On Pluviality: Reading for Rain in Namwali Serpell’sThe Old Drift

Presented by Sarah Nuttall

Monday, 30 May, 2022 - 16:00

Dear Seminar participants

This piece is part of a wider project on ‘Reading for Water’, convened by Isabel Hofmeyr, Charne Lavery and myself. The project's brief was to re-read a single southern African novel for what it had to say, methodologically, about water in its multiple forms. The paper has recently been published on-line and although it is usual to bring unpublished work to this seminar series,I am tabling it in part because I want to draw on it as a reference for the wider frame and book project I am in the process of conceptualizing on pluviality. The book itself will expand onthis project as well as offer additional frames for reading this region via its fiction with regard to its water histories.I hope to benefit from your feedback relating to what a further developed version of the piece could look like as a chapter in the proposed book. 


Abstract:   Pluviality, a term I developed in relation to heavy rainfall and flooding – its timescapes and material and textual conditions – is the focus of this analysis of Namwali Serpell’s 2019 novel The Old Drift. Located largely in Zambia, it is more accurately a novel of the Zambezi watershed. Encompassing both human and more-than-human narrators and protagonists, its centrepiece is the Kariba Dam, the largest hydro-electric dam in the world at the time of its construction. This is a very rainy novel, alert to the region’s histories of flooding, now exacerbated by accelerating climate change, in one of the regions of the world most susceptible to its present and coming effects. I focus on the novel’s pluviality as material, historical and narrative mode, as it surges, silts and drifts across the landscapes of southern African fiction.

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