Academic journal article ARIEL

Emailing/skyping Africa: New Technologies and Communication Gaps in Contemporary African Women's Fiction

Academic journal article ARIEL

Emailing/skyping Africa: New Technologies and Communication Gaps in Contemporary African Women's Fiction

Article excerpt

Abstract: Mobility marks the fields of contemporary African and African diasporic literatures in a profound way. In the study of postcolonial literatures, mobility is most often understood in terms of the physical human travel that is embodied in the paradigmatic figure of the migrant. Yet mobility is a concept whose meaning cannot be reduced to migrancy or physical travel in general. In the era of globalization, the world beyond the local becomes accessible through imaginative, virtual, and communicative forms of travel. This article adopts a wider understanding of mobility by focusing on its communicative dimensions and analyzing how Liss Kihindou, No Violet Bulawayo, Veronique Tadjo, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie address it thematically and aesthetically in their novels. The recurring trope of a communication gap attests that while the geographical distance caused by human travel can often be surmounted with the help of communication technologies, the relations between those who leave and those who stay behind are marked by a schism that translates into an emotional, epistemic, and cultural distance that may be much harder to reconcile.

Keywords: African literatures, communication technology, cosmopolitanism, globalization, mobility

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Mobility is an element that marks the fields of contemporary African and African diasporic literatures in a profound way. While the most obvious line of inquiry this subject raises is human physical travel and, more specifically, migration from the African continent toward Western metropolises, it should be emphasized that mobility is a concept whose meaning cannot be reduced to these phenomena. Indeed, the new mobilities paradigm currently manifesting itself in social and human sciences highlights the multiplicity of forms that mobility takes (Sheller and Urry 212). In addition to human physical travel, these include the physical movement of objects, imaginative travel (images and memories seen in texts, on TV, via computers, and so on), virtual travel (via the internet), and communicative travel (person-to-person messages through different media) (Larsen, Urry, and Axhausen 4). In the case of information and communication technologies (ICT), mobility is less a matter of physical travel than one of interaction, that is, how people "interact with each other in their social lives" (Masao Kakihara and Carsten Sorensen qtd. in Adey 210). Such forms of mobility may even replace physical travel as they enable a virtual presence and proximity regardless of geographical or social distance (Urry 256).

This article focuses on the communicative aspect of mobility and how it has been thematically and formally addressed in recent Anglo- and Francophone African and African diasporic writing. To this end, it analyzes Liss Kihindou's Chene de bambou (2013), No Violet Bulawayo's We Need New Names (2013), Veronique Tadjo's Loin de mon pere (2010), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah (2014). The texts and this article focus on internet-mediated communication technologies: email (Kihindou's, Tadjo's, and Adichie's novels) and Skype (Bulawayo's novel). I suggest that Bulawayo's novel sees Skype as a logical continuation of email communications. In referring to Skype and instant messaging, We Need New Names is synchronized with current developments in which email is being challenged by more recent technological innovations. Both We Need New Names and Americanah frequently evoke the virtual world by referring to online services, smartphones, and social media, which signals their eagerness to address different internet phenomena.

This article aims to convey a more complex understanding of mobility in the African literary context. Secondly, it promotes the idea that literariness is a relevant concern for postcolonial literary studies-a field in which aesthetics, as Elleke Boehmer puts it, have often been seen as "an unaffordable indulgence" ("Postcolonial" 172). …

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