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3 Provocations: African Societies and Theories of Creativity

Kenneth W Harrow Indiana University Press ePub

Moradewun Adejunmobi

MY OBJECTIVE IN this essay is to argue that cultural studies scholars who focus on Africa should give at least some of their attention to producing scholarship that also provides a wide-ranging justification for humanities research as occasion demands, and that deciders and the society at large must understand that the value of humanities scholarship can never be taken for granted anywhere in the world. What is more, the need to address why humanities scholarship matters becomes all the more urgent in times of economic and political uncertainty when the temptation is highest to curtail, underfund, and if possible eliminate institutions dedicated to humanities scholarship. I shall make the argument for attending to such justifications by way of a commentary on current trends in studies of African cultural production.1

In 2012, the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina took advantage of an address to the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom to counter Taiye Selasi’s celebration of the “Afropolitan.”2 As far as reactions to Selasi’s declaration go, Wainaina’s riposte did not represent an isolated incident. Selasi’s 2005 manifesto “went viral” in its initial instantiation in an online magazine and generated considerable commentary in blogs dedicated to discussion of African culture and identity. Similar controversies trail the multiple national affiliations attributed to authors like Teju Cole and Dinaw Mengestu, among others, and the claims to African identity made for Tope Folarin, winner of the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.3 Discussions of this question in print and online indicate a return to prominence of a certain kind of debate among both writers and critics about the identity and location of the African writer. While such debates about identity will always be topical for African literature, given the current and historical location of many “African” writers outside Africa, I will argue that the main shortcoming of the critical approaches often used today for analyzing African cultural production is not a failure to ask what exactly constitutes “African” as opposed to, say, “Asian” or “Western” cultural production. More important, the critical approaches that we have embraced do not fully account for the relevance of our scholarship on expressive and representational practices to broader trends within African societies at this point in time. They fail to ask what else and what more artistic activity signifies when it occurs under the particular conditions that typify contemporary Africa, and why imaginative activity matters for societies facing apparently more pressing challenges, other than as a form of social commentary that we as scholars are called upon to elucidate.

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6 The New America

Ray E. Boomhower Indiana University Press ePub

ADLAI STEVENSONS LANDSLIDE DEFEAT IN THE 1952 PRESIDENTIAL contest to Dwight D. Eisenhower had a demoralizing effect on John Bartlow Martin for months after the election. Martin tried to get back to his freelance writing career, traveling to Cleveland, Ohio, to do his usual heavy-fact legwork for a McCall’s magazine assignment, but he had “no heart” for the story and abandoned the effort, returning home to Highland Park. “It was the only time I ever did that,” said Martin. “I felt ill. I had not realized fully how emotionally involved I’d been in the Stevenson campaign.” Eisenhower’s elevation to the presidency, said Martin, had been a “repudiation of everything I believe in. All my life I have believed and tried to write certain ideas; Stevenson articulated them as a candidate; the people rejected them.” He felt nothing but contempt for the advertising business that had helped to elect Eisenhower and the “implication you can sell a president precisely the same way you sell soap.” Although he had always loved the United States and its people, his feelings after the election were so negative that he felt like “a stranger in my own country.”1

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12. Flute

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute. (120)

And now to-night my flute has waked the echoes over that very water. (107)

Although Thoreau’s intermittent moralizing could make him denounce music as “intoxicating,” grouping it with wine, liquor, coffee, and tea (“Ah, how low I feel when I am tempted by them! [147]), he, like his father and brother, played the flute, and he took his instrument with him to Walden. We even know his favorite song: “Tom Bowling,” written by Englishman Charles Dibdin (1745–1814), who seems to have specialized in ersatz folk ballads about sailors. Catherine Moseley describes Thoreau’s musical taste as “mainstream bourgeois”; he had little interest in what we now call “classical music” but instead preferred “extremely elaborate and sentimental” songs that were excessive and “florid.” The same Thoreau who sternly advised “read the best books first, or you may not have the chance to read them at all” (Week, 98) enjoyed tunes like “Pilgrim Fathers” and “Evening Bells.” In particular, as Moseley points out, “Tom Bowling” “does not seem the likely favorite of one whose cry was ‘Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.’” Susan Sontag once observed that we should not expect anyone to have “good taste” in more than one area. Wittgenstein, for example, who insisted to Bertrand Russell “that nothing is tolerable except producing great works or enjoying those of others,” liked Carmen Miranda movies. Nevertheless, because we have grown used to regarding musical preferences as a clue to personality, the knowledge of what Thoreau must have been playing while idling in his boat on the glassy surface of the pond on long summer evenings seems to open a previously undiscovered door.

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1. Immortality in the Light of Synechism (1893)

Peirce Edition Project Indiana University Press ePub


MS 886. [First published in CP 7.565–78. This article, submitted on 4 May 1893, was written for the weekly magazine The Open Court and was favorably considered for The Monist, but was not published because of a misunderstanding between Peirce and their editor, Paul Carus.] In this short and provoking paper, Peirce considers synechism, his doctrine that everything is continuous, and characterizes the stance of the synechist toward various philosophical questions. He applies his doctrine to the question of immortality and finds that it is rash to assume that we only have carnal life. Peirce maintains that synechism is a purely scientific philosophy and predicts that it will help reconcile science and religion.

The word synechism is the English form of the Greek from continuous. For two centuries we have been affixing -ist and -ism to words, in order to note sects which exalt the importance of those elements which the stem-words signify. Thus, materialism is the doctrine that matter is everything, idealism the doctrine that ideas are everything, dualism the philosophy which splits everything in two. In like manner, I have proposed to make synechism mean the tendency to regard everything as continuous.*

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8. Exclusion and Inclusion: Ethnography of War in Kriegsgefangene (1916) and Das ostjüdische Antlitz (1920) / Eva Edelmann-Ohler

Gabriella Safran Indiana University Press ePub

Ethnography of War in Kriegsgefangene (1916)
and Das ostjüdische Antlitz (1920)


World War I can be considered “the great seminal catastrophe”1 of the twentieth century in Europe, having unsettled politics, culture, media, and social life.2 These extensive changes in the wake of the war also had consequences for the relationship between “Eastern” and “Western” Jews, consequences that were, in a broader sense, part of the so-called “Rediscovery of the Eastern Jews.”3 As Steven Aschheim has pointed out, there was a long history of contact between “East” and “West” in the period from 1800 to 1923, divisible into several stages.4 The idea of the “Eastern Jew” arose in the first half of the nineteenth century; the concept had diverse manifestations over the course of time and varied at the beginning of the twentieth century across, for instance, Zionism and Liberal Judaism. Furthermore, before World War I, Martin Buber acknowledged Eastern cultural and literary traditions in a positive light, taking them as an example for an ideal Jewish community.5 This rather cultural and philosophical approach was totally different from the questions about “Eastern Jews” that arose after the outbreak of World War I. During the war, “Eastern Jews” became for many soldiers a subject of personal experience—or as Aschheim has described it, a “strange encounter.”6 “Western Jews” found their prejudices confirmed: “the Ostjude was no figment of the overheated anti-Semitic imagination but a stark reality.”7 At that time, cultural differences became visible and had to be faced. The press and other media addressed these cultural differences in numerous articles, using various metaphors for the “brothers” in the East and for related political issues.8 Thus the question of Eastern European Jewry turned from a cultural issue into a political one. In this process, the spaces of one’s own and the alien were interchanged:

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