I’m changing my topic from what I previously planned–the Mbembe article that Anne posted two weeks ago ended up jumpstarting an inquiry that’s had similar, if not exactly parallel, concerns to the work I’ve been doing in Asian American lit this past year. For this project, I plan to read Joe and diagnose the extent to which it’s successful in creating a discursive space free from hierarchy. Obviously, the glib answer is that it doesn’t succeed at all, but it’s important to note why not; looking to popular fiction/strange archives like Joe, which seemingly have no attachment to established aesthetic hierarchies, may be a useful avenue for future scholars who wish to challenge questions of Western knowledge production.
Rather than posting my sources in alphabetical order, I’m presenting them here in a fashion that communicates the trajectory the paper will take.
Mbembe, Achille. “Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive.” Africa Is a Country. 11 May 2015.
This is probably the starting point of my project. His essay does a good job in linking criticism’s responsibility to both the practical/political and the theoretical/aesthetic. This binary is particularly crucial for the construction of the archive, and Mbembe’s suggestion that we consider factors and entities relationally stands to create a fundamental shift in how we frame knowledge production, particularly as it offers a degree of freedom from Westernized scholarship.
Thiong’o, Ngugi wa. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Oxford: James Currey Ltd / Heinemann, 2011.
Mbembe extrapolates a part of his argument from Thiong’o’s book, particularly thinking of one’s relationality to other forces that contextualize and comprise one’s own subjectivity. He frames decolonization as a process that happens over a duration of time and which is enacted by the process of realizing relationality. It’s possible that I could integrate this idea with posthumanist studies in order to more broadly challenge the idea of Westernized knowledge production, but I’d have to look more closely into that discipline before I can say anything for sure.
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.
I’m a bit hesitant about using such an established canonical Western thinker in a project like this, but I can’t help to think about the resonance Latour’s ANT has with Thing’o’s relational thinking. Where Thiong’o turns relationality inward to illuminate the self, Latour moves outward, explaining any given collection of entities as a network with a given collective purpose—furthermore, the concept of his variety of network dispenses with hierarchy because any given network will fail without all of its constituent parts. If I were to bring in Deleuze at all, his idea of the rhizome also links up with the above ideas.
Frederiksen, Bodil Folke. “Joe, the Sweetest Reading in Africa: Documentation & Discussion of a Popular Magazine in Kenya.” Readings in African Popular Fiction. Ed. Stephanie Newell. Oxford & Bloomington/Indianapolis: James Currey & University of Indiana Press, 2002. 94–103.
This finally brings us to the main text I’ll be looking at. Trying to frame Joe Magazine as a source of post-Western knowledge production would obviously prove extremely problematic, but there are absolutely ways in which the magazine makes an attempt to get away from systems of control and domination, and the essay that prefaces the magazine materials gives important context about the production of the magazine itself, while also running a brief analysis of some of its content. All in all, I plan to use Joe to diagnose the extent to which this example of popular culture is successful in its earnest attempt to loosen itself from hierarchical thinking. Thiong’o’s relationality of decolonization will be especially illustrative in the close readings of Joe that I’ll perform here.
Jeon, Joseph Jonghyun. Racial Things, Racial Forms: Objecthood in Avant-Garde Asian American Poetry. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2012.
I’m sure at first this seems pretty discontinuous with the work that I’ve done so far, but there is a point! Jeon’s book looks at the objects that appear in avant-garde poetry, and he plots race onto them in order to illuminate these poems’ understated political attachments. I’d like to modify his approach here, thinking about the materiality of Joe Magazine in an effort to plot femininity onto the stories, jokes, and covers—in other words, I plan to draw a parallel between the material status of the magazine itself as an object and the ways it objectifies the subjects (both male and female) with traces of femininity.
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.
I fear that it may be a disservice to Joe to limit my interaction of that text to specific close readings, but without a broader, more intensive research project on its reception and consumption in the 70s, this is what I’m limited to. Bringing in Warner allows me to talk about how or why the messages of these samples shape, and in many cases reiterate, the sort of hierarchical thinking that the creators of the magazine would claim Joe combats. It may be useful to frame Joe as a counterdiscourse that smuggles in dominant discourses at the same time it professes revolution.