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Title: Ancestral trauma, animist poetics : African literature's regenerative death drive
Author: Topper, Ryan
ISNI:       0000 0004 6493 8196
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2017
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In this thesis I ask, what kind of trauma theory is immanent to modern African literature? Informed by psychoanalysis and deconstruction, I explicate from African texts a form of collective trauma that I term ancestral trauma and a regenerative logic of survival that I term animist poetics. Ancestral trauma names the process through which colonial modernity ruptures the cosmological frame of reference upon which the cultural memory of a colonized people depends. Desecrating the very form of intergenerational remembrance, ancestral trauma operates beyond the purveyance of memory studies. So does animist poetics. Rather than representing traumatic memory, animist poetics regenerates desecrated ancestral ties by paradoxically ritualizing their erasure. Animist poetics is thus an aesthetic logic immanent to modernity, which challenges dichotomies between African animism and Western modernity. Operating beyond the therapeutic framework of recovery and the Manichaeism of postcolonial critique, animist poetics reinvents precolonial cosmologies as responses to colonized modernity—not historic redemption, but collective survival. Authors such as Yvonne Vera and Wole Soyinka craft such a survival by aesthetically ritualizing death, which leads to a new theory of the death drive. Freud’s theory equates death with ontological stasis, but Vera and Soyinka posit an animist revision in which the deaths enforced by colonial and postcolonial regimes become transitions into new forms of collective life. This regenerative death drive at the heart of animist poetics both extends and overturns Freud’s most radical insight. Thus, in this thesis, through offering a postcolonial trauma theory, I ultimately gesture toward a post-secular theory of time in which the living, the dead, and the unborn can, in response to an erasure of the past, inherit the possibility of a future.
Supervisor: Durrant, Sam Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available