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With reference to the five articles in the special issue, this introduction reflects on the relative absence of Lusophone African literature from the mainstream of African literary studies. Because of the insular and backward nature of Portugal’s colonialism, the protracted wars in Angola and Mozambique, and the sheer magnitude of the postcolony of Brazil as a center for the reception of Lusophone writing, this literature has followed a path of its own. However, although a fair amount of scholarly attention has been paid to the early anticolonial and nationalist generations of writers, this special issue updates the account of the Luso-African literary world by looking also at current developments in publishing (locally and abroad) and reception, especially in Brazil.
This article reflects on some textual and institutional elements that distinguish literary life in Portuguese-speaking African countries. These elements concern, firstly, the peculiarities of the Portuguese empire. Combining precarity, epistemological backwardness, and violence in equal proportion, it inspired an artistic response that was consolidated even before the independences. Secondly, they relate to the type of decolonization produced in these territories. Contrary to the majority of other African contexts, their independence was not negotiated, but conquered through armed struggle. Thirdly, there are the thematic and formal aspects: the “animal,” the “dead,” and an internationalist geographical imaginary play a structuring role in the literary fields. Thus, this article demonstrates how these contexts, unique to African literatures, can also offer new data for the analysis of cultural goods in the twenty-first century.
African literatures in Portuguese were first canonized in the 1970s. During and in the wake of decolonization, the main force driving their internationalization was the solidarity with the struggle for liberation. This trend weakened, however, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. At the same time, the 1990s marked a turn in the process of literary production that also corresponded with a shift in style, themes, and aesthetic inclination by a younger generation of writers. A few of these names became standard reference in the translational canon of these literatures: notably Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa, the two most prominent beneficiaries of this system, alongside Paulina Chiziane, Germano Almeida, Pepetela, and Ondjaki. Offering a comparative mapping of this transnational canon alongside the publication and reception of these literatures in the Portuguese-speaking world will give us a better understanding of their relationship to world literature and of the functioning of the world literary consecration machine.
Focusing on the work of independent publishers in Lusophone Africa, this article investigates the strategies undertaken by the publishers to develop their catalog and run a publishing house in challenging environments. My examples will be drawn from ongoing initiatives by Filinto Elísio and Márcia Souto (Rosa de Porcelana, Cape Verde), Miguel de Barros and Tony Tcheca (Corubal, Guinea-Bissau), Abdulai Sila (Kusimon, Guinea-Bissau), Luiz Vicente (Nimba Edições, Guinea-Bissau/Portugal), Ondjaki (Kacimbo, Angola), Mbate Pedro, Jessemusse Cacinda, Sandra Tamele, and Dany Wambire (Cavalo do Mar, Ethale Books, Trinta Zero Nove, and Fundza, respectively, Mozambique). Although most scholarship on Luso-African writing has been devoted to the form and content of these literatures, there has been scant attention to the socio-history of publishers.
The study of Mozambican literature is present at various latitudes within the academic world. There are, however, different outlooks and interests that must be analyzed if we want to account for the epistemologies present when facing a postcolonial reality such as Mozambique. On the understanding that literary texts are codified cultural information and that academics function as legitimators of discourses, this article offers an analysis of a corpus of academic publications on Mozambican literature published between 1975 and 2018. It posits thereby the possible existence of a Eurocentric constant within academic knowledge production and proposes some paths of action that may be of relevant pedagogical and self-reflective potentiality to the investigative exercise itself.
Today, it is not the former colonial metropolis (Portugal), but a former colony (Brazil) that has become the main legitimizing center of African literature in the Portuguese language. It is also in Brazil that the largest number of studies on African literature written in other languages is produced. To illustrate this state of affairs, we begin by demonstrating how the work of Alain Mabanckou has penetrated the literary market and the Brazilian academy. After contextualizing the historical institutional dependence that characterizes French-speaking African literature in relation to the “center” (Paris) and situating Mabanckou in this dynamic, we look at how his work arrived in Brazil, the growing interest that it has awakened, and the type of studies conducted there. In the last part of the article, we show that Mabanckou is not an isolated phenomenon and is part of a historical process that began more than fifty years ago: due to the flow of translations and academic studies on works from different linguistic contexts, Brazil helps to unsettle the linguistic self-centeredness that characterizes African literary studies and reduces distances between “center” and “periphery” that guide the world literary game.
Book Forum on Isabel Hofmeyr’s Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House
Isabel Hofmeyr’s latest book begins with stories around and about the colonial port, though the initial spotlight is on decidedly nonnarrative texts such as classification lists of cargo items, customs handbooks, and what she intriguingly calls the “book-as-form,” namely diaries and registers. These, she says, “offered one unwitting model of colonial writing in which a template from the metropolis was filled with local scribblings” (12). The port is, by definition, a liminal, watery, zone, with uncertain borders between land and sea, but which often acts as the site of border policing that regulates entry into and out of the colony and nation-state. It is a powerfully evocative place around which to set Hofmeyr’s ambitious and wide-ranging book, and the port’s polysemous implications allow her to intervene across a series of disparate fields: climate humanities, postcolonial studies, object-oriented ontology, South African literary histories, and studies of custom and copyright. It is a masterly and original revisioning of what it means to do book history, offering a radically new method of reading. Even more importantly, it proposes a new definition of the book as object: as customs cargo, as charismatic “thing” that creates literary canonicity far from the metropole, and as an epidemiological vector of “contamination” in the mind of the colonial customs official on the alert for seditious or obscene texts, among other suggestive meanings.
In her discussion of censorship in Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House, Isabel Hofmeyr homes in on a figure of reading invoked by Nadine Gordimer in a letter protesting that the censors treat literature “as a commodity to be boiled down to its components and measured like a bar of soap.”1 Hofmeyr, recognizing that such reading echoes that of the officials of colonial custom houses, asks what we might learn from those “who tried to read a book as a bar of soap”?2
This piece responds to the three pieces on Dockside Reading. It provides background on the making of the book, its experimental nature, and discusses the ways in which the three responses extend the book’s reach and implications. The piece concludes with a description of the author’s new project, Elemental Reading.