Ryan Topper

Ryan Topper

PhD Student

Summary: My thesis explores the relation between trauma theory and animism in Sub-Saharan African literature.

Research Interests

Postcolonial/Global Anglophone Literature and Theory

Psychoanalysis, Deconstruction, and Trauma

Modernism/Postmodernism and African Literature

Political Theology, Philosophy of Religion, and Animism

Human Rights, Biopolitics, and Literary Form

I try to read and write in a way that forges connections between questions of critical theory, forms of postcolonial literature, and ways of living meaningfully. Take, for example, my thesis, tentatively titled "The Work of Animism: Trauma, Spirit Possession, and Sovereign Power in Sub-Saharan African Literature." In response to the political critique of post-deconstructive, psychoanalytic trauma theory, I ask this question: what if we approach the phenomenon of trauma through the epistemic framework of animism, a framework common throughout African literature and culture? Rather than performing the all-to-easy script of postcolonial Manichaeism, I place psychoanalysis and deconstruction—and consequently the trauma theory that is produced by their synthesis—in dialogue with African literary and social texts. Through this connective move, I uncover a surprising relationship between high theory and indigenous praxis, between European trauma and African spirit possession. This relationship has political implications. Building on current work in biopolitics, I end my thesis by thinking through the ways in which an animist ontology reframes the discourse of human rights in contemporary Africa.

SupervisorSam Durrant

Research Groups: Critical and Cultural Theory, Postcolonial Literature and Culture