Utopian Generations develops a powerful interpretive matrix for understanding world literature--one that renders modernism and postcolonial African literature comprehensible in a single framework, within which neither will ever look the same. African literature has commonly been seen as representationally naïve vis-à-vis modernism, and canonical modernism as reactionary vis-à-vis postcolonial literature. What brings these two bodies of work together, argues Nicholas Brown, is their disposition toward Utopia or "the horizon of a radical reconfiguration of social relations."
Grounded in a profound rethinking of the Hegelian Marxist tradition, this fluently written book takes as its point of departure the partial displacement during the twentieth century of capitalism's "internal limit" (classically conceived as the conflict between labor and capital) onto a geographic division of labor and wealth. Dispensing with whole genres of commonplace contemporary pieties, Brown examines works from both sides of this division to create a dialectical mapping of different modes of Utopian aesthetic practice. The theory of world literature developed in the introduction grounds the subtle and powerful readings at the heart of the book--focusing on works by James Joyce, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ford Madox Ford, Chinua Achebe, Wyndham Lewis, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Pepetela. A final chapter, arguing that this literary dialectic has reached a point of exhaustion, suggests that a radically reconceived notion of musical practice may be required to discern the Utopian desire immanent in the products of contemporary culture.
"Masterfully shuttling back and forth between Europe and Africa, Nicholas Brown gives us an exciting new perspective on modernism that is as philosophically astute as it is politically engaged."--Michael Hardt, Duke University, coauthor of Empire and Multitude
"An enormously significant contribution to the fields of modernist and postcolonial literary and cultural studies. Nicholas Brown aims to 're-constellate' modernism and African literature within a single framework, and he does so with great success. Along the way, however, the book accomplishes a great deal more than this. For example, it provides a new, critical-theoretical account of modernism itself. Superbly well-organized and wonderfully well-written, the book is replete with sentences that resonate with the reader long after closing its pages."--Neil Larsen, University of California, Davis, author of Modernism and Hegemony
"A complex, sensitive, and sophisticated investigation of the utopian aspects of both Western modernist literature and postcolonial African literature. Because modernist literature has become the standard of aesthetic achievement in Western literature, this is an audacious project. Brown not only gives equal weight to the two sets of works he is reading, but he reads each set on its own terms. As a result, he has produced an extremely useful and thought-provoking work of criticism that provides important new insights into both modernism and African literature."--M. Keith Booker, University of Arkansas, author of "Ulysses," Capitalism, and Colonialism
Table of Contents:
PART ONE: SUBJECTIVITY 35
CHAPTER TWO: Ulysses: The Modernist Sublime 37
CHAPTER THREE: Ambiguous Adventure: Authenticity's Aftermath 59
PART TWO: HISTORY 81
CHAPTER FOUR: The Good Soldier and Parade's End: Absolute Nostalgia 83
CHAPTER FIVE: Arrow of God: The Totalizing Gaze 104
PART THREE: POLITICS 125
CHAPTER SIX: The Childermass: Revolution and Reaction 127
CHAPTER SEVEN: Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Pepetela:Revolution and Retrenchment 150
CHAPTER EIGHT: Conclusion:Postmodernism as Semiperipheral Symptom 173