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Taking Pictures: The Economy of Affect and Postcolonial Performativity in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names

James Arnett


At the center of this essay is a consideration of the dual register of the term “affective economy” that hones in on the use of photography and videography in Bulawayo’s 2013 novel, We Need New Names. Building from Sontag’s consideration of the emotional trade in photographs, the essay considers how the neoliberal privatization of aid and charity have created a brisk trade and expectation of the performance of suffering in African subjects to foster in consuming, Northern subjects an affect of superiority that reinforces the capricious nature of private interest and investment in the Global South. Bulawayo’s novel very adroitly makes the distinction between performances of suffering that are meant as tokens of exchange with outsiders, and the necessary work of suffering as a point of emotional cathexis within the community, all culminating in a critical depiction of collective mourning in response to the failure of democratic elections, underscoring the utter dependency of politics on economics under neoliberalism.


affect; economy; photography; globalization

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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