Poetics and politics in contemporary African travel writing

Amimo, Maureen (2020-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates contemporary travel narratives about Africa by Africans authors. Scholarship on travel writing about Africa has largely centred examples from the Global North, yet there is a rich body of travel writing by African authors. I approach African travel writing as an emerging genre that allows African authors to engage their marginality within the genre and initiate a transformative poetics inscribing alternative politics as viable forms of meaning-making. I argue that contemporary African travel writing stretches and redefines the aesthetic limits of the genre through experimentation which enables the form to carry the weight and complexities of African experiences. Drawing on the work of theorists such as Edward Said, Mary Louise Pratt, James Clifford and Syed Manzurul Islam, as well as local philosophy emergent from the texts, I examine the reimaginations of the form of the travel narrative, which centre African experiences. This study examines the adaptations of the traditional poetics of the genre within a spirit of ‘writing back’ in Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘Discovering Home,’ Sihle Khumalo’s Dark Continent, My Black Arse and Almost Sleeping My Way to Timbuktu, and Kofi Akpabli’s A Sense of the Savannah: Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana. I argue that the practice of ‘writing back’ is both constrained and complicated by the conflicted histories of imperialism and neo-imperialism that surrounds the genre. This is followed by an exploration of Afrocentric interventions in the genre in the form of what I call the literary guidebook. In this section I argue for a reading of Tony Mochama’s Nairobi: A Night Guide through the City-in-the-Sun, Alba Kunadu Sumprim’s A Place of Beautiful Nonsense and Veronique Tadjo’s The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda as literary guidebooks that invest in the form fluidity capable of capturing the unstable textures of place within contemporary African urban and emotional geographies. The last section explores return as a distinct sub-genre of travel in Africa. By return, I refer to narratives where African subjects in the diaspora travel back to places of their ancestry within the continent. This section focusses on Leah Chishugi’s A Long Way from Paradise: Surviving the Rwandan Genocide, Noo Saro-Wiwa’s Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief, and Neera Kapur-Dromson’s From Jhelum to Tana. I argue that return travel is inflected by contestations of a past and a present of the travelling subject’s psyche, from which stem losses and continuities, remembering and forgetting, revelation and concealment, all of which inform perception in the moment of return. Throughout this dissertation, a significant definition of the kinds of travel and travel narratives possible emanates from the complex position of the authors as subjects travelling spaces that refuse reductive reading. By paying attention to the intricate complexities of the locatedness of the travelling subjects, contemporary African travel writing expands the margins of the genre and the kinds of discursivity the form generates. This study concludes that African travel writing is an interpretation of the genre that involves both a transformation of the form and a contestation of its politics.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Geen opsomming

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