Northwestern Events Calendar


Comparative Literary Studies Speaker Series: Jeanne-Marie Jackson, Johns Hopkins University

When: Thursday, March 15, 2018
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM  

Where: Kresge Hall, 1515, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Sarah Peters   847.491.3864

Group: Comparative Literary Studies

Critical Theory

Category: Academic


"J.E. Casely Hayford and the Case for Afro-Originating Comparison."

Taking J.E. Casely Hayford's Ethiopia Unbound (1911) as its central point of origin, this talk presents the Anglo-Fante novel of the early twentieth century as an intrinsically comparative enterprise on two counts. First, it establishes the Fante humanistic tradition in lateral relation to Western counterparts, not eschewing but engaging their systematic evaluation vis-a-vis one another. Second, it negotiates between explicitly philosophical concerns (metaphysics, rationalism, etc.) and embodied intellectual practice. Casely Hayford's academic background in philosophy, which he shared with other early Fante writer-intellectuals including Kobina Sekyi and John Mensah Sarbah, supports an expansive fictional practice that mediates between lived experience and abstract understanding. It contrasts favorably with that of later de-colonial writers in the Anglo-Fante tradition such as Ayi Kwei Armah and Ama Ata Aidoo, whose works "about" learned figures fail to manifest the same degree of conscious trading-off between intellection and experience as contestatory interests for the novel form. Ultimately, I suggest that pre-nationalist Anglo-Fante philosophical fiction makes for a timelier intervention into current thinking about epistemological decolonization than do more famous independence and post-independence era Ghanaian literary texts.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University in 2012. Her first book, South African Literature's Russian Soul: Narrative Forms of Global Isolation, was published by Bloomsbury in late 2015 (paperback forthcoming 2017). It is immediately concerned with how Russia's nineteenth-century "Golden Age" of literature and ideas provides a model for South African writers during and after apartheid, but advances a broader argument for realism's maturation through historical dislocation and instability. This affinity between two periods in which narrative forms internalize a widespread sense of being cut off from the world – an "inverted" world literature – suggests the limits of current global methodologies. The book's model of comparative isolationisms, furthermore, upholds comparative literature as a timely interlocutor for the new field of global Anglophone writing.

Jackson is now at work on a second book project called The African Novel of Ideas: Intellection for the Post-Liberal Age. It charts the relationship between the novel and philosophy, both formal and institutional, at key sites of African intellectual development from the early 20th century through the present day. Starting with books like J.E. Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound (Ghana, 2011); moving through mid-century liberation movements to Stanlake Samkange's The Mourned One (Zimbabwe, 1975); and arriving, finally, at the genre of the “global philosophical novel” in recent works by Tendai Huchu and Imraan Coovadia, among others, it argues for the novel's unique capacity to co-theorize geographical diffusion and systematized intellectual practice.

Jackson is also at work on a co-edited special issue of Research in African Literatures on religion and secularity, and has essays forthcoming in Novel: A Forum on Fiction and Research in African Literatures. She currently works in Russian, Afrikaans, and Shona in addition to English (and has just begun learning Fante), and welcomes contact from other unorthodox comparatists.

Co-sponsored by African Studies Program, Critical Theory Program, and Department of English. 

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