Transmodernity has emerged, in recent times, as a stirring call for refocusing debates around decolonization practice, indigeneities and planetarities, and neoliberal developmentalism. The divergent polemics of Spanish philosophers Rosa María Rodríguez Magda and Enrique Dussel have helped found a powerful counterdiscourse, in our opinion, to what Walter Mignolo astutely called “the enduring enchantments of modernity” (2002) — especially those at work in contemporary narratives of cross-cultural contact and exchange. Dussel has used the term transmodernity to theorize “pluriversality” – a concept that demarcates European modernity as one variant of a larger, global modernity, and not as the origin of global Modernity. When the history of the world is seen in such a light, Dussel proffers, “the fallacy of developmentalism [that] consists in thinking that the path of Europe’s modern development “must be followed unilaterally by every other culture” (1993) can be resisted and re-made. Pluriversality, in contrast to dominant European modernity, adopts a “cultural style” that “is engaged in a critical intercultural dialogue” (2012).
In the past fifty years especially, debates on hybridity in postcolonial studies, intersectionality in feminist scholarship, multiculturalism in political and social sciences, transnationality and globalization in Marxist and other class-based historiographical accounts, and diversity in critical race studies, have been carried forward by an explosion of queer, caste-based, and anti-racist investigations within an overarching poststructuralist framework – all of which together indicates a fortuitously synchronic intellectual ferment that has only intensified in the tumultuous two decades of the 21st century. The new century has amplified the challenges of globalization on multiple fronts; the COVID-19 pandemic, the accelerating catastrophes tied to global warming and climate change, as well as the socioeconomic and cultural spinoffs of capitalism and competing colonialisms have converged upon a shared existential moment for the planet that force us to revisit the “universals” of planetary life. The cultural and the literary cannot be immune to such a conjoining of forces above and beyond the human.
Transmodernity provides a principle for reading a range of writers whose works require us to theorize new diversities that are not merely westernisms in disguise. In such a light, we might see transmodern writings as a response to both the Eurocentric project of modernity and to the established counter-trajectories of postcoloniality, as they neither conform to nor reject outright either mode entirely, but subsume and redefine aspects of both in ways that enable decolonial liberatory practice. To make sense of what we identify as “unruly” writings, we call for using the “trans” in transmodernity as opening up transversal ways of reading across methods, without having to make claims to any form of totalizing coherence in them. Arguably, the most significant schools of thought today that can provide the methodological fuel for such interpretive practice are postcolonial studies (including critical race studies and decolonial sexualities) and the environmental humanities (including posthumanist studies), but not without their productive contradictions and collisions. From postcolonial theory, transmodern approaches can borrow the skepticism towards the human as a universal category, a premise that undergirds, for instance, both the Global North’s unequal sharing of culpability for climate change action and the Eurowestern rhetoric against terrorism. And from the environmental humanities, transmodernity studies can adapt new ways for deploying class-based analysis as a tool for mapping the cultural fallouts of global flows of capital, flows that interlock the regional with the oceanic and the transnational, providing vital diachronic and synchronic views of an intensely connected planet.
If we look beyond and above and beneath the disaggregated experiences of colonialism, we will find that four centuries of European colonization have not erased or neutralized the histories of pre-colonial contact and exchange. Colonial connections built upon, palimpsestically, what came before Europe took over large swathes of the world: such connections, as our literatures show, have endured and survived the colonial encounter.
“‘The transmodern novel,’ for instance, Mohan has argued in her work (2019) on Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, paves the way for asking such questions as: how can the Anglophone novel be made to represent the heterophony of postcolonial spaces like South Asia, Africa, and the Antilles? Can the contemporary novel be read as amphibious and polyvalent, and to do so, what skills must the reader possess?”
Extending this thesis, we ask: how do we, as students of global literary histories, describe, understand, and share vernacular and local multiplicities of modernities in the 21st century? What genres help us re-envision the globalizations of past times in the urgency of today’s planetary entanglements? What conceptual tools and analytical frameworks allow us to move away from and outside of the aporias of the monocultures of imperialism towards pluriversal worlds in contact? Transmodernity helps us draw up historical frameworks of contact and multiplicity that do not rely – implicitly or explicitly – upon the hierarchization of modernities as dominant, on the one hand, and derivative, on the other. By strategically disengaging from the centre-periphery model, transmodernity foregrounds laterality, relationality, and adaptation as potential theorizations for how cultures and languages in contact emerge and function.
In this volume of essays, we invite scholars to explore a myriad of literary forms from all around the globe that reposition historical traditions and foreground transmodernity as a valuable conceptual tool for rethinking literature and translation (as product and process) in and for the new century. Ultimately, we are impelled in our collection by the conviction that transmodern literatures are tied to an ethics and a politics of liberation, one in which literature and the other arts have a decisive, shaping role to play. In a passage that is as ironic as it is inspiring, Dussel says of the ends of liberation:
“ugliness” will soon appear as the most radiant and fascinating (but not fetishist) beauty. The expression and exposition of such beauty—the countenance of an oppressed people, of its culture, its reality—this is the supreme esthetics, popular esthetics. … It is the beautiful, fresh, warm, fragrant, and flavorful bread that renourishes life for love, for the embrace, the celebration, the kiss ... in the freedom of the free persons who have liberated themselves from a prison. (Philosophy of Liberation 1985 – orig. 1980 in Spanish)
Topics for this volume may include the following:
- histories of contact and creolized modernities
- transversal temporalities
- linguistic polyglossia and heteroglossia
- translation, “the transmodern novel” (Mohan), and reading practice
- ecological and "productive universalisms” (Hofmeyr)
- oceanic, littoral, and archipelagic transmodernities
- the posthuman as transmodern
- travelling ideas and objects: itinerant accounts, memoirs, “postcard” narratives
- genre, history, and transmodernity
- trans*: non-binary gender, sexuality, and transmodernity
- decolonial sexualities and transmodernity
- transmodernity and popular cultural networks
- oralities, “technoralities” (Adejunmobi), and transmodernity
- subalternities in contact
- rural and urban transmodern topographies
- planetarity and transmodernity studies
- transmodernity and re-historicizing working-class literature
We are looking for essays that will be between 7000 and 8000 words in length. Please submit a 500-word abstract of your proposed essay and a 100-word bio at firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 July 2022.