Date: 23 March 2011 Time: 5.00 pm
Venue: Bowland North Seminar Room 16
DELC Research Seminar
'Sex as protest and process: Sensual approaches to conflict in Chimananda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun and Aminata Forna's The Memory of Love'.
Zoe Norridge (University of York)
War has long been a theme of African literature, from the struggles of decolonisation to the post-Independence conflicts that continue to rack the continent right up to the present day. Although conflict narratives have predominantly been penned by men there is a long history of women writing about war. From Nwapa's 1975 account of Biafra to much more recent autobiographies by genocide survivors from Rwanda. This paper will focus on fiction and the specific role that sensuality seems to be playing in aestheticised accounts of war.
In the 1990s Yvonne Vera and Calixthe Beyala's novels about sexuality and violence heralded a new trend in African women's writing. More recently, the challenge of representing the most intimate facets of female bodies has been taken up by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Aminatta Forna. Adichie's 2006 novel about the Biafran war, Half of a Yellow Sun, contains some of the most graphic sex scenes of any African novel. Published four years later, Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love also draws on explicit sexual imagery to depict a range of couples affected by the Sierra Leonean civil war.
Why is it that African female writers are currently turning to sensuality as a means to explore conflict? Drawing on both theory and close readings, I will argue that the answer is threefold. Firstly, sexual pleasure is pictured as humanising, as offering an individual perspective to counterbalance to the homogenising horrors of war (Sontag, Mbembe). Secondly, in the context of civil war where sexual brutality is a constant threat, depictions of consensual intercourse provide a form of protest, reclaiming women's bodies from the omnipresence of violence (Nnaemeka, Walker). Finally, the language of sensuality offers a means to develop an aesthetic vocabulary around the body that can then be used in other contexts, in the case of conflict novels to explore emotional suffering and physical pain (Das).
Zoe Norridge is a Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of York. Her current research focuses on cultural responses to genocide memorial sites in Rwanda. She has published articles about conflict literature from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Papua New Guinea and also writes about cross-cultural empathy and exhibitions, photography and dance. For more information and publications please see: http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/engl/staff/academic/norridge.htm
Who can attend: Anyone
Organising departments and research centres: European Languages and Cultures