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Intellectual Captivity

Literary Theory, World Literature, and the Ethics of Interpretation

Chen Bar-Itzhak


This essay concerns the unequal distribution of epistemic capital in the academic field of World Literature and calls for an epistemic shift: a broadening of our theoretical canon and the epistemologies through which we read and interpret world literature. First, this epistemic inequality is discussed through a sociological examination of the “world republic of literary theory,” addressing the limits of circulation of literary epistemologies. The current situation, it is argued, creates an “intellectual captivity,” the ethical and political implications of which are demonstrated through a close reading of the acts of reading world literature performed by scholars at the center of the field. A few possible solutions are then suggested, drawing on recent developments in anthropology, allowing for a redistribution of epistemic capital within the discipline of World Literature: awareness of positionality, reflexivity as method, promotion of marginal scholarship, and a focus on “points of interaction.”

Earthen Architecture in Muslim Cultures

Historical and Anthropological Perspectives


Edited by Stéphane Pradines

This edited volume follows the panel “Earth in Islamic Architecture” organised for the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) in Ankara, on the 19th of August 2014. Earthen architecture is well-known among archaeologists and anthropologists whose work extends from Central Asia to Spain, including Africa. However, little collective attention has been paid to earthen architecture within Muslim cultures. This book endeavours to share knowledge and methods of different disciplines such as history, anthropology, archaeology and architecture. Its objective is to establish a link between historical and archaeological studies given that Muslim cultures cannot be dissociated from social history.

Contributors: Marinella Arena; Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya; Christian Darles; François-Xavier Fauvelle; Elizabeth Golden; Moritz Kinzel; Rolando Melo da Rosa; Atri Hatef Naiemi; Bertrand Poissonnier; Stéphane Pradines; Paola Raffa and Paul D. Wordsworth.

Drawing the Divine Seed

India, Alterity and the Real in the Works of J.M. Coetzee

Anas Tabraiz


This article connects the disparate references to India in Coetzee’s writings to his core debate on ethics. Coetzee’s novels are in dialogue with the Western philosophical and psychoanalytic tradition that privileges an intersubjective reality over the reality of the objective world. This tradition sees the common Indians, and the natives of colonies, indifferently poised at the threshold of humanity. Being barely human these indifferent multitudes are seen as dispensable objects devoid of ethical claims. Coetzee’s metafiction highlights the ways in which the intersubjective community uses language and signification to produce a closed consensual reality against the open truths of the objective world. Coetzee’s snippets from India interweave the reality of a world oblivious to Western sentience and cognition. His efforts at pulling the obscure into the divine light of the rational community becomes comparable to drawing the divine seed to fertilize an abandoned and banished version of the Eternal Feminine.

From the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific

Creolisation, Magic, and Mimesis in Oceanic Networks

Fernando Rosa


In this paper I attempt to tackle the issues of creolisation, magic, and mimesis, as well as colonialism. I will approach this last via the the first three. I begin by discussing two travel and ethnographic accounts, and then a piece by Diderot. I also discuss Taussig’s work. My overall argument, following closely on the heels of Diderot’s and Taussig’s work, but also somewhat expanding them, is that writing ethnography or any account of ‘others’ involves closely linked and complex processes of creolisation, mimesis, and magic. There is also, of course, a personal dimension to them. Such processes in fact affect not only ethnographic writing, but perhaps any writing. I also include myself in this narrative, albeit only marginally, as someone born and raised in Brazil, perhaps the most famous hub of creolisation ever, and who ventures not only across the South Atlantic, but eventually also into the Indo-Pacific world.

Michael Cawood Green


In this creative/critical paper, a recent migrant to the UK attempts to negotiate ideas of Africanness and Englishness through the rewriting of places linked by a statue in a small Northumberland village commemorating the death of a local officer killed in the ‘Anglo-Boer War.’ Drawing on two recent and influential theoretical developments, the ‘mobility turn’ within the social sciences and the ‘spectral turn’ in cultural criticism, this paper is a ficto-critical experiment in finding an appropriate creative form to test the generic implications of the major, and yet largely still unreflected, issue of migration and immigration/emigration in post-apartheid writing. It explores the unsettling ways in which places are not so much geographically fixed as implicated within complex circuits at once contingent and the product of material relations of power.

Annie Gagiano


This article assesses representations of imprisonment without trial and inmates’ torture in three novels depicting severely repressive, murderous regimes—Malawi’s under Hastings Banda, Ethiopia’s under the Derg, and Kenya’s under colonial and successive post-colonial rulers. In The Detainee (Kayira 1974), the narrative of a naïve, apolitical villager’s unjust detention highlights unrestrained power abuse through minions and gradually uncovers atrocities. Under the Lion’s Gaze (Mengiste 2010) depicts several visceral, appalling scenes of torture as a technique of intimidation. Dust (Owuor 2014) has fewer, but harrowingly intense scenes of pain infliction on prisoners as a political tool to silence opposition. All three texts establish their importance as archival evaluations of under-reported regimes, African literary artworks, and morally responsible evocations of undeserved suffering, communicating effectively with both local and international readerships.

Stephen David


When the Nigeria-Biafra civil war ended in July 1970, the Commander in Chief of the Federal Army, General Yakubu Gowon, declared that there was “no victor no vanquished” and, consequently, drew an iron curtain on a painful historical moment. This closure foreclosed further engagements with the events of the war in a manner that imposed a “code of silence” on its historiography. However, in the face of this silence and the silencing of public remembrances, private remembrances have continued to bloom. And in recent times, these remembrance(s) have fertilized a virulent demand for secession. I argue that literary accounts of the conflict question its ‘closure’ through what I call ‘lack of return.’ Relying on Van der Merwe and Gobodo-Madikizela’s conception of narratives as spaces of healing, I engage in a close reading of one fictional account—Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy—and two memoirs—Achebe’s There Was a Country and Chukwurah’s The Last Train to Biafra—to examine how narratives of Biafra call attention to the persistent freshness of the wounds and trauma of the war by creating stories that lack denouement. I find that in these texts, the silencing of ordnance doesn’t herald a return home—whether spatially or mentally. Consequently, these stories could be read as palimpsests that reveal a need for spaces of narrative engagements, abreaction, and healing.

Obituary of Michael Wessels (1958–2018)

Remarks Made on the Occasion of a Memorial Service in Celebration of His Life, University of the Western Cape, 14 May 2018

Hermann Wittenberg

Shaun Viljoen

Reading Our Ruins

A Rough Sketch

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor


The essay enquires into what is accepted in academic and political circles as ‘post-colonial’ reality and questions some of the assumptions about its imagination, narratives, and edifices. It does this through the lens of moments taken from lived ‘post-coloniality’, mostly out of Kenya, which, like most ‘independent nations’ presumed a cut-off point between ‘colonial’ and its ‘post’ in the solemn ritual act of swapping flags one midnight. That the world, its presumptions and assumptions, certainly regarding civilizational apotheosis, is today in a state of befuddlement is no mystery. What is mysterious is the persistence of hollow ideas of the character of relationships among peoples, and the distribution of terminologies to refer to these—first world, third world, developed, undeveloped, colonial, post-colonial, neo-colonial, immigrant, expatriate—in a time when these neither make sense nor offer anything meaningful to the world. The essay finally retreats to the ‘autopsy table’ for inspiration: it imagines that the contradictions and confusions of the present era could also be read as an invitation to humanity to ‘look at itself again and really see’, and to, perhaps, this time, do so with that long-absent courage, truthfulness and humility that speak to human realities and allows for an examination of debris from unexplored past and present relationships that now disorder the human future.

Reflections on Literary Studies in South Africa

Re-reading Zakes Mda’s Black Diamond

Hermann Wittenberg


Zakes Mda is not only one of South Africa’s most significant post-apartheid novelists, but has worked in diverse media such as theatre, film, opera, painting and music. His prolific creativity in forms other than the novel needs to be taken into account when evaluating his writings. This article proposes an intermedial analysis of Black Diamond (2009), a novel which has largely been given unfavourable critical attention, and suggests that it needs to be considered as a mixed medial text that is shaped by a cinematic mode of narration. The novel is also re-interpreted in the light of a postcolonially inflected “surface reading,” which makes the pervasive visuality of Mda’s prose visible. Finally, it is argued that texts such as Black Diamond raise questions about the interpretive methodologies and reading practices in English literary studies, pointing to future challenges and opportunities in the discipline.

The Role of the Surreal in Postcolonial African Writing

The Case of Legson Kayira’s Jingala and The Detainee

Joshua Isaac Kumwenda


Creating a situation that is beyond the ordinary stems from the author’s desire to create utopia amidst the engulfing dystopia and the search for relevant aesthetics to satisfy that desire. It therefore requires the reader to unravel the illogical through which such texts create their meanings and assert their ideologies. Using the case of Legson Kayira’s writing, this paper observes that the surreal takes many dimensions and is the main vehicle for expressing ideology among many African writers in the sense that the dominant narratives and counter-narratives of the texts are aligned with it. As such, whether a text is wholly surrealist or merely informed by the surrealist mode of expression, there is a particular logic that is shrouded in the illogical, the extraordinary and the impractical. I draw on Legson Kayira’s Jingala (1967) and The Detainee (1974) to show how these texts rely on the surreal as the main vehicle for interrogating the postcolonial African reality and positing the author’s ideology.

Separating the Magical from the Real

The Representation of the Barwa in Zakes Mda’s She Plays with the Darkness

Michael Wessels


Zakes Mda’s novel She Plays with the Darkness has been characterised as a magical realist novel. It is notable, though, that the magical elements are reserved almost exclusively for the sections of the novel that relate to the major character, Dikosha, and her world of music, art and dance. Central to this world are the Barwa, better known as the Bushmen or San. This article is chiefly concerned with the novel’s representation of Dikosha’s relationship with the Barwa. It also examines the depiction of the Barwa way of life and the symbolic resonance they possess for the present.

Witnessing the Ruins of Apartheid

The Women’s Jail (Johannesburg) as a Site of Encounter

Marie Kruger


Constitution Hill, a unique and hybrid memorial site in the centre of Johannesburg, commemorates the violence of apartheid in the city’s infamous prison complex. Based on a series of workshops with former inmates and prison staff, the permanent exhibitions emphasize the importance of personal objects and testimonials for understanding the human rights violations of the past and their significance for the present and the future. In response to Yvonne Owuor’s appeal to remember the vulnerability of those human bodies who no one “[has] bothered to mention, to mourn”, my article attempts to map a new path towards responsible forms of spectatorship as we walk through the former Women’s Jail and listen to the witness accounts of Deborah Matshoba and Nolundi Ntamo.

Writing out of Ruins

Stories of District Six, Food and Home

Shaun Viljoen


This hybrid autobiographical/critical paper takes its cue from Yvonne Owuor’s paper in this volume, “Reading our Ruins: A Rough Sketch.” In her piece, Owuor combines a meditation on ruins—as physical, human, social and political—with the perspective of an autopsy, or “seeing for oneself”. In my paper I try to “see for myself” and in myself what it means to consider the ruins of District Six and the responses, individual and institutional, to its violent destruction. More specifically, I try to account for a recent oral history project completed by the District Six Museum which resulted in the writing of a food story and cookbook, District Six Huis Kombuis Tafel: Food and Memory Stories Cookbook (2016). My paper intersperses this critical account with italicised fragments of my own memoir (a work in progress) on District Six, apartheid’s psychic violence, home and food, that relate directly or tangentially to the critical segments. The memoir fragments provide a parallel tale of inner life that at times relates to and supplements the critical discourse, but also at times casts it into doubt.


Volume-editor Stéphane Pradines

The Arabic-Ethiopic Glossary by al-Malik al-Afḍal

An Annotated Edition with a Linguistic Introduction and a Lexical Index


Maria Bulakh and Leonid Kogan

The Arabic-Ethiopic Glossary by al-Malik al-Afḍal by Maria Bulakh and Leonid Kogan is a detailed annotated edition of a unique monument of Late Medieval Arabic lexicography, comprising 475 Arabic lexemes (some of them post-classical Yemeni dialectisms) translated into several Ethiopian idioms and put down in Arabic letters in a late-fourteenth century manuscript from a codex in a private Yemeni collection. For the many languages involved, the Glossary provides the earliest written records, by several centuries pre-dating the most ancient attestations known so far. The edition, preceded by a comprehensive linguistic introduction, gives a full account of the comparative material from all known Ethiopian Semitic languages. A detailed index ensures the reader’s orientation in the lexical treasures revealed from the Glossary.


With few exceptions, African countries have suffered perennial bad governance, bloody civil wars, and coups-d’état. The continent suffocates in the grip of political elites and military juntas. Capitalism as an economic system empowers a few who lord it over the weak majority. The ruling class also contributes to the suffering of the masses by flagrantly looting the nation’s treasury and flaunting it while the majority of the populace wallow in abject poverty. African writers problematize and diagnose this scenario and the Weltschmerz bedevilling African socio-political life, in a bid to offering lasting solutions, in the process experimenting with ‘home-made’ as well as ‘imported’ ideologies in the struggle for the African utopia. Vincent Egbuson, a ‘new-generation’ African writer, is indubitably a committed writer. In confronting the African socio-political malady in Womandela, he has adopted divergent ideologies to sharpen his social vision. The purpose of this study is, accordingly, to scrutinize the ideological bent of Egbuson’s novel and to determine its efficacy against the backdrop of the socio-political reality of contemporary Africa.


Mma Ramotswe, the heroine of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels and their adaptations, is proud of “being a traditionally built African lady unlike these terrible stick-like creatures one saw in the advertisements.” This crisis of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ erupts in the representation in the novels and television series of Mma Ramotswe’s sexuality and mothering, the texts’ failures to acknowledge or negotiate the inconsistencies of its deployment of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’, and the resulting dilemma of (national) reproduction when sex is not an option. Further, neither text integrates its explicit celebration of ‘traditional values’ with the professional opportunities that ‘being modern’ affords Mma Ramotswe. Attempting to negotiate this disjunction, the texts divest Mma Ramotswe of any ‘modern’ sexual attitudes or actions – the ones that produce offspring – while still providing her with those fruits: children. Both written and visual representations systematically negate any possibility that Mma Ramotswe might participate in any reproductive activity of her own. A mother without children to children without mothers, Mma Ramotswe figures postcolonial reproduction as a sexless, passionless transaction, while both texts align any sex with the probability of pain, betrayal, and death.


Buchi Emecheta’s novel The Bride Price is examined for its overall literary strength, and particularly for its use of syncretism. Her work is compared with that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, and it is concluded that both writers assist us in understanding today’s African diaspora. In addition, it is argued that several key passages in Bride Price are resonant for their extensive use of metonymy, and that Emecheta’s writing exhibits strong strands of the postcolonial, including the trope that the female body can be the site of multiple instantiations of hegemony and dominance.


Contemporary African fiction is a source of dystopian urban images juxtaposed with the kinds of ‘good cities’ to which the wielders of political or economic power subscribe. This article examines the dominant representations of the ‘good city’ and how they are contested or subverted from various narrative perspectives. It focuses on inscriptions of the city in fictional narratives and on inscriptions such as street signs and place names found in cities in order to explore the tensions and the contradictions in images of urban experience in Africa.



This essay focuses on the transformation of the experience of crossings and transnationalism in Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s In Dependence. Manyika’s novel is a story of crosscultural love. The two main characters, one male, black, and Nigerian; and the other female, white and British, first come across each other as students in Oxford. The relationship which consequently develops between them passes through phases of turbulence, spans a period of three decades and is acted out in three continents. In the end, the author’s point seems to be that humanities in general share dependent relationships with each other. Though of different racial origins, Manyika places her two major characters in the novel on equal pedestals. Both are of middle class backgrounds, excel in their studies, and later distinguish themselves in their chosen careers. My intention in this essay is to elaborate on the perspective of transnationalism and cross-cultural interconnectedness as articulated in the novel.


The audience is an essential component of theatre performance. While actors perform on stage, the audience often contribute to the actions and activities of the performance by clapping, singing, and dancing (rhythmically shaking the body) or wooing the performers, as the case may be, or in other ways. Beyond these levels of participation, the audience can be fully incorporated into theatre performances. They can be made to perform, almost like the actors and actresses, in the play. Therefore, using Femi Osofisan’s Once Upon Four Robbers, the study investigates how the audience can be incorporated into and be made active in theatre performance. Apart from using the script of the play, the study engages the performance of the play, which was directed by Toyin Ogundeji and staged at the Pit Theatre of Obafemi Awolowo University in 2007. The essay argues that the incorporation of the audience into the play and their participation in the actions of the theatre piece enabled them to critically decide how the play should end; whether the robbers should be openly vindicated or publicly executed, after they (the audience) had seen the socio-political and economic jeopardy of Nigeria which actually led the robbers to the acts of crime and robbery. The essay concludes that the incorporation of the audience into the play helped to facilitate a convivial interaction between spectators and actors.


A study of Marie NDiaye’s portrayal of difference, particularly in En famille, Rosie Carpe, Mon coeur à l’étroit, Trois femmes puissantes, and Ladivine. She creates characters who are aware they do not fit into normal social categories, often because of racial mixing, although this is seldom brought to the surface. Her characters are without much normal interaction with others and are sometimes capable of acts of great cruelty. To escape from their awareness of difference, they seek to metamorphose into animals.



When William Wordsworth declared two hundred years ago: “I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity,” T.S. Eliot challenged the assertion that “poetry is not a turning loose of emotions, but an escape from emotions; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” The intellectual confrontation notwithstanding, the two poets little thought that they were laying a foundation for memory studies in the twentyfirst century. “Recollection” assumes storage in the past and “escape from personality” implies imagination that is beyond self –a principle anchored on existing ideas stored in the mind. This article studies The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison by Jack Mapanje as a work of imagination beyond the personality of the poet, but tenaciously holds that the feelings and images expressed by the author reflect his past encounter with a brutal regime in Malawi. This gives vent to the theme of memory and imagination that has become a focus of study in recent times.


Ambiguous mother-figures dominate the fictional world of J.M Coetzee’s novel Age of Iron. Sterility emerges as a central motif in the novel, corresponding to South Africa’s apartheid history of racial hatred, discrimination, and violence. The struggling motherfigures are a product of the flawed times and emerge as symptomatic of social and cultural crisis. Elizabeth Curren, the novel’s tortured first-person narrator, highlights the racially divided nation as socially, culturally, and morally impeded. Through her “stubborn will to give, to nourish,” she engages in a struggle against the “scavengers of Cape Town”: the “pitiless” heirs of a legacy of hate. Curren comes from a colonial history but seeks to decolonize her mind and voice as she writes a letter to her expatriate daughter, who, absent from the narrative, represents the need for change in values and historical perspective. Her strategic absence, significantly, communicates her incompatibility with the existing public and political discourse, thereby also suggesting an engagement with the future of ethics and aesthetics. While Elizabeth Curren’s inscribed poetic plea for her daughter to return home self-reflexively acknowledges the constraints of a banal medium and provokes its lapses, there is also a need to realize what may as yet be un-semanticized. Elizabeth Curren aspires to redeem herself through the nurturing symbolism embodied in motherhood. Accordingly, and deploying Julia Kristeva’s terminology, the essay argues for a return to a “maternal territory” where the semiotic process (an established communicative code of signs that determines our understanding of reality) is still in its intuitive and instinctual stage and allows Curren to transcend the constraints of her spoken medium. In Curren’s case, the letter serves as a redrawn semantic map, possibly exceeding its established boundaries of signification and meaning.


Femi Osofisan belongs to the new breed of writers, inadequately referred to as ‘second generation’. An accomplished writer whose works include plays, poems, essays and novels, Osofisan is widely regarded as the most significant playwright in Africa after Soyinka. As a committed playwright, Osofisan focuses on the reappraisal of his immediate society and the challenges of living in this society. He calls attention to all that is undesirable in the politics, economy, and religion of contemporary Nigeria and asks for a change of attitude which, hopefully, will bring sanity to the country. One of the means by which Osofisan achieves his artistic objective is the use of myths and legends from Yorùbá mythology. Specifically, we shall show in this essay that Osofisan makes use of the myths of OEango and Èṣú and the legends of Môrèmi and Solarin as a means of thematic exploitation. By so doing, he creates a unique contemporary Nigerian theatre which other playwrights emulate and develop. Many Colours Make the Thunder King, Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels, Morountodun, and Who Is Afraid of Solarin? are used as illustrative texts.


This essay attempts a systematic analysis of health using the novels of D.O. Fágúnwà, including Igbó Olódùmarè, Ìrèké Oníbùdó, Ògbójú ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmọlè, Ìrìnkèrindò nínú Igbó Elégbèje, and Àdììtú Olódùmarè. These novels constitute a foundational part of Yorùbá literature and the projection of traditional Yorùbá culture. This analysis engages with the four domains of health – prevention of ill-health; health promotion; treatment; and rehabilitation – as premises under which relevant portions of the novels were considered. The essay reveals naturalistic versus supernaturalistic dispositions in Fágúnwà’s explication of health, which has potential consequences for health and healthcare utilization, especially in Yorubaland.


Wazobia, the name of the female king in Tess Onwueme’s play The Reign of Wazobia, is a neologism derived from Yorùbá, Igbó, and Hausa respectively, the three dominant languages in Nigeria. Motivated by the relevance of Onwueme’s lexical selection and the socio-political contexts in which the play is set, the essay relies on pragmatic contexts of language usage to analyse the coinage of the name to ascertain whether it dramatizes a political attempt to advocate unity between the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The essay also interrogates Wazobia’s dual gender status, and the feminist implications of the fact that she does not rule as a woman but as either a man or an androgynous figure. Wazobia’s dual gender and the illegal extension of her three-year regency raise a number of questions, some of which appear to contradict Onwueme’s well-articulated feminist stance. The essay shows that the neologism of Wazobia is largely restricted to a feminist stance, canvassing intra-gender unity among all Nigerian women as a prerequisite for attaining power and emergence into politics and spaces of leadership. Wazobia’s gender duality is interpreted as Onwueme’s rejection of gender-associated restrictions. This dual status also embodies socio-political implications for unity in the male/female divide, and the Igbóo/Hausa/Yorùbá division. The work interprets the favourable treatment of Wazobia’s tyranny as Onwueme’s feminist bias and political aspirations for women.

Editors Matatu


Edited by Editors Matatu


Identity-politics refers to the way in which a specific section of a given society agitates for equal rights, increased recognition and greater opportunities based on the specific ethnic, religious, gender or other characteristic that simultaneously binds it together as a social group and sets it apart from other groups. This essay looks at the changing nature of identity-politics in the drama of the contemporary Nigerian dramatist Ahmed Yerima. It argues that the playwright traces crucial shifts in relationships that obtain between and within the individuals and social groups depicted in his plays as part of his overall concern with the nature of society.


The study examines the movement of Wole Soyinka from mythopoeic dramatic strategies to a realistic populist aesthetic in selected political plays. It also examines the cause(s) of the movement, analyses the formal pattern engendered by it, and discusses the portrayal of the military in governance in the political plays, with a view to establishing the impact of the metamorphosis on the revolutionary tenor of the plays. Three of Soyinka’s political plays are selected for analysis. The first, A Dance of the Forests, represents Soyinka’s experimentation with the mythic imagination among the pre-Civil War works from the 1960s to the early 1970s; the second, Madmen and Specialists, a Civil-War play, constitutes the watershed and middle ground in the dramaturgic metamorphosis of the playwright; and the third, Opera Wọ́nyọ̀sí, a post-Civil-War political satire, begins the history-informed plays of the mid-1970s and onwards. Using a close-reading technique, the essay argues that the personal involvement of Soyinka in the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, coupled with the effects of the war, his consequent incarceration, and the demands made on him by Marxist critics to employ a populist aesthetic, led the playwright to the realization that the political comprador did not heed the warnings in the mythinfused political plays of the early phase of his career, most probably because of the relative inaccessibility of their hieratic idiom. There arose a strong need to communicate in simple, accessible language addressing contemporary history. This dramaturgic movement has a positive impact on the revolutionary tenor of the plays.


Editors Tradition and Change in Contemporary West and East African Fiction

Editors Tradition and Change in Contemporary West and East African Fiction

Editors Performing Wisdom