Susana Garbe, Dipl.
PhD Project: Hybrid Voices and Temporalities. The Spirit-Child Motif in Contemporary Nigerian Literature
PhD Training Group Entangled Temporalities in the Global South
Supervisor: Russell West-Pavlov
How many times had I been born and died young? And how often to the same parents? I had no idea. So much of the dust of living was in me. (Azaro, The Famished Road)
As a cultural practice the West African tradition of spirit children is dying. At the same time however, the phenomenon is gaining extensive traction in contemporary mediascapes all over the world.
Not quite alive and not quite dead, not quite human and not quite spirit, not quite good and not quite evil, not quite belonging to our times and not quite excluded from them either, spirit children embody the entanglement of everyday life with eternity.
The very fact that spirit children have gone global – in literature, movies, and blogs – shows to what extent they have purchase upon the imagination of readers worldwide. Certainly, one of the reasons for this resides in the way in which the tradition is interwoven with, and questions notions of, childhood – a contested category itself, of lived and personal temporalities. In an epoch of worsening Climate Destruction and Climate Justice, where school children raise their voices to stop things from falling apart; where received templates for individual and collective life trajectories are increasingly cast into question and childhood itself is under attack (child climate catastrophe victims, child refugees, child soldiers, child poverty etc.), the spirit child genre is able to refract and articulate a number of specific local concerns about transitional life‑periods.
Against this background, my study traces the circulation and bordering practices of this GrenzgängerInnen mode through the history of contemporary Nigerian literature (inter alia: Things Fall Apart (1958), The Famished Road (1991), The Icarus Girl (2005), and Freshwater (2018)), placing special emphasis on the medial function of borders as the medium for the translation of difference and emergence as difference.