Prizing African literature : awards and cultural value

Kiguru, Doseline Wanjiru (2016-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates the centrality of international literary awards in African literary production with an emphasis on the Caine Prize for African Writing (CP) and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (CWSSP). It acknowledges that the production of cultural value in any kind of setting is not always just a social process, but it is also always politicised and leaning towards the prevailing social power. The prize-winning short stories are highly influenced or dependent on the material conditions of the stories’ production and consumption. The content is shaped by the prize, its requirements, rules, and regulations as well as the politics associated with the specific prize. As James English (2005) asserts, “[t]here is no evading the social and political freight of a global award at a time when global markets determine more and more the fate of local symbolic economies” (298). This research focuses on the different factors that influence literary production to demonstrate that literary culture is always determined by the social, political and economic factors framing its existence. The process through which contemporary African literature, mediated through the international prize, acquires value in the global literary marketplace is the major preoccupation of this study. I discuss the prevalence of prize narratives of pain and suffering, aptly defined as “the Caine aesthetic of suffering” (Habila 2013), and argue against a fixed interpretation of the significance of painful social and political realities. The study calls for a holistic approach to the analysis of postcolonial literature which has previously been labelled as exotic by market forces which commodify difference as strangeness. It recognises that African writers are participants in a crowded global literary scene and they, therefore, must learn to align their work with the market forces, usually dictated by the publishing and award institutions, by devising strategies of visibility within the literary world. My research, therefore, foregrounds the importance of marginality in contemporary African literature, acknowledging that for writers who have historically been classified as belonging to the margins of literature it is important to own that position and use it to dismantle the codes of power and domination evident in literary industry. As demonstrated through the prize stories, marginality is a powerful device used in the award sector to give voice to the unheard, the unseen, the dominated, in order to question disempowerment and domination. The study concludes that in the absence of economic autonomy, African literature will have to work within the limitations of external influence and patronage.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie ondersoek die sentraliteit van internasionale literêre toekennings in die voortbrenging van Afrika literatuur met die klem op die Caine Prys vir Afrika skryfkuns (CP) en die Statebond Kortverhale Prys (CWSSP). Die studie erken dat die vervaardiging van kulturele waarde in enige konteks nie altyd net ʼn sosiale proses is nie, maar ook deurgaans verpolitiseerd word met neigings na die heersende sosiale magte. Die bekroonde kortverhale is opmerklik beïnvloed deur of afhanklik van die materiële kondisies van die stories se produksie en verbruik. Die inhoud van ʼn storie word as’t ware gevorm deur die vereistes, reëls en regulasies van ʼn toekenning sowel as deur die politieke verwantskap tot ʼn spesifieke toekenning. James English (2005) beweer, “[t]here is no evading the social and political freight of a global award at a time when global markers determine more and more the fate of local symbolic economies” (298). Hierdie navorsing fokus op die verskillende faktore wat literêre produksie beïnvloed om aan te toon dat literêre kultuur altyd bepaal word deur die sosiale, politieke en ekonomiese faktore wat dit omraam. Die proses waardeur kontemporêre Afrika literatuur deur bemiddeling van internasionale toekennings waarde verkry in die globale literêre mark is die primêre fokus-area van hierdie studie. Ek bespreek die polemiek van bekroonde narratiewe wat hulself bemoei met pyn en leed, gedefinieer as “the Caine aesthetic of suffering” (Habila 2013), en argumenteer teen die gevolglike vaste interpretasie van die belang van ʼn gepynigde sosiale en politiese realiteit. Hierdie studie roep vir ʼn holistiese benadering tot die analise van postkoloniale literature wat voorheen gemerk was as eksoties deur die verbruikersmarkte wat handel dryf deur ‘andersheid’ te verkoop as ‘vreemd’. Die navorsing gee toe dat Afrika skrywers deelnemers is in ʼn wedywerende globale literêre landskap en daarom moet leer om hul werk in gelid te bring (of strategies te belig) met die markkragte wat gewoonlik voorgesê en beïnvloed word deur die publikasie- en prystoekennings instansies. Gevolglik fokus my navorsing op die belang van marginaliteit in kontemporêre Afrika literatuur. Dit is belangrik vir skrywers wat in die historiese konteks geklassifiseer was as marginaal of wie se werk na die uiterste grense van literatuur geskuif is, om die gemarginaliseerde posisie in te neem en vanuit daardie posisie sodoende die hegemoniese kodes en magstrukture van die literêre industrie uit te daag en af te breek. Soos uitgebeeld deur die bekroonde stories is marginaliteit ʼn kragtige toestel wat gebruik word deur die toekenning industrie om ʼn ‘stem’ te verleen vir diegene wat nie gehoor of gesien word nie, diegene wat onderdruk word, en om sodoende ontmagtiging en oorheersing te bevraagteken. Ten slotte stel hierdie studie dat in die afwesigheid van ekonomiese outonomie, Afrika literatuur binne die beperkinge van eksterne invloed en begunstiging sal moet werk.

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