214 Chapters
Medium 9780253015976

6 Le Freak, C’est Critical and Chic: North African Scholars and the Conditions of Cultural Production in Post-9/11 U.S. Academia

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

Lamia Benyoussef

IN AN INTRODUCTORY English composition class I taught a few years ago, an African American student asked me if she could write her comparative essay on the immigration and integration experiences of Arab and Caucasian Americans. When I pinpointed that the U.S. Census Bureau classified Arab Americans as Caucasians and suggested that she drop the racial categories in favor of a geographic terminology (that is, Middle Eastern and European immigration), in total shock and disbelief she exclaimed: “Arabs do 9/11 and they are still whites?” For a moment I froze there, not knowing what to say. I was not sure if she was angry at me because I was guilty by association or at her own self for still failing to be “white,” even though she was no evildoer like me, her teacher. That life-altering teaching moment repatriated me in W. E. B. Du Bois’s discourse on the Negro veil in The Souls of Black Folk. “It dawned upon me with a certain suddenness” that North African women academics too (alias moukéres or les négresses des sables) “are different from Others; or [like them perhaps] in life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.” If the point of this essay can be summed up in one sentence, it is the desire to tear down that veil, to creep through the silences and wonders of the academic world “and live above in the blue sky,” free from the pitfalls of colorisms and the haunting shades and “shadows”1 of diversity. This chapter is inspired not only by my own experience as an Arab and Muslim academic in the South but also by the scholarly work and experiences of other North African scholars who find themselves, like me, in the double bind functioning as a native informant (after all, Islam keeps enrollment high) while remaining on the threshold of American academia because their physical presence is as critical as the critical languages they teach.

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Medium 9780253014092

3 Reinventing Local Forms: African Fashion, Indigenous Style

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

I was drawn to everything that was African.

—Chris Seydou, Malian fashion designer, Bamako, 6 March 1993

The traditional and the contemporary with a touch of originality. These are the three elements of creativity.

—Salah Barka, Tunisian fashion designer, Paris, 19 June 2010

Sun Goddess harvests stories and images of South African traditions. These stories look back to our heritage and its relevance to the past, present and future.

—Vanya and Thando Mangaliso, South African fashion designers, Sun Goddess website, 1 February 2011

We need to preserve indigenous, traditional techniques by making them modern.

—Aboubakar Fofana, Malian artist and designer, Bamako, 25 June 2009

I want to take from the past and take it with me into the future.

—Laduma Ngxokolo, South African fashion designer, Port Elizabeth, 2 June 2012

In his autobiographical novel L’Enfant Noir (The Dark Child), Guinean writer Camara Laye used clothing to make a powerful statement about the shifting incarnations of tradition. Recalling the rituals by which life was ordered during his childhood, Laye described how people in his community continued to embrace practices that had been detached from the meanings that once inspired them. Now, these practices simply evoke the idea of tradition: “Sometimes only the spirit of a tradition survives; sometimes only its form. Its outer garments, as it were, remain.”1 Clothing here stands in for the residue of tradition, a remnant of practices no longer integral to people’s lives. It may also refer to vaguely remembered histories. Importantly, Laye does not express this shifting meaning as loss, but rather as a source of comfort in the certainty that these rituals (or the garments that are their residue) still have meaning. Writing of a harvest ritual whose origins are lost to memory, Laye notes: “Yet, like all our customs, this one had its significance.”2

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Medium 9780253353801

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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Medium 9780253007414

12. “A Matter of Must”: Continuities and Change in the Adugbologe Woodcarving Workshop in Abeokuta, Nigeria

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Norma H. Wolff

In the 1970s, the Adugbologe kin-based workshop located in the family compound in the Egba Yoruba city of Abeokuta was the site of a remarkable and successful family craft industry. The woodcarvers of Adugbologe Compound had catered to the needs of the local community for over a century. Whereas in the past the Adugbologe carvers supplied sculpture for prestige and ritual needs of the indigenous community, in the mid-twentieth century they had expanded their market to a new audience and turned to commodity carving for trade. They sold their products primarily to traders who provided souvenirs to tourists and expatriates, but a handful of family carvers continued to produce for local and prestige needs. The overlap of these traditionally enculturated carvers with those who chose to carve primarily from economic motivations ensured that no drastic changes in formal attributes and subject matter took place in the carvings produced. As an arena of action the Adugbologe Compound workshop encouraged the carvers’ sense of family heritage and their daily exposure to each others’ work favored a more closed mode of imagination reflected in their adherence to the family style. However, changes in production and product were evident. My day-to-day observations from 1972 to 1974 suggest that decision making leading to conscious changes in their products that took them further away from the Adugbologe prototypes was primarily the result of interactions with patrons.1

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2. Follow the Wood: Carving and Political Cosmology in oku, Cameroon

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Nicolas Argenti

The . . . mask is made to look like an animal. But it is not an animal; it is a secret.


(quoted in McNaughton 1988:129)

The kingdom of Oku, made up of three dozen villages spread over the highest peaks of a mountainous landscape, is a hierarchical polity headed by a king (or ∂bfon) and a complex palatine retinue. Within the Grassfields region, Oku is one among several dozen small kingdoms or chiefdoms, each with their own languages and ruling dynasties. Although these polities all share many cultural traits and myths of common origin and ancestry, they have each specialized forms of production for export over the centuries (Warnier 1985), and Oku has become renowned (not only in the region but among museum curators and collectors too) as one of the foremost centers of carving in the region. Although some of the objects produced by its carvers—mainly ceremonial items of palace regalia including the throne-stools of kings—are destined for export within a regional elite sphere of exchange restricted to the ruling elite of the Grassfields, others are used locally by the palace kwifon regulatory society and by Oku lineage elders. Some of the most arresting objects produced by Oku carvers are the masks used by dancing groups both within the kingdom and throughout the Grassfields. These masks represent male elders wearing gigantic interpretations of their characteristic tasseled caps, beautiful young women, and wild forest animals—some of them unidentifiable, all of them as sinister and alarming to bystanders as they are attractive and exciting. The masks (or headdresses, known as “helmet masks” because they are worn on the top of the dancer’s head) are used by the masking groups (k∂kum) of the palace secret societies and the ruling lineages of Oku (Argenti 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007).

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