This lecture tracks the emergence of slavery as the defining template for understanding contemporary human rights abuses. To fathom forms of freedom and bondage today — from unlawful detention to sex trafficking to the refugee crisis to conscription in war — Goyal will discuss how contemporary literature draws on the antebellum genre of the slave narrative, reinventing such key narrative tendencies as sentimentalism, the gothic, satire, ventriloquism, and the bildungsroman. Exploring the ethics and aesthetics of globalism, she forwards alternative conceptions of human rights, showing that the revival and proliferation of slave narratives a chance to rethink the legacy of slavery itself, and also to assess its ongoing relation to race and the human. Urging a new comparative literacy that allows us to understand convergences with the global present alongside differences from the Atlantic past, the lecture argues for the slave narrative as a new world literary genre, exploring the full complexity of an ethical globalism.
Yogita Goyal is associate professor of English and African American studies at UCLA. She is editor for British and Anglophone fiction of the journal Contemporary Literature and president of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (A.S.A.P.). She specializes in modern and contemporary literature and the study of race and postcolonialism, with a particular emphasis on African American and African literature. Her first book, Romance, Diaspora, and Black Atlantic Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2010), shifts the center of Black diaspora studies by considering Africa as constitutive of Black modernity, rather than its forgotten past. She is guest editor of a special issue of Research in African Literatures (2014) on “Africa and the Black Atlantic,” and editor of the Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature (2017). Her book on the contemporary revival of the slave narrative as a new world literary genre, Runaway Genres: Global Afterlives of Slavery, is forthcoming from NYU Press in 2019.