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Ato Quayson's Calibrations: Reading for the Social
The articles in this section were first presented at the panel "Reading for the Social: Socio-Cultural Transactions and Ato Quayson's Calibrations"* at the Thirtieth African Literature Association conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in April 2004. The panel itself was part of a new presentation program instituted by the organizers called "Special Seminars." Designed to provide extended time for robustly critical ruminations on a subject, a "seminar" was conceived and executed as a set of three panels over three days on the same theme, and with precirculated papers. The panel "Reading for the Social" was one of the three of the seminar titled "On Theory," which I organized; the other two are "Institutions, Contexts, Politics" I and II.
There is already quite substantial food for thought in the critical discussions below of Quayson's book and his response to them. So I remark here not on the book as such but on the significant occasion for very critical, lively, and open exchanges on theoretical matters that it provided. Colleagues and graduate students, apparently more richly stimulated than usual, approached me after the panel (and [End Page 95] the other two also) to express their appreciation and to make a plea that theory matters become a permanent seminar feature at ALA conferences. A few said they had wondered whether it was possible to avidly discourse on theory at the ALA "without guilt." I was not surprised by this reaction. After all, most of us in African literary studies have always had a kind of ambiguous relationship to "theory," whatever way that is conceived. But it is not that we do not do theory—we do that in all of our writings whether we are aware of it or not. What we certainly do not do enough of is self-reflexive critical theoretical engagement of theory. Judging from the responses to the seminar—and for those who were not there, the vibrant energy of the debates below—it is surely time we encourage and direct more effort into the field- enriching task of metatheoretical exertions the like of which Ato Quayson's book for that occasion provided an excellent example.
*Quayson, Ato. Calibrations: Reading for the Social. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, c2003.