Against ‘African Popular Literature’, or: The Weeping Woman

Authored by: Ranka Primorac

Routledge Handbook of African Popular Culture

Print publication date:  May  2022
Online publication date:  May  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367483869
eBook ISBN: 9781003080855
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter troubles a key tenet of the study of African popular literature – its routine alignment with the notion of ‘the unofficial’ on the one hand, and with the idea of ‘the people’ on the other – via a strategic juxtaposition. It places in the same analytical frame two benchmark academic monographs recently published in the UK, both interested in literature and in Africa, both scrupulously materialist in critical orientation: A History of African Popular Culture (2018) by Karin Barber and Combined and Uneven Development (2015) by the Warwick Research Collective (WReC). Usually kept apart by institutional and disciplinary boundaries, Barber’s and WReC’s projects resonate with each other in several ways. This chapter executes a contrapuntal pulling together of their critical perspectives in order to bring into view the possibility of their productive interlocking, or counter-fitting. ‘The weeping woman’ is an intertextual figure that points to the potential analytical gains of such an interlocking. Extrapolated from the analyses of formally diverse Zambian and Kenyan literary texts, the iterations of ‘the weeping woman’ help to substantiate the chapter’s key contention: that, as a negatively defined category, ‘African popular literature’ occludes literary-historical processes and resonances that merit scholarly attention.

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