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Calibrations

Reading for the Social

2003
Author:

Ato Quayson

Calibrations

Proposes an entirely new socially and politically conscious way of reading

Ato Quayson uses a method of reading he calls calibrations: a reading of literature with what lies beyond it as a way of understanding structures of transformation, process, and contradiction that inform both literature and society. He surveys texts ranging from Bob Marley lyrics, Toni Morrison’s work, Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, and Althusser’s reflections on political economy.

Quayson provides a methodological account of how to ‘calibrate’ the relations between two domains—the literary-aesthetic domain and the domain of the real. Calibrations will be read as much for Quayson’s superb analyses of the individual texts in each chapter as for the cumulative result.

Ian Baucom, author of Out of Place

Ato Quayson explores a practice of reading that oscillates rapidly between domains—the literary-aesthetic, the social, the cultural, and the political—in order to uncover the mutually illuminating nature of these domains. He does this not to assert the often repeated postmodernist view that there is nothing outside the text, but to outline a method of reading he calls calibrations: a form of close reading of literature with what lies beyond it as a way of understanding structures of transformation, process, and contradiction that inform both literature and society.

Quayson surveys a wide array of texts—ranging from Bob Marley lyrics, Toni Morrison’s work, Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, and Althusser’s reflections on political economy—and treats a broad range of themes: the comparative structures of alienation in literature and anthropology, cultural heroism as a trope in African society and politics, literary tragedy as a template for reading the life and activism of Ken Saro-Wiwa, trauma and the status of citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa, representations of physical disability, and the clash between enchanted and disenchanted time in postcolonial texts.

Calibrations

Ato Quayson is director of the African Studies Centre, lecturer in English, and fellow of Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge.

Calibrations

Quayson provides a methodological account of how to ‘calibrate’ the relations between two domains—the literary-aesthetic domain and the domain of the real. Calibrations will be read as much for Quayson’s superb analyses of the individual texts in each chapter as for the cumulative result.

Ian Baucom, author of Out of Place

The startling, but simple, lesson of this remarkable book is that neither literature nor what we are wont to think of as the social precede the act of reading. A highly original, sociopolitically committed, and erudite book.

Modern Fiction Studies

Bringing new theoretical perspectives into the established framework of formalist criticism, Quayson represents a fresh current in African literary scholarship. Above all, his work expresses dissatisfaction with, and an effort to move beyond, the old residues of reflectionist anthropological criticism which continue to pervade African literary criticism.

Wasafiri Magazine