yossarian. . . . And when Yossarian tried to remind people, they drew away from him and thought he was crazy.


Early in Storms’s days at Lubanda, IAA Secretary General Strauch made it clear that he was discontent with the amount of information the lieutenant was forwarding to him and asked for more. Storms responded that he spent his days otherwise, with the implication that he had little time for such idle niceties as correspondence. From five thirty in the morning until two in the afternoon, he oversaw the construction of his boma every day, and at four he set off hunting in the hilly woods west of Lubanda. “For me, continuous work is the best remedy to ward off fever,” he explained—a nonchalant remark, perhaps, but telling nonetheless.1

A shocking number of Storms’s European peers visiting central Africa suffered mightily and many perished, and often gruesomely, from malaria, smallpox, cholera, dysentery, parasites, and other dire diseases, to say nothing of sunstroke, infected wounds, broken and unset limbs, and mental instability. Explorers felt assailed, as Stanley put it, by “Fatal Africa! One after another, travelers drop away . . . the torrid heat, the miasma exhaled from the soil, the noisome vapours enveloping every path, the giant cane-grass suffocating the wayfarer, the rabid fury of the native . . . the unspeakable misery of the life within the wild continent.” Who could hope to cope with such unspeakable rigors?2 Underlying all of these dreadful possibilities was a further sense of “fever (often capitalized in the sources), [that,] far from being regarded as just a medical condition and a reaction of the immune system to multiple causes, became essentialized as the ecstatic counterstate to ascetic hygiene.” Indeed, as Johannes Fabian asserts, “Fever was an ideology” implying “the ‘sacrifice’ every traveler must bring to the black continent” and “a myth needed to make sense of the mortal dangers of exploration, a metaphor giving meaning to what would otherwise have remained as brutal facts.” Fever was also something of “a bad love affair” that required its own “poetics,” and such passions contributed to the sense of central Africa as personifying—more literally than one may now assume—everything fearfully primordial. Such menaces might be met with “ascetic hygiene,” as Fabian suggests, but I would add that more basically at issue was an aesthetic hygiene, to be performed in any such ecstasis.3

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13. After the Wedding

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

WHEN SHE TALKED about adornment, Mukta Tripathi made clear that a woman’s choices are influenced by her personal taste—and by the factors of age and social development. Mukta easily describes the clothes she wore during different phases of her life. As a little girl, until the sixth grade, she wore frocks, skirts and blouses, shorts or pants. From the seventh to the twelve grades, she wore salwar suits and jeans, but never skirts or dresses, since it was improper for a young lady to show her legs. As a young bride, she dressed in bright saris and wore makeup and jewelry in abundance. Now Mukta has switched to saris in “sober colors,” because, as she explained to me, in India a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law “should not match.” Although Mukta is not yet a mother-in-law, she feels she has reached the age when it is inappropriate for her to show herself as a flashy, young wife.

Mukta, in her forties, prefers saris in tones of beige, cream, and other “light colors,” but they shift with the current fashion. In 2003, the trend was to wear saris with a thin strip of monochrome embroidery along the border that matched the field of the sari exactly in color, and to wear it with a blouse in the same color, with the same monochrome embroidery on the edges of the sleeves. Mukta continues to wear “natural, decent makeup.” The subtle shift in clothing, marked mostly by its palette, reflects her view of herself as a mother of grown-up boys—the oldest one is in high school—who is still attuned to style. She told me that wearing a lot of makeup ruins the skin, making women look old, which is another reason to decrease the amount of makeup as one ages. Mukta is fully aware of the social and developmental categories women pass through, categories that are publicly communicated by clothing and jewelry. Her decision to abandon certain styles or colors is partially influenced by other people’s opinions, for middle-aged and older women are often criticized for being too ornamented.1 Mukta told me that she would like to wear salwar suits occasionally, but her kids made fun of her when she did in the past, calling her “Mukta didi”—big sister Mukta—implying that when she wears a salwar suit she does not look like a mother, but rather, like somebody’s sister (children often hold a rigid and conservative vision of what their parents should look like). On a few recent occasions, Mukta’s two sons pointed to older women on the streets whom they deemed to be dressed inappropriately in a style too youthful, and begged Mukta not to dress that way when she becomes “aged.”

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9 Thresholds of New African Dramaturgies in France Today

Edited by Frieda Ekotto and Kenneth W H Indiana University Press ePub

Mária Minich Brewer

Not all voices can be heard at the same time in the same story/history.

Kossi Efoui, Solo d’un revenant

THIS COLLECTION OF essays, Rethinking African Cultural Productions, offers an occasion to question theater’s physical and symbolic borders, frontiers, separations, and border crossings. Working as it does across multiple thresholds and dimensions simultaneously, whether of time, space, language, or the body, the art of the theater engages its public in critical considerations of and across borders. A new generation of African diasporic playwrights of the 1990s have thoroughly reinvented the social and symbolic possibilities for new theatrical languages. In this essay, I propose to map out some of the theatrical thresholds implicit in such a project of reinventing a new theatricality. This critical work on thresholds, I argue, needs to focus explicitly on the symbolic, social, and material dimensions of writing for performance.

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10. Framing Practices: Artists’ Voices and the Power of Self-Representation

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub


“Who is Olu Oguibe?” An artist! is the answer, not an Igbo or Uliist or whatever else. No one asks “who is Jeff Koons?” and David Hockney is not studied as a Cockney artist.


In The Predicament of Culture, James Clifford raised the problem of cross-cultural translations, challenging the notion of ethnographic authority and asking the fundamental question: “Who has the authority to speak for a group's identity or authenticity?”1 This question has great relevance to discussions of museum exhibitions as narratives about cultural production from Africa and to considerations by African artists on and off the continent. Since the mid-1980s there has been a shift in the strategies museums adopt to enhance participation and to ensure that museums remain responsive and relevant to the communities they serve. Of particular interest is the extent to which those who are the focus of an exhibition play a role in their own representation. Increasingly, museum professionals recognize the benefits of exhibition models that rethink the singular, authoritative voice of the museum and embrace the telling of complex, multivocal narratives resonant with the realities of lived experience.

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3 · Histories Made by Bodies

Allen F. Roberts Indiana University Press ePub

We must be prepared to experience the figure, severed and whole, in its severing and its dance: to inhabit it, rigid and fleeting, violent and happy, blood and spirit, horror and promise.


Because of the strength of Lusinga’s forces, Storms felt obliged to wait until his troops could be bolstered by those of Paul Reichard before attacking the chief’s mountain fastness in early December 1884. He then added men from local chiefs who were loyal to him so that he could deploy over a hundred warriors for the expedition. Kizumina offered a different description of Bwana Boma’s force, saying that only eight “soldiers” (askari in Swahili, presumably wangwana and rugaruga) bearing carbines were joined by twenty men mustered by Sultani Mpala, including Kizumina’s own older brother. Kizumina emphasized wiles rather than numbers, and, as we shall see, arcana and spiritual agency seem to have been very much on the old man’s mind when he stressed the men’s singing, and—especially—the dance that accompanied the foray, as important technologies of warfare.

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4 Metonymic Hats and Metaphoric Tumbleweeds: Noir Literary Aesthetics in Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Christopher Raczkowski

In his important study of film noir More Than Night, James Naremore argues for a rethinking of noir in terms of discourse, as “an evolving system of arguments and readings that helps to shape commercial and aesthetic ideologies” and, as Naremore goes on to elaborate, political ideologies (11). In other words, noir is less a set of formalized cinematic gestures—visual styles and narrative procedures—than a cultural strategy that resonates across multiple artistic, commercial, and intellectual forms. Thinking noir as Naremore does, as discourse rather than genre, provides an answer for a question that has vexed me for some time about Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski: can this movie be meaningfully grouped with Miller’s Crossing (1990) as a noir text? Certainly, both draw inspiration from the well of classic Hollywood noir films; indeed, the movies are frequently referred to as the first two installments of the Coens’ “noir trilogy.” And, yet, they are jarringly antithetical in look and feel. It is this gap between the noir aesthetics of Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski that interests me the most and animates the analysis that follows. The virtue of Naremore’s definition is that it treats relations between noirish texts as dynamic rather than categorical and restrictive; only such a protean and yet tactical conception of noir will do for making sense of the complex relation of Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski. While commentators tend to ignore the aesthetic divide between these movies or reject the proposition that The Big Lebowski can be sensibly grouped with other noir films at all, I argue that the tension is fertile and productive of a noir dialectic evolved by the Coens in the two movies.

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1 Beyond the Ghetto Walls: Shtetl to Nation in Photography by Alter Kacyzne and Moshe Vorobeichic

Carol Zemel Indiana University Press ePub

I begin with the Jewish culture of Ashkenaz, the vast region that stretched from modern Lithuania through Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, where Jews lived in great number from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. In 1797, with much of the region under Russian control, the Russian Empire declared the area a “Pale of Settlement” (map 1.1), intended to confine the Jewish population, as well as to serve as a buffer zone between the Russians and Poles. For Jewish inhabitants, however, the Pale became a supranational territory, which was a space of diasporic culture and consciousness that transcended shifting frontiers, and whose landmarks were synagogues, study centers, and rabbinical courts. Within the Pale, Ashkenazi Jews developed an extensive shtetl (small town) culture, by which is generally meant a Yiddish-speaking, provincial society, orthodox in its religious practice and traditional Jewish way of life.1 By the 1920s, however, this shtetl culture had been transformed by half a century of modernization, secularization, and emigration to cities in Europe and America. For many Jews, this was an ambivalent undertaking: an escape from ethnic and economic oppression, but also an escape from “self” or home, and a flight from the shtetl’s fixed traditions and orthodoxy.

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1 The Critical Present: Where Is “African Literature”?

Edited by Frieda Ekotto and Kenneth W H Indiana University Press ePub

Eileen Julien


For borrow we certainly must if we are to elude the constraints of our immediate intellectual environment.

Edward Said, “Traveling Theory”

WE ARE ALL agreed that conditions for the production of literature, cinema, and visual arts by Africans continue to evolve rapidly in the era of intense globalization1 and are today quite different from those of yesterday, the period of decolonizing nationalism. One symptom of the “unevenness” of the current context is that vast numbers of African artist-intellectuals live in metropolises outside of Africa where they typically have greater access to readers and spectators worldwide and to prestigious invitations, awards, and grants.

What happens, then, to “African” literature, film, and arts when African artist-intellectuals reside and produce their work abroad?

Is there a vast difference between the texture of texts produced by those living and working in Africa and that of texts produced by those living and working abroad? Does old-style realism remain the dominant literary mode on the continent? Are explicit depictions of sexual acts or queer sexualities, postmodernist and avant-gardist experiments, which are rife elsewhere, eschewed in Africa? These are the questions highlighted in Ken Harrow and Frieda Ekotto’s call for papers that framed a lively discussion at the 2010 Michigan State University–University of Michigan workshop on critical theory and the production of African literature and cinema. There are important assumptions behind these questions: first, an artist’s location would seem to be a critical determinant of his or her creative work, and second, scholars and readers in search of effective critical approaches should take their cues from thematic and formal shifts in literary and film texts that are a result of artists’ new locations.

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4 Difference in Diaspora: The Yiddishe Mama, the Jewish Mother, the Jewish Princess, and Their Men

Carol Zemel Indiana University Press ePub

The Yiddishe Mama and her younger sister the Jewish Mother are beloved and derided stereotypes in America, and the shift in character from one configuration to the other, from Mama to Mother, tells a diaspora history.1 With this chapter, attention turns from Jewish visual culture in Eastern Europe, home to the world’s largest Jewish population before 1939, to North America, where the greatest number of world Jewry currently resides. Jewish immigrants to the United States arrived in waves, mainly between the late 1880s and 1924, when strict entry quotas were imposed. The immigrants’ goal was to “be American,” to leave behind the Old World and its traditions, and to find a place in a nation that promised well-being and social possibility.

In the early twentieth century, another Jewish diaspora framed its identity. Aided by the Yiddish American press and the cultural forms of popular music, photography, radio, and film, America’s Jews produced their own stereotypes, which embodied their progress and achievement in the new world. This chapter thus has a double focus. I begin with visual formulations of Jewish men and women in the first half of the twentieth century, not simply to campaign against stereotype, but rather to track the vicissitudes of self-made Jewish identity. From this perspective, the Yiddishe Mama and members of her family not only reveal the terms of assimilationist desire, they also demonstrate how the deployment of self-stereotype in popular culture effectively maps and manages the terms of diaspora success.2 The discussion then moves to contemporary imagery, noting the place of modern Jewish art in American high culture, and the varied deployment of Jewish gender stereotypes as cultural critique.

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Medium 9780253007414

5. Stitched-up Women, Pinned-down Men: Gender Politics in Weya and Mapula Needlework, Zimbabwe and South Africa

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Brenda Schmahmann

Husbands would help us if they feel pity, but sometimes they don’t [feel pity]. And what makes you see they don’t is that you are pregnant and have a child on your back and are going out fetching firewood and the man does not help.

I became pregnant again [for the third time] in 1988. My husband was working at that time but then he got arrested and was jailed for two years for some reason. That is when our suffering increased enormously. After his return from custody, I got pregnant with our fourth child, who was born in June 1990. In 1992 my husband was jailed again for some reason. Then I got a job but my salary was not enough for me to pay school fees.

The first of these passages quotes Charity Mugala, who was living in Weya—a communal area (formerly known as a Tribal Trust Land) about 170 kilometers east of Harare in Zimbabwe—in the mid 1990s (Mugala, interview by Brenda Schmahmann, October 27, 2006, Weya). The second—dating to 2001—is by Julia Makwana, a resident of the Winterveld, a peri-urban area about 40 kilometers northwest of Pretoria in South Africa.1 Although the context and cultural frameworks of these commentators may be different, both women construct scenarios in which support is not forthcoming from a husband, whether through reluctance or absence, and a female is thus forced to undertake all domestic labour or single-handedly generate earnings necessary to sustain herself and her children.

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7. Interweaving Narratives of Art and Activism: Sandra Kriel's Heroic Women

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub



This chapter considers the relationship between the process of political radicalization and the production of visual culture in the work of Sandra Kriel, a South African artist who depicts politically active women in her work. A participant in South Africa's resistance art movement, Kriel came of age as an artist and activist during the fight against apartheid, and she is now well known as a politically engaged artist.1 Less is known, however, about the ways in which her commitment to social change and her collaborations and conversations with anti-apartheid activists directly shaped her creative work, in particular her efforts to make visible the integral role that women played in South Africa's struggle for freedom. Not only do the practices of collaboration and conversation bear directly on Kriel's formation as an artist, and especially her political activism as a form of knowledge production, but these are also the tools with which I learned about Kriel's work. The significance of these processes became clear to me during my extensive interviews and conversations with Kriel (2007–2010), which took place in the larger context of my research on South African women artists and activists. The text that follows traces her participation in women's and arts organizations by building an artistic biography from our interviews, and analyzes how her activism in turn led her to pursue an artistic vision that helped create and sustain political identities and recognition for women. Toward this end, I first consider Kriel's political radicalization as it developed largely through conversations and interactions with other activists.

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4 In Praise of the Alphabet

Edited by Frieda Ekotto and Kenneth W H Indiana University Press ePub

Patrice Nganang

There has never been a better time for criticism than today. And critics of African literature in particular should be in a state of rapture. The reason for such a thrill is simple: the talk of “post” (as in, say, the postcolonial) marks the end of criticism of African literature as we know it—not the beginning but the end, since it would be ludicrous to expect the post-postcolonial, and then the post-post-postcolonial, to arrive one day. And yet the task of criticism is still so young! The void that criticism faces today is what puts me into a state of perpetual intellectual trance, since after all, nothingness is the land of all possibilities. Ex nihilo omne ens qua ens fit.1 Critics should therefore hasten the dying of the dead and bury the rotten corpse without any sense of remorse. Facing the void left by the buried dead, we contemporary critics should be rubbing our hands happily. Most notably, we should avoid rushing to new materials—popular cultures, digital cultures, sexual orientation studies, masculinity studies, transnationalism, ecocriticism, animal studies, trash studies, star studies, and whatnot—with old questions. More than a call to look for new objects of study, the crisis2 that criticism faces today should prompt a call to return to the basics. Thus, if there is a phrase I would like to transform into a call today, it would be “Back to the basics!”

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Medium 9781603444668

6. Into the Gulf (almost): Gulf Prairies and Matagorda Bay

Margie Crisp Texas A&M University Press ePub


Tiny whitecaps run upstream against the current, slap the kayak hull, and explode into my face. If I stop paddling for a second, sweeper trees reach out and tangle branches in my hair. After disengaging myself from an amorous willow tree, I have had enough. In a snit, I yell at the wind, “I give up!” and hold my paddle high overhead. The wind grabs the kayak and spins me dizzily up stream where I’m deposited on a gravel bar under a high sand bank. The cold blast and the relentless whistling is blocked; I hear the rumble of traffic on nearby roads, the squeals and keening of killdeer, lesser yellowlegs, and spotted sandpipers as they dodge and bow along the banks. A peevish cry catches my attention. Above me, an adult bald eagle hunches miserably in the crown of a dead cottonwood, feathers ruffled for warmth and looking less than dignified. The giant bird seems just as irritated as I am with the sudden drop in temperature and the onslaught of stiff wind. Buoyed by the eagle’s grumpy camaraderie, I head back into the wind and fight my way downstream.

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Medium 9780253009036

1 Foucault’s 1968

Daniel J Sherman Indiana University Press ePub


Michel Foucault’s career as a public intellectual, his stances in words and deeds, in theory and practice, were deeply informed by the events of May 1968 and the political struggles that followed upon it. It is difficult to single out any cultural theorist or political philosopher of importance for whom May 1968 had such a decidedly dramatic impact or who was more engaged with its meaning and import. Yet, there has been scant scholarly attention to this relationship, perhaps because it is thought to be of little interest beyond the biographical or because it is surmised that he was not particularly sympathetic to the uprisings of May 1968, given his often-expressed skepticism concerning the emancipatory promise of mass revolutionary movements.1 Absent from Paris in May 1968, he had no memories to share of the barricades nor any badge to wear.

Against these doubts, I argue that Foucault’s relation to May 1968 was extensive and intimate as well as crucial for understanding his theory and practice in the 1970s. Most obviously, in the wake of 1968, Foucault became a militant political activist, whereas earlier his posture toward politics was one of ironic detachment. Less appreciated is the shock and disruption that the events of 1968 administered to his theoretical work and methodologies. It is well known that, roughly between 1969 and 1975, Foucault’s thinking underwent a major transformation, usually described as the transition from “archaeology” to “genealogy,” that eventuated in the publication of Discipline and Punish in 1975. According to most commentators, this resulted from Foucault’s discovery of basic flaws in his archaeological method.2 A closer analysis, however, reveals that his intense engagement in political militancy within a post-1968 horizon was the chief catalyst for temporally halting and then redirecting his theoretical work.

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Medium 9781574412895


Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 5


FUTURE: 1974–1983

u  u  u

Houston, Texas

How does one introduce the positive African

American image? One has to like oneself— one can reject the old images, but without a new image, one is lost, in chaos.

— John Biggers, telephone interview with author, Houston, July 29, 1993.

During a nearly decade-long hiatus from mural painting, John Biggers continued to draw, paint, teach, and build the art department at Texas

Southern University. Most significantly, he continued his artistic struggle to integrate African,

European, and Regionalist influences into his own visual language.

Throughout his career, one of Biggers’s goals had been to create heroic visual images—archetypes—that would provide a sense of identification for people of African descent. (fig.

5.1) Biggers noted that his mentor at Hampton

Institute, Viktor Lowenfeld, had studied with psychologist Carl Jung, and had infused his teaching with Jungian archetypal concepts. (In a primer of

Jungian Psychology, an archetype is defined as “an original model after which other things are patterned, such as birth ... hero … earth mother … trees, the sun, the moon … Archetypes are universal.” 1)

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