MLA 2020 Seattle: Pleasure, Arts and the Human in Africa

Summary Call
The panel explores the multi-dimensional ways in which literary and cultural forms – new or old – might help us navigate the nexus of pleasure and the human. Send 250 word abstracts and a one-page CV before March 15 to Naminata Diabate, nd326@cornell.edu with ‘MLA PANEL” in subject line.

Expanded Call
The Africa since 1990 Forum of the MLA welcomes abstracts for a guaranteed panel titled “Pleasure, Arts and the Human in Africa.” The panel is part of the 2020 MLA Annual Convention in January 2020 in Seattle. We are interested in papers that address the multi-dimensional ways in which African literary and other cultural forms—new or old—might help us navigate how artistic practices and theoretical methodologies provide meaningful, illuminating ways of reading pleasure as it intersects with current contributions and/or threats to human thriving. The impetus of the panel comes from three interrelated points. 1-The presidential theme for the 2020 MLA convention that Simon Gikandi has chosen” the human.” 2- Despite prominent and precolonial accounts of the human in African social and moral thought and practice pace Gyekye 2010 and Wiredu 1987, still the colonial enterprise ignored and proceeded to frame the native as savage, primitive, and less than human. In the light of these contesting formulations of African humanity, it is useful to wonder which versions of the African human prevails today in an era of impending threats to human prosperity. The panel seeks to focus on how pleasure participates in current accounts of the human, which we may apprehend through our creative imagination.

In its most general definition, pleasure includes the fleeting affective positivity of all joy, gladness, liking, and enjoyment, all our feeling good or happy. This and other accounts posit pleasure as the only actual
ultimate ends and the only justified ultimate ends of all our voluntary pursuit and avoidance. In neurobiology, pleasure has be identified as the principle of human evolution and survival (Victor Johnson 2003). Given the centrality of pleasure inhuman (and relevantly similar animal) life, a pressing question emerges, How do we conceptualize pleasure as formulated in African philosophies and artistic products. In enriching the ongoing academic conversations on pleasure and cognate terms, this panel seeks to examine the extent to which pleasure, arts, and the human reconfigure conventional sites, methods, and theories of literary and cultural criticism.

Prospective panelists should submit a 250-word abstract to Naminata Diabate (nd326@cornell.edu) by March 15, 2019 with “MLA Panel” in subject line.

We welcome papers engaging the following questions among others:

  • How might we either theorize or critique the search and the enjoyment of pleasure by creative avenues from and about Africa?
  • To what extent is the intersection between artists and philosophies produce forms of pleasures that may shape new African writing and by extension African literary studies?
  • How might we define and conceptualize the ways in which academic literary criticism of pleasure and the human can guide artistic culture’s compelling tendencies evolve and thrive?
  • How does attention to the human via pleasure put pressure on concepts such as arts, philosophies, and cosmologies?
  • How might we write the history of the pleasurable African?
  • How might we conceptualize the political and cultural work of these artistic engagements with pleasure to formulate the African human?