African - Not African: Negotiating Textual Identities in Colonial- Era Travel Writing about Congo (1870-1950)

Kaur, Kiranpreet ORCID: 0000-0003-3629-4242 (2022). African - Not African: Negotiating Textual Identities in Colonial- Era Travel Writing about Congo (1870-1950). University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This study investigates colonial-era travel writing about Congo by, what I call, ‘hyphenated Africans’: authors who claim an African identity alongside another identity. Seven authors from different social, cultural and political backgrounds, with dispersion by colonial power as a common thread linking them to each other, have been selected for this study. As well as close reading, this study draws on archival research regarding the lives and other writings of these travel writers who travelled to central Africa, specifically Congo.
My study focuses on the ambivalent identities of the writers constructed by the layers of their connection with Africa and the places of their emigration and immigration. I argue that to negotiate identity, the writers navigate through their multiple selves that arise due to their hyphenated identities and their complex relationships with Africa. From these multiple selves, the writer chooses an appropriate self with which to respond and react in a particular situation in the actual event as well as the textual representation of that event. Due to this, and the representation of sameness and difference, multiple others are also constructed as a response to the performativity of multiple selves in the text. I, therefore, argue that the ‘other’ is also not fixed and stable; it is a textual construction to complement or support the positive textual identity negotiated by the travel writer. This performativity is further enabled through what I call the process of selectivity of silence and voice. I show how writers may choose to be silent during an event itself but then voice an opinion in the text, may sometimes choose to remain silent altogether regarding a particular event, and may sometimes voice the silence by explicitly informing the reader about the choice of ‘not speaking’. This selectivity of silence and voice, I argue, allows the travel writer writing in asymmetrical power relations to use the text as a contact zone to communicate with the readers (who are generally presumed to belong to the powerful society, specifically to the colonial structures in the colonial era), and claim voice, authority and power, which is otherwise denied or restricted.
By focusing on the agency of the traveller of the colonial period, this thesis reads African travel writing both within and beyond the colonial context. Recent scholarship on African travel writing has started acknowledging and analysing the rich body of African travel writing. However, it is still largely seen as either ‘writing back’ to the Empire or reproducing the stereotypes constructed by colonial explorers and missionaries about Africa. Although I focus on colonialism as the defining historical force informing the setting and themes of the chosen texts, I also consider synchronous events in other places both within Africa and outside Africa. I argue that travel writing by the travel writers with an agenda is always involved in power dynamics, irrespective of race. Ignoring this leads to maintaining the binaries: travel writing by whites will continue being read for colonial meaning-making and nostalgia, and that by the members of former colonies will continue to be read as either mimicry or counter-narratives to colonial structures; thereby blocking the ways to acknowledge the individuality of the authors. The thesis by reading it against this trend joins the debate to free African travel writing from its Western moorings. Also, by focussing on the agency of travel writers, and the ways they produce travel writing through the politics of representation, the thesis challenges the peripheral status of African travel writing, and tries to position it in the universality of the travel writing genre.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Funders: Other
Other Funders: College of Arts and Law (BRIHC-DASA Scholarship)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
P Language and Literature > PL Languages and literatures of Eastern Asia, Africa, Oceania
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)


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