Vincent R. Ogoti is Andrew W. Mellon Public Humanities Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in African Cultural Studies and History. He was the inaugural African Studies Program Fellow at UW-Madison and a Fulbright Fellow at Yale University. A scholar of biopolitics, violence, trauma, memory, and postcoloniality, Vincent’s research primarily explores African and Caribbean literature, theatre, and new media.
Most recently, Vincent was awarded the 2022 Jordan Prize for his paper, “The Poetics of Unbreakable Bodies in Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile.
Tell us about your research
In my dissertation, I study the invention and use of indestructible bodies in historical drama that engages the afterlives of revolutions in Africa and the Caribbean through the indices of violence, trauma, and memory. The research examines works by Edouard Glissant, Ebrahim Hussein, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Micere Mugo, Kenneth Watane, and Aimé Caesar to demonstrate how drama engenders what Foucault calls heterotopias by portraying unfinished revolutions and opening up alternative sites of social and political existence that signify possible transformations, which may be conceived as fulfilling the revolution’s promise. Taking a cue from, but also expanding Foucault, the project studies heterotopias as “counter sites” in which the political, economic, and cultural sites in the postcolony are contemporaneously represented, challenged, and flipped. I consider drama as an instance of heterotopia in light of its ability to juxtapose disparate spatial configurations in a single space even (and indeed especially) when these elements are incompatible with each other to demonstrate that (1) historical drama grapples with the representation of revolutionary events to articulate the present and (2) a meaningful interrogation of the postcolony—a site littered with ruins, artifacts, material objects, and absences that bear witness to incomplete revolutions and emancipatory projects—must begin with questioning the assumptions the dramatists made about the present. I use the body as an analytical category due to its centrality in revolutions as a fundamental political resource for wielding power and as a primary site for understanding violence, trauma, and memory.
The study contributes to the debates on the production of history in the postcolony by demonstrating how anti-colonial revolutions and emancipatory projects have become the conjectures around which the postcolony debates, contests, and fights over its pasts and possible futures. Weaving together literary analysis, history, postcolonial, and post-structural theories, I show how dramatists invent and stage indestructible bodies to redefine conventions and paradigms of producing historical knowledge and formulate new questions about the present.
What has influenced your research?
I love theatre because it is a convergence of all arts. Music, dance, poetry, and other arts find a common stage in theatre. I think theater is a unique, poetic space where artists and practitioners create life. There is so much joy in this kind of work. In theatre, you have a front-row seat in reinventing the past and creating the future. I also study the form of contemporary African novel, especially those that use creative innovations to portray issues that are often considered controversial or taboo in many African cultures. My research projects are thematically connected as they deal with subjugation through the body and linguistic structures.
What are some factors that have enriched your scholarship and practice?
I came from a peacebuilding background, which taught the fundamental significance of self-reflective practice as a way of learning, knowing, and theorizing. I use self-reflective techniques in my work to find ways I can learn from daily experiences as much as I do from conventional texts. I have enriched my practitioner experience through pursuing courses from different departments and reading widely and worldly. Learning is a life-long journey, and I always look for learning opportunities. As a recipient of the Mellon Public Humanities Fellowship, I am working with MYArts as a storytelling and community access fellow, a position I hope will allow me to contribute to their organizational development and assist children in Madison to access arts educational opportunities.
How has teaching impacted your educational journey?
In selecting my activities, I lean towards areas that enable me to explore the human condition and ways we can co-exist in this world we share. Teaching has become an avenue for me to share and learn about innovative ways of transforming conflict in society. As the inaugural African Studies Program teaching fellow, I collaborated with the International Studies Major and Odyssey Beyond Bars to design and teach a nonviolence and social change class to UW-Madison students and at Oakhill Correctional Institutional. This experience was one of the highlights of my career as I had the rare opportunity to teach a course to conventional and nontraditional students who are underrepresented in education.
Are you inclined towards teaching?
I have been a teacher for almost a decade, and I love it. To me, teaching and research are intertwined, and there is no need to privilege either of them. I cannot think of anything more significant than attempting to translate years of research into a semester-long course and teach it to the next generation of scholars and practitioners. Teaching is a way of producing knowledge and a type of performance that I love!
You can connect with Vincent on Instagram @vinceogoti
Produced by Elisha Ikhumhen