On the Affliction of Second Thoughts: Modes of Doubt in Postcolonial Tragedy

The Northrop Frye Centre Presents:

On the Affliction of Second Thoughts: Modes of Doubt in Postcolonial Tragedy

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 4:00pm
Prof. Ato Quayson, University of Toronto
Northrop Frye Centre (VC102), Old Victoria College Building 
(91 Charles Street West)

Paul Rayment, in JM Coetzee’s Slow Man, describes himself as being “afflicted by second thoughts”.  Not only can this passing statement be taken as a profound description of all of Coetzee’s characters, it in fact provides a good window for understanding the crises of various postcolonial tragedies, ranging from Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God to Yvonne Vera’s Without a Name, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Arundhathi Roy’s God of Small Things, among many others.  One suspects that the second-thought affliction is really an effect of modernist modes of writing.  While this is a perfectly plausible explanation, this seminar traces the prototypes of second thoughts in postcolonial tragedy to two completely different sources.  First is the form of the soliloquy deployed in St. Augustine’s aptly named Soliloquia, where he wrestles mightily with Reason posed as a skeptical interlocutor to his internal self-investigations.  The second route is through Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Maskswhere the affliction of second thoughts is shown to deeply affect the bodily schema of the colonized. 

Professor Quayson's interest in this exercise is ultimately to distinguish the affliction of second thoughts from prevarication, and instead to align it closely to the problematic of giving an account of oneself when the instruments and narratives by which one might provide such an account are judged to be either compromised or somehow anachronistic.  As Professor Quayson will demonstrate, in various instances thoughts also take on the guise of a strong feeling or emotion and are bound to images, thus forming an intractable thought-affect-image nexus that troubles thought as such. Second thoughts are as much signifiers of unruly internal states as they are the correlates of specific modes of historical transition.

Ato Quayson is Professor of English and Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto. He is an accomplished scholar with 14 books to date on topics of African literature, postcolonial studies and literary theory. His most recent publications include The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and Oxford St., Accra; Urban Evolution, Street Life and Itineraries of the Transnational (Duke University Press, 2014). He is founding editor of the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, and is currently working on a new book provisionally titled On Postcolonial Tragedy that takes a sweep of tragedy and tragic philosophy from the Greeks through Shakespeare to the present day and explores key themes on the links between suffering and ethics through postcolonial examples.