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  • Introduction: African Literature and the Cold War:What Is at Stake?
  • Monica Popescu

"One of the inherited traditions of Western education in the last four hundred years is that of putting things in compartments, resulting in an incapacity to see the links that bind various categories. We are trained not to see the connections between phenomena, we become locked in Aristotelian categories. So the East becomes East, and the West becomes West, and never the twain shall meet! But is this really true in a world that ultimately is round?"

—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o ("Borders and Bridges" 120)

In early 2016 the Calvert 22 Foundation of London launched a new program entitled "Red Africa," comprising an exhibition, public talks, and film screenings as well as a slate of reports, articles, and photojournalism published in The Calvert Journal.1 Replacing predominant narratives in African studies that focused on relations of adversity or influence between former and new colonial powers in the West and newly independent African countries, the Calvert 22 Foundation project highlighted ties between the second and the third worlds.2 The roles played by the Soviet Union, China, other Eastern Bloc countries, or Cuba during the struggle for decolonization in Africa and in the aftermath—"from early-Soviet utopian visions of interracial collaboration, through the height of the Cold War, when soft power was used to influence independence struggles"—came to the foreground in the exhibition "Things Fall Apart."3 As the installation, concurrent film screenings, and journal articles attest, cultural diplomacy and hard power left their imprint on the continent, from grandiose socialist realist monuments erected by Pyongyang's Mansudae Art Studio in Zimbabwe, Senegal, and other countries to films by Abderrahmane Sissako and Haile Gerima that attend to a black diaspora bending their steps to Moscow and other Eastern Bloc capitals, and from the "Afro-Gypsy" beats of Wanlov the Kubolor, the Romanian-Ghanaian artist, to the defamiliarizing effect of Kiluanji Kia Henda's rendering of the rocket-shaped Neto mausoleum in Luanda—a construction erected with Soviet support—as "Africa's almost-real first space mission."4

If art forms generated by collaborations between African artists and their Eastern Bloc counterparts form the object of the "Red Africa" project, their [End Page vii] mirror image on the other side of the Iron Curtain was reflected in the exhibition "Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War," organized at the end of 2017 by the Berlin-based Haus der Kulturen der Welt. "Devoted to the global dimension of cultural politics in the Cold War and to the changing meanings and aims assigned to modernism," the exhibition brought to the foreground the long arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) through its front organization the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an intellectual community putatively dedicated to supporting anti-totalitarian endeavors. According to the curators, the exhibition foregrounded "the friction between the political use of art and artists' striving for autonomy," drawing on art from the West but also from Latin America, Africa, the Middle, and the Far East ("Parapolitics"). These recent exhibitions, with their wealth of art on display, implicitly or explicitly point to new archives as well as new approaches that could reconfigure the ways we think about cultural production during the second half of the twentieth century. It is this type of reconceptualization, with a focus on the ways in which we conceive of African literary history, that is at the heart of the present special issue of Research in African Literatures titled African Literary History and the Cold War. We, the editors, Bhakti Shringarpure and Monica Popescu, see this project as both an instrument for unearthing new textual archives and a proof of the existing rich literary material that would allow us to revisit and revise established narratives about postcolonial cultures in general and African literatures more specifically.

The reconceptualization starts with rethinking the scope of disciplines we take for granted. In her monograph, Cold War Assemblages: Decolonization to the Digital, Bhakti Shringarpure argues that compartmentalization of information, which separated some forms of postcolonial studies from the consequences of imperial violence, has led to "the emergence of a doctored intellectual and cultural sphere that cast...

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