CFP (ACLA): The City in the Life Narratives of the Global South

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    Gretchen Head

    For those of you working on African literatures, we welcome submissions to our upcoming ACLA seminar:


    The City in the Life Narratives of the Global South


    Organizer: Gretchen Head, Yale-NUS College

    Co-Organizer: Rania Said, Binghamton University

    Contact the Seminar Organizers:



    In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, Mikhail Bakhtin insists on the “sharp and categorical boundary line between the actual world of representation and the world represented in the work of art.” Yet in no genre is this line more regularly blurred than the many forms that can be loosely grouped together under the label of autobiography. While all literary texts contain within them some ideological engagement with reality, the particular tensions that define many of the urban centers of the Global South often move this relationship to the forefront of the narrative. As such, this seminar will consider the overlap between the way intellectuals, activists, and the dispossessed textually represent themselves and the urban spaces they inhabit, places generally caught between postcoloniality, globalization, and nationalism. This seminar is inspired by the cities of the Arabic speaking world, however, these cities’ histories of colonization, struggles with tradition and modernity/religious faith and secularism, recent political upheavals, and peripheral status within the global economic system mean that they share much in common with cities in other regions challenged by the same issues. We therefore welcome papers that either address the urban autobiographies, memoirs, and testimonies of the MENA region or those of other regions with comparable thematic concerns.


    Papers may address but are not limited to the following:


    -Do the writers of the Global South, especially of Arab-majority cities, challenge or embrace what Yasser Elsheshtawy calls “the narrative of loss” imposed on them by the Orientalist or the postcolonial gaze?


    -How do these writers construct the image of their cities in relation to their surrounding suburbs, rural areas, and/or global capitals?


    – In what ways might the contradictions that characterize the capitalist city affect narrative form and/or the tropes the writer utilizes to write his or her experience?


    – Does the writer link their life narratives to dystopian or utopian rhetoric as a mode of political or social critique?


    -In what ways might the city’s architecture intersect with the autobiographical text, from the gleaming high rises of a city like Dubai to the more organic structures of a city’s older neighborhoods to the gated communities that have become prevalent in many cities?


    -How might space be gendered in these narratives? How do women writers map their cities? How is masculinity mapped in the urban space?


    -How is class figured? Is there a particular relationship between a city-dwelling, bourgeois life style and autobiographical writing?


    -What are the affective registers drawn upon by the writer to express the specificities of his or her subject position?


    Papers on the life narratives of women writers are encouraged.

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