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By Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson explores a tradition of interpreting that oscillates quickly among domains-the literary-aesthetic, the social, the cultural, and the political-in order to discover the together illuminating nature of those domain names. He does this to not assert the customarily repeated postmodernist view that there's not anything outdoor the textual content, yet to stipulate a mode of interpreting he calls calibrations: a kind of shut studying of literature with what lies past it as a manner of realizing buildings of transformation, technique, and contradiction that tell either literature and society. Quayson surveys a wide range of texts-ranging from Bob Marley lyrics, Toni Morrison's paintings, Walter Benjamin's Theses at the Philosophy of heritage, and Althusser's reflections on political economy-and treats a large diversity of subject matters: the comparative constructions 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 stories Centre, lecturer in English, and fellow of Pembroke collage on the college of Cambridge.

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However, despite the many cross-disciplinary borrowings between literature and anthropology both in relation to discursive sensibilities and critical procedures, I want to suggest that the “writing culture” model of relating the two disciplines has hitherto led to a significant diversion from other levels at which the two disciplines might fruitfully be compared. Indeed, I want to argue, perhaps controversially, that a much more productive way of seeing the similarities and differences between the two is not so much in their shared practices of representation but rather in their mutual negotiation of different categories of alienation.

The focus on alienation obviously requires an alertness to the shifts in analytical scale involved in detailing questions of subjectivity, selfhood, and agency and their relationship to process, contradiction, and change that, as I argue in the introduction, permit the proper perception of the relation between textual representation and reality. Alienation as a concept has a complex history. This history may be schematically divided into sociological and psychological approaches. Sociological approaches tend to emphasize alienation as the separation of individuals from themselves and from the object of their activity; their deprivation or renunciation of real claims of identity, satisfaction, harmony, control, or legitimacy over what they do or how they do it.

My view is that that is actually impossible. Rather, it is the case that the alienation effect engenders a problematization of one’s own assumed cultural biases along with the newly encountered cultural dispositions in such a way that the new cultural dispositions then become intellectually relevant as objects of analysis. This is what happens to people such as immigrants and exiles encountering new cultures for the first time. ”5 My argument here is that for the anthropologist, negative capability must be conceptualized not just as an anthropological space to be occupied in order not to pass over-hasty judgments on a newly encountered culture.

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