Calibrations: Reading for the Social by Ato Quayson

By Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson explores a convention of interpreting that oscillates swiftly among domains-the literary-aesthetic, the social, the cultural, and the political-in order to discover the jointly illuminating nature of those domain names. He does this to not assert the usually repeated postmodernist view that there's not anything outdoors the textual content, yet to stipulate a style of studying he calls calibrations: a kind of shut analyzing of literature with what lies past it as a fashion of realizing constructions of transformation, strategy, and contradiction that tell either literature and society. Quayson surveys a big selection of texts-ranging from Bob Marley lyrics, Toni Morrison's paintings, Walter Benjamin's Theses at the Philosophy of background, and Althusser's reflections on political economy-and treats a large diversity of issues: the comparative buildings of alienation in literature and anthropology, cultural heroism as a trope in African society and politics, literary tragedy as a template for examining the existence and activism of Ken Saro-Wiwa, trauma and the prestige of citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa, representations of actual incapacity, and the conflict among enchanted and disappointed time in postcolonial texts. Ato Quayson is director of the African experiences Centre, lecturer in English, and fellow of Pembroke collage on the collage of Cambridge.

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As a consequence of the essentially social-scientific emphases of anthropology, in the spate of debates concerning postmodernist ethnograG h o s h ’s I n a n A n t i q u e L a n d ≈ 6 ≈ phies and self-reflexivity the model of subjectivism in anthropological discourse was the first to arouse suspicion. George Marcus sees subjectivism in the modes of “the self-critique, the personal quest, playing on the subjective, the experiential, and the idea of empathy,” and refers to them as the “null form of reflexivity” (1998, 193).

The book also deploys an implicit philosophy of history. Because of the alternations between the historical past and the present conditions among the fellaheen, the book calls for an evaluation of history as a process of mirroring in which the past is often reiterated but with an easy-to-miss difference. The key thing implied is that we are often in thrall to history, precisely because we lack the capacity to fully grasp the effects of historical processes as they unfold around us. This is the lesson G h o s h ’s I n a n A n t i q u e L a n d ≈ 11 ≈ that we get both from the archival sections of the novel and from the nature of the interactions between him, as ethnographer-historian, the people among whom he lives, and the medieval manuscripts he pores over in libraries.

It is in the problematic space sustained by a series of alienation effects (surprise, alarm, boredom, even disgust and horror) that the participant-observer comes into being. But the participant-observer is a special process that is sustained throughout fieldwork and is intricately enmeshed with the alienation effects that sustain that status in the first place. 6 This is to be conceptualized as dynamic and processual, rather than static, despite the fact that in coming to write up their field notes, anthropologists routinely purge alienation out of their accounts.

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