What distinguishes the novel, writes Mikhail Bakhtin, is that “the forces that define it as a genre are at work before our very eyes: the birth and development of the novel as a genre takes place in the full light of the historical day” (“Epic” 3). In this essay, I consider some of the historical forces at work in the birth of the African novel, an event that occurred in the early years of the twentieth century at a French missionary press in southern Africa, in what is now Lesotho. To make such a granular claim is to take seriously Bakhtin's argument that the emergence of the novel is empirically observable, “interwoven” with the broader historical “tendencies of a new world still in the making” (7). But this claim also entails a shift of focus and orientation beyond Bakhtin's concern with Europe—a “stretching” of his argument, to adapt Frantz Fanon's...
Zones of Occult Instability: The Birth of the Novel in Africa
JENNIFER WENZEL is jointly appointed in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, where she specializes in postcolonial studies and environmental and energy humanities. Her first book, Bulletproof: Afterlives of Anticolonial Prophecy in South Africa and Beyond (2009), was awarded honorable mention for the Perkins Prize by the International Society for the Study of Narrative; her second book, The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature (2020), was shortlisted for the 2020 Book Prize by the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, and she has coedited a collection in her current area of research: the fossil-fueled imagination in literature, visual culture, and public life.
Jennifer Wenzel; Zones of Occult Instability: The Birth of the Novel in Africa. Novel 1 November 2021; 54 (3): 335–361. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-9353730
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