Calibrations: Reading for the Social by Ato Quayson

By Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson explores a convention of studying that oscillates swiftly among domains-the literary-aesthetic, the social, the cultural, and the political-in order to discover the jointly illuminating nature of those domain names. He does this to not assert the usually repeated postmodernist view that there's not anything outdoor the textual content, yet to stipulate a style of interpreting he calls calibrations: a kind of shut studying of literature with what lies past it as a manner of figuring out buildings of transformation, strategy, 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 historical past, and Althusser's reflections on political economy-and treats a extensive diversity of topics: 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 disillusioned time in postcolonial texts. Ato Quayson is director of the African reviews Centre, lecturer in English, and fellow of Pembroke university on the college of Cambridge.

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One is baffled, for example, at the degree of garrulousness of the various characters. At the least opportunity they regale their companions with tales of their past, sometimes uninterrupted for four or five pages. 19 In terms of certain historical conjunctures, the will-to-transcendence has also to be seen as a necessary motor of historical development. It was absolutely crucial for the proper prosecution of the anti-apartheid struggle, for instance, that an intractable desire for the overthrow of the regime focalized all energies and shaped all efforts around the nexus of a will-totranscendence.

Thus the opening and closing chapters provide an outer framework for thinking about the historical inscription of the individual on the one hand and the phenomenological experience of abstract philosophical categories on the other. The chapters that fall between these then situate the contradictory processes of the social in various discursive contexts. Each chapter represents a facet of the calibrated reading practice and is capable of standing on its own, though connections are established explicitly within and between chapters to help situate them within a wider methodological framework.

The subsegmental dialectical interactions to be identified in any configuration may not coincide at all times with the dominant contradiction governing the totality of the relation between the binary poles. To proceed in this way would be to take seriously the Althusserian view of the need to observe the many variations to the structure of the whole that themselves help disclose the contestatory temporalities inherent within such wholes. 16 We have already seen how his critique of Hegel insists on the requirement to interrogate the structure of the social whole and never to take it for granted.

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