Vanwesenbeeck delivers lecture in Istanbul university

Monday March 4, 2019Roger Coda
copy of lecture poster

Department of English Professor Birger Vanwesenbeeck gave a public lecture, “Choosing English: African American Writing as World Literature,” at Koç University in Istanbul. The presentation, held on Feb. 27 and hosted by the university’s English and Comparative Literature department, explored the relevance of the concept of world literature for African American writing, a corpus hitherto excluded from that context.  

While responding critically to the recent cooptation of world literature by Americanist and Anglophone scholars, Dr. Vanwesenbeeck argued that this term cannot be divested from its multilingual roots. Such linguistic reflection has long been a central characteristic of the African American tradition for whom the awareness of the African languages lost in the forced migration of the Middle Passage – the “many dozens gone” – makes the choice of writing in English as ambivalent as it is inescapable.

The result is that these authors often engage in what Leonard Foster, in a different context, has termed “auto-translation,” whereby the (no longer recoverable) former African tongues are being registered in their absence via the deliberate cultivation of an understated, melancholic style.

Vanwesenbeeck is currently serving as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in the Department of Western Languages and Literatures at Bogaziçi University in Istanbul. The lecture forms a part of his monograph-in-progress on the question of loss and translation in 20th century American literature.

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