Shifting Shores: Swahili and World Literature

Shifting Shores: Swahili and World Literature
15 December 2021, 5.00pm - 6.30pm

Please note the date change. This seminar will now take place on Wednesday 15 December at 5pm.

Part of the Convocation Seminars in World Literature and Translation.

Co-convened with LINKS (London Intercollegiate Network for Comparative Studies)

Speaker: Clarissa Vierke, Bayreuth University

In this talk, I will outline a book project I have been working on and which aims to give a multi-sited and dynamic account of Swahili literature’s changing cartographies through a double optic, considering both the imagining of changing worlds as well as a view on the worlds in which they come into being and circulate. Decentering the West and breaking through the shallow time depth and narrow geography delineated by colonial history and national borders, the book takes the whole East African coast—from Anglophone Kenya and Tanzania to Lusophone Mozambique—as well as transoceanic and transcontinental literary relations with Europe and Asia into perspective. An important intention is to criticize narrow definitions of (world) literature, where African-language literature has largely been ignored: though the term ‘world literature’ may seem to denote a welcoming project – opening up to a view on literature in its various modi existendi in, from and about the world – in practice, literature has measured its ‘worldliness’ primarily with reference to Western modernity.
In my talk, I will zero in on a poem about World War I from northern Mozambique. The poem aids in critically rethinking some of the assumptions outlined above; as I will show, it questions the narrow dichotomy of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, ‘local’ and ‘global’ and the notion that a globalized world can only be narrated in newly adapted literary genres from the West. It urges us to consider many possible conceptual pathways to take, a multitude of literary histories and many ways to imagine worlds.

Clarissa Vierke is Professor of Literatures in African Languages at the University of Bayreuth. She is an expert of Swahili poetry, manuscript cultures and has been working on travelling texts in East Africa – both in Anglophone Kenya and Tanzania and Lusophone Mozambique. Together with colleagues working on Francophone and Lusophone literature, she is currently running a research project on literary entanglements in the Indian Ocean across boundaries of nations, languages and media. At the moment, she is finalizing a critical edition of poetry by the Kenyan Islamic scholar and intellectual Mahmoud Mau. She is principal investigator of the Cluster of excellence “Africa Multiple. Reconfiguring African Studies” and the spokesperson of the research section Arts and Aesthetics. Together with colleagues from Leipzig and Cologne, she set up the project “Recalibrating Afrikanistik” funded by the Volkswagen foundation with the aim to critically consider the future of the study of African languages and literatures.
This free event will be held online. Please note that you will need to register in advance to receive the online event joining link. Click on the Book Now button below to register for this seminar taking place on Wednesday 15 December at 5pm GMT.

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Jenny Stubbs
020 7862 8832