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Anglophone Verse Novels as Gutter Texts: Postcolonial Literature and the Politics of Gaps

New York: Bloomsbury Academic 2023, 244 pp.

Anglophone Verse Novels as Gutter Texts draws on the notion of the 'gutter' in graphic narratives – the gap between panels that a reader has to imaginatively fill to generate narrative sequence – to analyse the largely overlooked literary form of the verse novel. Marked at all levels by the tense constellation of segment and sequence, and a conspicuously 'gappy' texture, verse novels offer productive alternatives to the dominant prose novel in contemporary fiction, where a similar 'gappiness' has become a hallmark, as illustrated by the loosely interlaced multi-strand plot structures of influential 'world novels'.
The verse novel is a form particularly prolific in the postcolonial world and among diasporic or minoritarian writers in the Global North. This study concentrates on two of the most prominent areas in which verse novels distinguish themselves from the prose novel to read texts by Derek Walcott, Anne Carson, Bernardine Evaristo, Patience Agbabi and others: In 'planetary' verse novels from the Caribbean, Canada, Samoa and Hawai'i, the central trope of the volcano evokes a world in constant un/making; while post-national verse novels, particularly in Britain, modify the established paradigms of imagined communities. Dirk Wiemann's study speculates whether the resurgence of verse novels correlates with the apprehension of inhabiting a world that has become unpredictable and dangerous but also promising: a 'post-prosaic' world.

A lucid, conceptually rich and erudite intervention which brings into focus the 'aberrant', 'off-beat' genre of the Anglophone verse novel. Drawing attention to a flourishing bibliodiversity, Anglophone Verse Novels as Gutter Texts acts against the persistent centring of the novel as the pre-eminent form of literary world-making in postcolonial and world literature scholarship, thus offering a significant re-assessment of the field. Through a careful analysis of the social implications of 'gappy' form, Dirk Wieman fashions a compelling and layered argument about the verse novel's propensity to imagine alternative, unfinished social worlds and undecided futures.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    - Corinne Sandwith, Professor of English, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Wiemann's wonderfully stimulating study ranges across the globe from the Global South to the post-Imperial metropolis, offering scintillating glimpses of a little studied but vibrant and timely genre, the contemporary verse novel. Above all, Wiemann gives us new and vital insights into the relationship between literary form and the sociopolitical realities of our violent times.                                                                                                                                                                                              - Russell West-Pavlov, Professor of Anglophone Literatures, University of Tübingen, Germany

Wiemann identifies an important and under-examined segment of the postcolonial canon – the verse-novel – and provides an eloquent defense and analysis of key works in that form, emphasizing the interconnectedness of formal and ideological analysis. A valuable expansion of the discourse of the “world novel” beyond the usual suspects.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        - Alexander Beecroft, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of South Carolina, US


Postcolonial Literatures in English: An Introduction

With Anke Bartels Lars Eckstein and Nicole Waller. Stuttgart: Metzler 2019, 207 pp.

The term ‘postcolonial literatures in English’ designates English-language literatures from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, as well as the literatures of diasporic communities who have moved from those regions to the global north. This volume introduces the central themes of postcolonial literary studies and delineates how these themes are reflected and elaborated in exemplary literary works by postcolonial authors from around the world. It also offers succinct definitions of key terms like Orientalism, hybridity, Indigeneity or writing back.

"a volume that points to new directions in postcolonialism as a way of teaching and a way of reading, or in the words of John McLeod, as something ‘that one does’ […]. Indeed, the four authors of Postcolonial Literatures in English manage successfully to show not only the continued relevance of postcolonial ideas as perspectives on contemporary global issues, but also the centrality of postcolonial world literature in engaging readers in a multiscopic, planetary vision of a world that includes everyone." 

       - Eva Rask Knudsen and Ulla Rahbek,The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory 38 (2020.  


Genres of Modernity: Contemporary Indian Novels in English

Amsterdam/New York: Brill 2008, X, 334 pp.

Genres of Modernity maps the conjunctures of critical theory and literary production in contemporary India. The volume situates a sample of representative novels in the discursive environment of the ongoing critical debate on modernity in India, and offers for the first time a rigorous attempt to hold together the stimulating impulses of postcolonial theory, subaltern studies and the boom of Indian fiction in English. In opposition to the entrenched narrative of modernity as a single, universally valid formation originating in the West, the theoretical and literary texts under discussion engage in a shared project of refiguring the present as a site of heterogeneous genres of modernity. The book traces these figurative efforts with particular attention to the treatment of two privileged metonymies of modernity: the issues of time and home in Indian fiction. Combining close readings of literary texts from Salman Rushdie to Kiran Nagarkar with a wide range of philosophical, sociological and historiographic reflections, Genres of Modernity is of interest not only for students of postcolonial literatures but for academics in the fields of Cultural Studies at large.

“This is quite simply one of the finest books on Indian fiction in English to have appeared to date and probably the best study of the problematics of Indian literary modernity to have been produced by a European scholar.”                                                                                                                                                                                              - Journal of Commonwealth Literature 45.2 (June 2010).

“Wiemann is so stimulating a critic of Indian writers in English that he makes one wish there were other Western scholars like him writing on genre and modernity in Indian literatures not written in English.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                - Harish Trivedi, ZAA 60.4 (2012).

“undoubtedly makes an invaluable addition to the existing wealth of scholarship on Indian writing in English.”                                                                                                              - Sukbir Singh, Comparative Literature Studies 48.2 (2011).

“this book is a must-read for all those who are interested in cultural studies, postcolonial literature, and the social sciences.”                                                                - Ioana Boghian, The European Legacy 16.6 (2011).

“Wiemann's book presents a powerful challenge to students of postcoloniality as a phenomenon of modernity.                                                                                              - Dieter Riemenschneider, Journal of Postcolonial Writing 46.3/4 (July 2010).

“an enormously rewarding study"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            - Mridula Nath Chakraborty & Ira Raja, The Year’s Work in English Studies (2010).


Exilliteratur in Großbritannien 1933-1945

Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag 1998, 377 pp. ||  Republished as e-book: Heidelberg (Springer) 2013.

Exilliteratur in Großbritannien 1933-1945 analyses the poetics and politics of continental exilic writers in 1930s and WWII Britain. While most authors – among them Arthur Koestler, Peter de Mendelssohn or Ernest Bornemann aka Cameron McCabe – adopted English as their medium and managed to integrate, however precariously, into British literary circuits, their texts all the same remain constitutively oriented on the conflicts and struggles in Central Europe into which they attempt to symbolically intervene. The book is focused on the conspicuous yet largely neglected preference for sacralising topoi and narrative subtexts that inform the texts in question. Yet this ‘religious turn’ on the side of exile and refugee writers of the Nazi period has to be reconstructed not primarily as a retreat from direct political engagement but rather to the contrary as a precondition for the articulation of a polemic response to the impulse of fascism. In a combination of close reading and the systematic embedding of texts into their historical discursive environment, Exilliteratur in Großbritannien reopens a range of widely forgotten novels to a strong rewriting for the present.

"die erste Arbeit, die sich einer größeren Auswahl der im britischen Exil entstandenen literarischen Werke in einer sowohl vergleichenden als auch literaturtheoretisch orientierten Perspektive nähert."                                                                                                                                                                                                                        - Waltraud Srickhausen, Literaturkritik.de (2.2001).