Calibrations: Reading for the Social by Ato Quayson

By Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson explores a convention of interpreting that oscillates swiftly among domains-the literary-aesthetic, the social, the cultural, and the political-in order to discover the collectively illuminating nature of those domain names. He does this to not assert the usually repeated postmodernist view that there's not anything open air the textual content, yet to stipulate a style of studying he calls calibrations: a kind of shut interpreting of literature with what lies past it as a manner of realizing buildings of transformation, method, and contradiction that tell either literature and society. Quayson surveys a big selection of texts-ranging from Bob Marley lyrics, Toni Morrison's paintings, Walter Benjamin's Theses at the Philosophy of heritage, and Althusser's reflections on political economy-and treats a huge variety of issues: the comparative buildings of alienation in literature and anthropology, cultural heroism as a trope in African society and politics, literary tragedy as a template for studying the lifestyles 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 dissatisfied time in postcolonial texts. Ato Quayson is director of the African stories Centre, lecturer in English, and fellow of Pembroke university on the college of Cambridge.

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But the fellaheen are also connected to wider realities such as the context and politics of Egyptian multicultural formations since the fourteenth century and the nature and directions of transnational migration at the end of the twentieth. The book also deploys an implicit philosophy of history. Because of the alternations between the historical past and the present conditions among the fellaheen, the book calls for an evaluation of history as a process of mirroring in which the past is often reiterated but with an easy-to-miss difference.

Sociological approaches tend to emphasize alienation as the separation of individuals from themselves and from the object of their activity; their deprivation or renunciation of real claims of identity, satisfaction, harmony, control, or legitimacy over what they do or how they do it. These are expressed conceptually in terms of either estrangement or reification (Bryce-Laporte and Thomas 1976). Among the more sociologically inclined theorists of alienation may be numbered Lewis Feuer, George Litchenstein, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, and others.

In the Englund and Leach article, Leach’s account of his fieldwork experience researching current Melanesian interests in white people, money, and consumption is particularly interesting for the way in which the elision is staged. He starts off by noting how, during his fieldwork in the villages along the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea in 1994–95, the questions he was constantly asked about white people and the origins of money took an alarming turn when new stories of “liver thieves” became prominent.

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