University of Wisconsin–Madison

Abstracts

Conference Participants & Paper Abstracts

Moradewun Adejunmobi, Professor, African American and African Studies, University of California, Davis “Pleasures of the Nollywood Familiar”
This paper explores the pleasures associated with one of many possible modes of media engagement for Nollywood films, described here as familiarity. In this presentation, familiarity is defined as the effect generated and perceived when creative works are arranged on a single media platform in a way that highlights their repetitive and or affiliative dimensions. The prevalence of serials, spinoffs and other generic types in Nollywood filmmaking indicates the extent to which familiarity has proved a reliable strategy for filmmakers and popular with fans. The paper will make two principal arguments. In the first place, it is argued that familiarity as a mode of media engagement for certain types of Nollywood films produces specific pleasures connected to the repetitive dimensions of the films. Secondly, these highly repetitive works sustain a kind of leisure activity, identified here as a leisure of concomitance.

Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́, Professor, Department of English, Department of African American & African Studies, Ohio State University, Columbus
“Conviviality and the Work of Mourning”
To the question “Are we supposed to overlook and neglect uninterpreted the accumulating bodies of dead fathers that line the road towards self-cultivation in the best known anglophone African novels and plays?” this paper answers “No.” It argues that besides serving well for narrative closure father’s deaths are shapers of events. The bereaved main characters in the stories seem not know how to mourn, usually standing part from the convivial assembly gathered to celebrate and lament significant passages of people and institutions in the community. The paper claims that mourning practices constitute a key to understanding pleasure in the world of these texts.

Karin Barber, Professor of African Cultural Anthropology, University of Birmingham, UK
“Popular Poesis: Language and the Pleasures of Everyday Creation”
Pleasure in language – that most amazing of human inventions – arises from the creativity of everyday life, of the street, the motor-park, the bar and the backyard.  The historical and ethnographic record of Africa is littered with examples of linguistic play so striking that even outsiders could not fail to notice them. One of the sources of linguistic pleasure lies in the act of recognition. An unusual epithet or witty turn of phrase has not really worked unless a listener seizes uptake of it and responds in kind. From such small exchanges elaborate games can be grown: hidden meanings, imaginative etymologies, narrative exegeses, all of which dramatise the mutuality of the creative effort. Linguistic play is never closed: one formulation leads to another, tracking rhizomatically across genres and media, attaching to objects, and constantly drawing attention to reserves of shared local knowledge. I reflect on my own experience of four scenes of Yoruba linguistic creativity: the oral culture of a small town, a travelling popular theatre, a university campus, and the crumbling pages of five Yoruba newspapers in the Nigerian National Archive.  I wonder what mode, what genre of writing, can do justice to the joy of everyday linguistic creativity.

Matthew H. Brown, UW-Madison
“Likeability, Genre, and the Ideological Pleasures of Nollywood”
Drawing on recent developments in genre theory made possible by “big data” analysis, this presentation examines the degree to which Nollywood’s genre categories might be understood as a feature of two intertwined processes: 1) the way in which spectators respond to films according to the pleasures those films provide—in short, how “likeable” the films are—and 2) the way in which pleasure is situated in and defined by subjectivity—in short, how “likeability” corresponds to the ideological orientations of spectators. A number of genre theory models have suggested that the process of genre may not lie with texts or critics, as often argued, but in usage patterns, which are extremely difficult to track—that is, until recently. At the intersection of computer science and psychology, researchers have found correlations between the pleasure that people attribute to their experience of a film and the genre of the film itself, as understood by critics. When applied over hundreds of thousands of examples, this model suggests that people in fact give genre to texts. This presentation will pursue the question of whether Nollywood’s genre categories signal the transmission of ideology to texts by spectators and, therefore, the wider implications of genre analysis for the study of commercial media in Africa.

Emily Callaci, Assistant Professor of History, UW-Madison
“Lovers and Fighters: Friendship in the Making of Urban Space in Dar es Salaam”

This paper argues that friendship played an important, but understudied, role in the construction of postcolonial African cities. While kinship, economic networks, patron-client relationships and, more recently, love have garnered scholarship attention, the rewards and frustrations of friendship in African history have remained relatively unexplored. Drawing on extensive oral history interviews and research on the popular expressive of cultures of Dar es Salaam in the 1960s and 1970s, this essay argues that the bonds of friendship were critical to creating forms of urban belonging and security in postcolonial Dar es Salaam, and that networks of friends were in many ways the building blocks of what Abdoumaliq Simone calls “people-as-infrastructure.” Moreover, these relationships cannot be reduced to instrumentalist or economic incentives, but were also inextricably linked with the innovation of new models of affective well-being and new models for urban social life. Finally, this paper demonstrates how friendship in postcolonial Dar es Salaam was shaped by the historical context of rapid, informal
urban growth.

Mireille Calle-Gruber
, Professor of French Literature and Esthetics, La Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris
“Desire of Poetry, Desire of Love: Nulle part dans la maison de mon père (2007)”
Il s’agira de considérer dans ce roman autobiographique de facture particulièrement poétique et rythmique la scène où la narratrice s’aperçoit qu’elle est amoureuse des poèmes suspendus et de la langue poétique arabe plus que de l’homme qui les récite et les lui fait découvrir. C’est de ce transfert poétique amoureux que l’analyse s’efforcera de suivre dans les arabesques d’une écriture de la douleur et du plaisir.

Christy Clark-Pujara, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of African American Studies, UW-Madison
“Resisting Enslavement through Leisure”
In the northern British North American colonies enslaved people of African descent resisted the institution of slavery through leisure. They appropriated English rooted peasants festivals, which they made distinctly African, and used their bodies and creative energies in ways to did not enrich their enslavers. Enslaved people also bargained with their captors for non-work related time with friends and family; many slaveholders acquiesced because they understood that the enslaved were not powerless. So while the institution of slavery degraded the lives of people of African descent in the colonies, it did not destroy or dehumanize them.

Teju Cole, Writer, Photographer, and Photography Critic of the New York Times Magazine
“My Black Ears: How Listening Made Me African”
A personal account of the link between acoustic experience and identity formation. I’ll be talking about how music and language, over the past two and a half decades, and across forty countries, have helped me forge a sense of “Africa” that is both intensely personal and highly translatable.

Gaurav Desai, Professor of English, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
“Pleasure in African Literature: Close and Distant Readings”
What might the techniques of close and distant reading illuminate about the appearance and role of pleasure in African Literature?

Naminata Diabate, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Cornell University
“Lots of Sex but Little Pleasure: Neoliberalism and Sexuality in Africa”
Major Francophone African metropolises have recently experienced proliferating scenes and discourses of sex. These have emerged in most media forms, impacted multiple cultural sites, and targeted women and men of all walks of life. In Abidjan, for instance, newspapers and other news outlets report daily the proliferation of air conditioned bars, massage parlors, and even apartments that openly serve as brothels while several ethnic leaders decry the sexualization of the “traditional” Mapouka dance. Both popular and elite suburbs are differentially configured in relation to the nature of visible sex. While streets in popular suburbs, including Abobo and Marcory, witness the unregulated display of pornographic images by male vendors of CDs and DVDs and fattening pills and butt enhancing underwear for females by female vendors, middle-class and elite Ivoirians have accessed to annual salons (exhibitions) of love and sensuality held in affluent eras such as Cocody. Further, most traffic lights in Cocody sport ubiquitous commercial ads for the surgical enhancement of male genitalia while most facialists, hairdressers, and manicurists in the famous Marcory Belleville market unabashedly propose indigenous and western aphrodisiacs to women. Genres and media forms such as radio and television talk shows, Brazilian soap operas, erotica literary series targeting women, online magazines, and the conventional print media have all contributed to the ubiquity of scenes and discourses of sex. What does this ubiquity index in the globalized postcolonial city? How does the category of pleasure factor in these scenes and discourses?

This paper answers these questions through an analysis of discourses and images from Abidjan in order to depart from attempts that explain the hypervisibility by assigning priority either to socio-political factors that have to do with political instability, or to a so called African essence putatively given to sex, a residual of the colonial epistemic violence. In using these local categories for elucidation, the attempts highlight disabling narratives of pathology and violence and ignore the ways in which attention to the marketization of sensory and affective life under neoliberalism generates a different explanation, that of the practice of selling sexual pleasure. How do these air-conditioned bars flourish if they offer just sex but not sexual pleasure? I contend that the investment of these sites in offering sexual pleasure rather than just sex accounts for their apparent economic success. Through a visual and cultural examination of these scenes and discourses, I argue that neoliberalism and its extension of market principles into all spheres of life, including politics and citizenship, provide others elucidations, the ones that take into account how most “merchants,” read entrepreneurs, of sex are in fact “merchants” of pleasure. The self-management, risk-taking, corporate culture, and the entrenchment of the state in certain aspects of public life, all at the core of neoliberalism, combine to significantly impact the ubiquity of sex in the postcolonial metropolis. Ultimately, my exploration contributes to a deeper understanding of the disabling narratives of sex and sexuality on the continent by highlighting a possible enabling narrative that takes pleasure as a compelling category of analysis.

Ainehi Edoro, Assistant Professor, English, Marquette University
“The Work of Pleasure”
This paper examines a bizarre form of pleasure that links Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In a 1977 lecture given at the University of Ibadan, Achebe identifies a peculiar figure of pleasure. The Palmwine Drinkard is a man “immersed in pleasure to the exclusion of all work,” he writes, “he raises pleasure to the status of work and occupation and says in effect: ‘pleasure be thou my work.’” Achebe suggests a key difference here. There is, on the one hand, pleasure as the opposite of work and, on the other, pleasure as the collapse of the distinction between the two. Achebe is interested in the latter, which he calls a “gross perversion” and which, he argues, accounts for the Drinkard’s exposure to the violence of the forest. The same can be said of Unoka who also inhabits a grey zone of work and pleasure and who, like the Drinkard, is cast out into the forest. The objective of the paper is to place these two figures side by side and see what they tell us about this perverse form of pleasure and the captivation it holds for Achebe and Tutuola.

Nevine El Nossery, Professor of Francophone and Arabic Studies, Departments of French and Italian, and African Cultural Studies, UW-Madison
“Poésie-danger or the Pleasure of Contestation in Assia Djebar’s Far from Medina”
In order to avoid sinking into oblivion, Assia Djebar’s novel, Far from Medina (1991), portrays the fascinating fate of eighteen female figures at the dawn of Islam, both those who fought it and those who embraced it. Several processes are put into play in this novel: historical writing, transposition of ahaddits (sayings and deeds of the Prophet), translation of the first chroniclers’ writing, transcription of women’s oral stories, fictionalization of history, poetic creation, Djebar’s autobiographical accounts. In examining these practices, I will focus on those that are particularly conductive to and supportive of rebellion and rebellious language, “the one who says no at Medina.” In other words, I will study the traces of “poésie-danger” that generates empowerment in support of the marginalized figures (in this case women), and that creates an irreducible language that counters the rationalization of repression and misogynistic views and practices that are ubiquitous in the language of the patriarchy, theological scripture, and Islamic traditions.

I shall also demonstrate how this “parole,” that is improvised and free, is invoked through other devices such as rhythm, corporal gestures, auricular inflections, all of which reflect the pleasure of language and writing. I contend that Assia Djebar’s metapoetic contemplations on “poésie-danger” render another reality, one that is both possible and plausible, one that allows for a coming into being, for different ways of seeing, sensing and relating to the other. Furthermore, it challenges our senses while, simultaneously, producing profound ideas and generating a certain pleasure of reading.

Samuel England, Assistant Professor of Arabic, UW-Madison
“Fascists Out! Welcome, Fascists! Exile as Entertainment in Arabic Revival Arts”
This presentation explores the relationship between Classical Arabic official culture, military governments, and the motif of exile. I will argue that modern fascist parties in Lebanon and Syria have employed stories of itinerant, oppressed udaba’ (courtly intellectuals) from the Middle Ages, in an ironic effort to legitimate a modern policy of neutralizing the most outspoken critics of fascism. Recent artistic projects, which scholars have hailed as enjoyable secular treatments of Classical Arabic and Islam, subtly overlap with the larger effort to buffet an ascendant military rule.

Nancy Rose Hunt, History & African Studies, University of Florida
“Hedonism in Congo: Rural and Urban Historical Strands Regarding Pleasure, Harm, Healing, Dance, and Irony”
I will consider tensions between harm and pleasure in Congolese history, drawing on Canguilhem’s notion of a “shrunken milieu” and Bachelard’s “reverie” to rethink prevailing notions about the emergence of hedonism and joy-seeking in Congolese cities. Rather than a narrow urban focus, I will move between the rural and the urban, take account of the corrosive effects of colonial violence that stirred pleasure-seeking, and attend to not only urbane bar life but healing practices including dance, irony, and song. Pleasure usually materialized in tension with harm, violence, and the shrunken. By looking at the active re-creation of refuge spaces in Equateur from early in the 20th century on, as well as related pleasures with therapeutic and spirit possession dimensions and forms of reverie, the ways Congolese in Equateur stayed oriented to futures through the 1950s will come to the fore. Some materials from a late 20th century Kinshasa comic artist will serve as a counterpoint about how he kept relationships between pleasure and harm taut in his works on paper in the 1980s and 1990s.

Carmen McCain, Assistant Professor of English, Westmont College
“The Pleasures of Paradise and the Perils of Pleasure: Eschatological Anxieties”  
Anxieties about “worldly” pleasures have been expressed in Hausa literature from as early as the 19th century writing of the Sokoto caliphate about the evils of drumming, dancing, gambling, and gallivanting about with women. In the 20th and 21st century, these anxieties manifest as critiques of novels written for pleasure-reading and films and music videos that expose women to the pleasurable gaze of audiences. Yet, from the beginning, puritanical calls to abandon “worldly” pleasures have been contextualized and framed with the promise of Paradise and exhortations to pursue spiritual pleasure in seeking God through his Prophet. As Nana Asma’u, daughter of the jihadist Usman d’an Fodiyo, put it “For when the inhabitants of Paradise / See the Almighty, they forget about the pleasures of Paradise.” Contemporary authors, musicians, and filmmakers, although producers of visual pleasure for audiences, point to the righteous pleasures of a good life and ostensibly frame their art as wa’azi, sermonizing, in the tradition of the early wa’azi poetry of the 19th century Islamic reformers. Yet, the sensationalistic visual pleasures of film, which, as Lindsey Green-Simms points to allowing “audiences to take pleasure in a series of glamorized moral transgressions” often undermine the stated intentions of the work to point audiences toward the “Right Path.” I will explore how these tensions, which often seem to revolve around anxieties about women’s bodies, are at the heart of the continuing controversies surrounding cultural production in Hausa.

Brenna Munro, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Miami
“Queer Pleasures in Contemporary African Representations”
As apartheid ended, artists and critics asked whether the imperative to be political, and therefore to produce realist work in a tragic vein, might be over. That notion of a utopian present in which one can finally turn to pleasure -love, beauty, whimsy- did not, of course, last. The question of pleasure returns today, however, in relation to sexuality as a form of politics, rather than a sign of the absence of the political. In her groundbreaking reader on African Sexualities, for example, Sylvia Tamale asserts the need to attend to pleasure in the face of patriarchy and puritanism; critics and activists, meanwhile, have called for an emphasis on queer pleasures as an antidote to disabling visions of gay and lesbian Africans as merely victims. In this paper, I will look at a range of representations of queer pleasures-the photographs of Zanele Muholi, the collages of Wangechi Mutu, the short stories of Diriye Osman, the Nest Collective film Stories of Our Lives-that emerge in dialogue with experiences of sorrow and pain. Sex itself is one of these pleasures, and its forms of both presence and absence are worth examining; but these texts also offer a multitude of other forms of pleasure – the everyday, the corporeal, the aesthetic – begging the question of what we mean by “sex,” “pleasure,” and “queer.” The contemporary African imagining of queer pleasures is thus urgent and world making.

Kenda Mutongi, Professor of History, Williams College
“A Driver, a Conductor, and a Disabled Passenger: Moral Pleasures in Nairobi’s Matatu”
Fleeting experiences around matatu bus stop – a glance at a brightly colored, papery flower on a well-tended bougainvillea, watching a conductor help a pregnant woman onto a matatu, listening to a preacher pray for prosperity, even peeing in a nearby clean toilet – such small delights can be enough to make commuters happy, even content.  Pleasures can be difficult to plan. Employing recent “feel good theories” by moral philosophers, I will argue that these ephemeral pleasures can compensate for the difficulties faced by Nairobi commuters and offer an alternative way of thinking about the hostile environment typically associated with matatus.

Akinwumi Ogundiran, Professor of Africana Studies, Anthropology & History, University of Carolina, Charlotte
“The Yoruba Dialectics and Materiality of Pleasure, ca. 1000-1800 AD”

This paper explores the pleasures associated with one of many possible modes of media engagement for Nollywood films, described here as familiarity. In this presentation, familiarity is defined as the effect generated and perceived when creative works are arranged on a single media platform in a way that highlights their repetitive and or affiliative dimensions. The prevalence of serials, spinoffs and other generic types in Nollywood filmmaking indicates the extent to which familiarity has proved a reliable strategy for filmmakers and popular with fans. The paper will make two principal arguments. In the first place, it is argued that familiarity as a mode of media engagement for certain types of Nollywood films produces specific pleasures connected to the repetitive dimensions of the films. Secondly, these highly repetitive works sustain a kind of leisure activity, identified here as a leisure of concomitance.

Julia Praud, Assistant Professor of French, United States Military Academy, West Point
“Prise de pouvoir: Speaking Pleasure in Les Nuits de Strasbourg”
Throughout her body of work, Assia Djebar’s intentional descriptions of intimate pleasure range from poetic to erotic. However, I would argue that nowhere else does she explore the linguistics of emotion, desire, and passion so fully, or so eloquently as in her 1997 novel, Les Nuits de Strasbourg – a novel rich with sensuality, profound pleasure, and raw intimacy evident in its structure, language, and imagery. In this paper, I will argue that the act of speaking pleasure is far from gratuitous. Indeed, the ability to speak about one’s own pleasure is to control the discourse surrounding one’s own body, and ultimately, to control one’s agency. With this in mind, I will explore the ways in which controlling the discourse of pleasure allows Djebar’s protagonist, Thelja, to disrupt the patriarchal power structures of marriage and motherhood, while inverting binary oppositions such as male/female, colonizer/colonized, young/old, center/margin, fertile/infertile in this narrative. What’s more, in light of the author’s own self-described, self-diagnosed, “aphasia of love,” I would offer Les Nuits de Strasbourg as the possible answer to Djebar’s own self-imposed challenge to mold, to possess, to reinvent, and to transform the French language for her own use. Indeed, this novel may be seen a culmination of Djebar’s personal journey to appropriate the language of the colonizer as fully in her private life, in her “vie de femme,” as she has in her intellectual life. It represents a conscious effort to break free of her refusal, or perhaps her inability, to use French as a language of love and of intimacy only articulated fully in her paternal and maternal languages: Arabic and Berber. Finally, I will argue that overcoming this linguistic dysfunction, this “aphasia of love,” is fundamentally une prise de pouvoir.

Anna Rocca, Associate Professor of French and Italian, Salem State University, Salem, MA
“Assia Djebar: The Pleasure of Discerning”
During the 1970s and 80s cultural critics often stressed the difficulties of conceptualizing an all-inclusive notion of pleasure, intended here as a phenomenon determined by and experienced within social, cultural and historical relationships of dominance and cultural hegemony.1 Moreover, one can also infer that when the concept of pleasure is studied in times of political conflict and war, its analysis might help to uncover some of the complex, ambiguous, and even contradictory forces at work in society. This study examines a particular type of pleasure, the pleasure of discernment in Assia Djebar’s earliest literary production. Djebar’s first two fictional works, La Soif (1957) and Les Impatients (1958), were written during a period of severe hostilities between Algeria and France. This was a time that is also characterized by the great longing for stability that was expressed by those living in both countries. Some historians have defined the years from 1956 to 1958 as the three bloodiest years of the Algerian war of independence.2 The pleasure conveyed by Nadia and Dalila, the two female narrators respectively in La Soif and Les Impatients, manifests as a desire to discern all human contradictions, fragilities and ambiguities in order to define their own identities and place in society. The narrators’ internal monologues expose and explore the relentless duplicity and self-deception that drive human emotion, action, and inaction. Their personal reflections also cast the human conscience as the voice of resistance against the most disordered aspects of individual, family, and social life. By actively discerning and differentiating among the various moral levels of meaning and truth and by retaining a lucid sense of right and wrong, Nadia and Dalila find pleasure, the main (and only?) fulfillment available to these women, as the author seems to suggest, who are beset by personal malaise and societal vulnerability. Klaus, Elisabeth and Barbara O’Connor. “The Meaning of pleasure and the pleasure of meaning: Towards a definition of pleasure in ‘reception analysis,’ pp. 411-28. 424. Orlando, Valérie. “La Soif d’Assia Djebar: pour un nouveau roman maghrébin.” El-Khitab n.16, pp. 137-146. 142.

Katrina Daly Thompson, Professor of African Cultural Studies, UW-Madison
“The Butt of the Joke: Finding Pleasure in Popobawa Humor”
In this paper, I examine the pleasure found in Popobawa jokes in Tanzania and beyond. Outside of Tanzania, Popobawa often represents humor at Africa’s expense, a contemporary legend that confirms Western stereotypes of Africans as superstitious, irrational, and hypersexual, thus allowing Western interpreters of the legend to feel superior to Africans. For Swahili-speakers, however, joking about the taboo topic of homosexuality allows them to simultaneously transgress linguistic taboos and uphold cultural ones, transgressing taboos that make the topic off-limits in conversation, while using their jokes to condemn homosexuality or mock gay men.