Department of English

"A Rediscovery of Obscenity: Binyavanga Wainaina's Ngugi wa Thiong'o"

Mon, February 4, 2013 | PAR 203

4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

Free and open to the public.  A talk by Aaron Bady, "A Rediscovery of Obscenity: Binyavanga Wainaina's Ngugi wa Thiong'o" on Monday, 4 February 2013 from 4:30-6 pm in PAR 203.

About "A Rediscovery of Obscenity: Binyavanga Wainaina's Ngugi wa Thiong'o"

For the latter part of the 20th century, Ngugi wa Thiong’o seemed to embody the discontents of Kenya’s postcolonial independence, not only in the substance of his novels and polemics but in the very fact that he wrote from exile in the United States. After the end of Moi dictatorship in 2002, however, Kenya has changed dramatically while Ngugi has stayed where he is, both literally and metaphorically. Especially as Kenya’s political landscape has been violently divided along tribal lines, the idea of a Gikuyu-centric “Ngugi” and the forms of literary authority associated with his generation have been freighted with the bloody consequences of “Project Kenya”’s failure. In "A Rediscovery of Obscenity: Binyavanga Wainaina's ‘Ngugi wa Thiong'o,’" I show how a younger generation of Kenyan writers and artists—-grouped around Binyavanga Wainaina and Kwani?, the journal he founded in 2003-—has worked to create forms of artistic expression that can speak to the very different crises of the post-Moi era. In Binyavanga's novelistic-memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place (2011), “Ngugi” represents the political grammar of nationalist, culturalist, and heteronormative expectations which legitimize violence against bodies that scan as “queer,” whether sexually, politically, or ethnically. At the same time, I show how a queer gaze makes Ngugi himself recoverable, within a generational complex that is re-structured as a desire for the father, rather than by oedipal resentment.

About Aaron Bady

Aaron Bady received his B.A. in English from the Ohio State University and his M.A. in Literature from American University before joining the graduate program in English at the University of California, Berkeley. His dissertation, "White Men’s Country: The Image of Africa in the American Century," argues that nineteenth-century American frontier-thinking provided the metaphors and imagery which both white settlers and Kenyan nationalists have used to imagine and contest East African geography and culture in the twentieth century. Bady explores how contemporary narratives of Kenyan identity have been shaped and formed by an ongoing engagement with American interlocutors, from the forms of racial control that Kenya's white settlers saw in the Jim Crow South and the American West to nationalist conceptualizations of space, person-hood, and freedom in the long "American century." His article “Tarzan’s White Flights: Terrorism and Fantasy Before and After the Airplane” was published in American Literature and received Honorable Mention for the Norman Foerster Prize, and his article “Spectatorship and the Arab Spring” has been published in Cinema Journal. His research interests are African literature after globalization--whenever and wherever that may be--as well as postcolonial literature and theory, twentieth-century American literature, and the digital Black Atlantic literatures of the twenty-first century. He writes the blog zunguzungu at the New Inquiry, and has written on technology and culture for Guernica, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Dissent, Technology Review, Jacobin, and the LA Review of Books.

Read more from Bady on his blog, zunguzungu.

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