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Introduction: Reflections on Postcolonial Animations of the Material

  • Rosemary J. Jolly and Alexander Fyfe

In this introduction to the special issue, “Animating Theories of the Material: Approaching Animist Being in Postcolonial Literatures,” Rosemary Jolly and Alexander Fyfe consider the recent surge of interest in animisms within postcolonial studies alongside the roughly coeval turn to questions of materiality within the humanities. Introducing the five essays in the issue, they raise questions around the potential limitations of various forms of materialism, both “new” and “old,” and highlight possible ways in which postcolonial scholars might responsibly attend to animist modes of thought. They argue for the political importance and the ethical necessity of an approach to animisms that does not reduce them to a “theory” of the material, yet at the same time bears witness to the full range of materialities that obtain within such worldviews.

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1 Garuba, Harry, “Explorations in Animist Materialism: Notes on Reading/Writing African Literature, Culture, and Society,” Public Culture 15.2 (2003): 261285 ; Rooney, Caroline, African Literature, Animism and Politics (London; New York: Routledge, 2001). Wole Soyinka’s work on the “African world view” is, however, a significant precursor to these more recent interventions. See Soyinka, Wole, Myth Literature and the African World (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

2 We use the term new materialisms to designate the work of a number of theorists who attend to the agency of nonhuman objects, the most visible perhaps being Bennett, Chen, and Braidotti. The term, it should be noted, is not generally used by these thinkers themselves, although several of them make contributions to an influential collection of essays bearing it as a title. See Coole, Diana and Frost, Samantha, eds. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (Durham NC; London: Duke University Press, 2010).

3 Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

4 Ibid., vii.

5 Bennett takes the term actant from Bruno Latour, defining it as “a source of action that can either be human or non-human; it is that which has efficacy, can do things, has sufficient coherence to make a difference, produce effects, alter the course of events.” Ibid., viii.

6 Todd, Zoe, “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word for Colonialism,” Journal of Historical Sociology 29.1 (March 1, 2016): 422 .

7 Ibid., 7.

8 Chen, Mel Y., Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).

9 Lopez, Alfred J., “Contesting the Material Turn; or, the Persistence of Agency,” Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Inquiry 5.3 (2018).

10 Braidotti, Rosi, The Posthuman (Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA, USA: Polity Press, 2013).

11 Braidotti, Rosi, “Posthuman Critical Theory,” in Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures, eds. Debashish Banerji and Makarand R. Paranjape (India: Springer India, 2016), 1332 .

12 Coole, Diana and Frost, Samantha, “Introducing the New Materialisms,” in New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, eds. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (Durham, NC; London: Duke University Press, 2010), 26 .

13 Watson, Janell, “Eco-Sensibilities: An Interview with Jane Bennett,” The Minnesota Review 81 (2013): 154 .

14 Galloway, Alexander R., “History Is What Hurts: On Old Materialism,” Social Text 34.2/127 (2016): 137 .

15 Green, Louise, “Thinking Outside the Body: New Materialism and the Challenge of the Fetish,” Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Inquiry 5.3 (2018).

16 Povinelli, Elizabeth A., Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016). Todd, “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn.”

17 Ravenscroft, Alison, “Strange Weather: Indigenous Materialism, New Materialism, and Colonialism, Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Inquiry 5.3 (2018).

18 Jolly, Rosemary J., “Effluence, ‘Waste’ and African Humanism: Extra-Anthropocentric Being and Human Rightness,” Social Dynamics 44.1 (2018): 158178 ; Todd, “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word for Colonialism.”

19 Steve Shaviro cited in Barad, Karen, “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” Signs 28.3 (2003): 801 .

20 Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity,” 812. The term thingification is originally Fanon’s, a fact omitted by Barad, a sign of the erasure of the relations between race and thingification in her account.

21 Ravenscroft, “Strange Weather.”

22 Kate Rigby, cited in Ravenscroft, “Strange Weather.”

23 Povinelli, Geontologies, 28.

24 Robin Wright, “Geontologies by Elizabeth Povinelli.” Society & Space (blog). 2017.

25 Zoe Todd notes that the call for papers for the Association of Social Anthropologists of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth for its 2014 annual conference reads “Ethnographic methodologies have evolved in relation to other traditions, internalizing over the years diverse scientific, political, literary, cinematic, linguistic and artistic techniques. . . . Physical, emotional and analytical proximity can be perilous—we risk losing our compass, getting too close and ‘going native.’ ” See ASA, cited in Todd, “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn,” 10.

26 Cariou, Warren, “Sweetgrass Stories: Listening for Animate Land,” Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Inquiry 5.3 (2018).

27 Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minneapolis: Duke University Press, 2001).

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Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry
  • ISSN: 2052-2614
  • EISSN: 2052-2622
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