African literature has long been asked to teach readers about their pasts. What if readers learned of their futures instead?
How do we transmit a national culture to Nigerians if not through works of imagination? This is something that our people have not paid attention to. We are talking about modernization, industrialization, and so on, but we do not realize that we cannot even industrialize unless we have tackled the mind, the imagination, and thus the attitude of people to themselves, to their society, to work…. So literature is not a luxury for us. It is a life and death affair because we are fashioning a new man. The Nigerian is a new man. How do we get this into his mind?
—Chinua Achebe, “Interview with Kalu Ogbaa”[i]
As I said elsewhere, if you consider this ending a naïve anticlimax, then you cannot know very much about Africa.
—Chinua Achebe, “The Novelist as Teacher”[ii]
Though Chinua Achebe’s demand for a use of the imagination toward a specifically nationalist project is expressed here in 1981, well after Nigeria’s Independence and the Biafran Civil War, it serves, quite accurately, as a reflection on the intervening period — on the nearly two decades of Nigeria’s existence as a modern, post-colonial and ostensibly free, though admittedly youthful nation. Achebe had published his seminal novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958, virtually on the eve of his country’s liberation from Great Britain, and by 1981 he had also borne witness to the shift from early euphoria to corruption and disillusionment of the First Republic (1960-66); the shift, too, from nascent possibilities to painful defeat during an attempted secessionist war (1967-70); and the return to a foreseeably imperfect, some would say deeply inadequate democratic compromise in the form of the Second Republic (1979-83). His primary audience of readers — then, as always, Nigerians living within and outside the country, as well as keen observers and participants in the country’s fate — had yet to endure the first of several military coups and takeovers, the ramifications of an economy-wide overdependence on discovered and plentiful crude oil, or the burden of servicing debt and structural adjustment programmes under the World Bank and IMF. But Achebe had seen enough to see ahead, and know that what his country had too eagerly set aside, what had now become vital, indeed a life and death affair, was the work of the imagination that his call was demanding.
Perhaps even more remarkably, that demand’s impulse was in keeping with an anticolonial effort in African writing that dated to at least the eighteenth century, well before the British arrived — with a mission, this time, to stay — at the port of what was later named Lagos and in the delta of what was eventually named the River Niger. It is an impulse belonging so intimately to the writer, to an artist working in prose and in long form, responding, the primary way he or she knows how, to the unquestionably transformative cultural shifts of coastal, regional and continental exchange, of exploration, mapping, and eventual exploitation and extraction, of trade, capture, enslavement, invasion, conversion, civilization, colonial administration, and nation-building. We see that ever-responsive, ever-questioning, ever-creative impulse on the pages of Leo Africanus, Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugano, Africanus Horton, Edward Blyden, Olive Schreiner, Sol Plaatje, Thomas Mofolo, DO Fagunwa, Jomo Kenyatta, Frantz Fanon, and Amos Tutuola. Almost always when we encounter it, this writer’s impulse — to re-examine and at times refashion self, society and history, to engender and fix in the writer’s and reader’s consciousness a new explanation for their situation, to posit a different set of origins for the self and so a different possibility for one’s future — entails a perennial tension between a desire to recover a past, seen as incomplete in the present, and a desire to recreate history, with a nation’s imperiled future in mind.[iii] Achebe’s version of this writer’s impulse, his demand for Nigerians to do the necessary work of the imagination, however informed it is by the instinctive pull of the former, is resolutely focused on the latter. And his description of the Nigerian as ‘new’ is best read as an extention of his childhood’s placement at a crossroads he has elsewhere described, when Igbo history was forced to contend with Nigeria’s:
I was brought up in a village and looking around you could not see the whole society, but you could see enough of what was left to be able to fill in the gaps. And if you were interested in the old Africa—as I was instinctively…—you could see it and you could ask questions.[iv]
[iii] See accompanying footnote below on Olaudah Equiano/Gustavus Vassa’s eighteenth-century self-fashioning in his letters and well-known autobiography, as revisited in oft-cited articles by Vincent Carretta. Note, too, that Achebe has himself cited The Interesting Narrative of Gustavus Vassa… as a beginning to African literature.
[iv] Duerden, Dennis and C Pieterse. African Writers Talking (London: Heinemann, 1972), p11.
Important here is not only Achebe’s childhood image of Igbo society as fragmented in places or fissured, but also his wish to make the gaps and spaces he finds mean, to fill the chasm between himself and the missing segments of Igbo tradition with a certain potential, and to furthermore have that potential provide the Nigerian with real symbolic value.[v] So his writer’s response to a liberating but altered country becomes what he later describes as a classic anticolonial desire: “a deep rooted need to alter things within that situation and make for myself a little more room than has been allowed me in the world.”[vi] What he eventually presents to the reader as Nigeria or Africa should therefore be considered a political and artistic necessity, a construct, yes, but one to be seriously received and taught, understood, interrogated, passed on only if suitably and productively examined — a continual re-rendering and resuturing of society through the political as well as literary imagination, as part of a life and death affair; quite the opposite of a luxury; an accounting instead with self and society that a young country has come to need, a nation whose truly possible, storybook ending or end should not, in retrospect, if either were to happen, be read as a surprise or a given, as anticlimactic or naïve.
It would be a rather inarguable claim to observe that in his capacity as both novelist and teacher Achebe had over his career encouraged, even enacted a didactic reading of his own work, one in which both colonial and postcolonial readers are continually being formed, guided, cajoled, and led toward praxes of reception, analysis, and interpretation likely to produce insights of value to communities in painful stasis, societies in Africa and other continents aware now of the enduring impediments of decolonization, though still hopeful, still receptive to reasons for joy, movement, and industry. Because of its constructive and instructive nature, because, too, of its admittedly ambivalent (and not purely oppositional) relationship to colonialism and its attendant modernisms, this teacher’s endeavour can be seen in Fanonian terms as implicitly, if not manifestly, violent: that is, as accepting of the ambivalences of and necessities for a restructuring and re-imaginative nationalism, which includes rigorously understanding that a return to or re-examination of the past is not necessarily impossible, but fraught, and requires one to discern and locate authenticity, insight, meaning, and revelation in the acts and processes of return and re-examination, more so than in the past they end up presenting.[vii]
Accepting this premise leads one to see Achebe’s early conception of anticolonialism — from his Things Fall Apart (1958) to his Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) — and his later call for newness — that new Nigerian, that new man, or woman — as part of a society-wide recourse to postcolonial projects of construction and reconstruction, as Achebe’s own proposal toward an as yet unattenuated image of postcolonial modernity, where one lays a cultural and societal infrastructure that could stand next to and adequately function beside the civil infrastructure of steel and cement typically thought of during the modernization and industrialization of a country. By his own admission, this is a trenchant critique of traditional ways to both read and build — offering instead a difficult, collective praxis of readership and citizenship formation, an openly psychic restructuring of the Nigerian that on filling any gaps would, unavoidably, complete the processes of erasure that produced those spaces in the first place. This mode of anticolonial work is everywhere in Fanon meant to be violent, for how deep and far it must go as well as for what it does and undoes with respect to the givens of civilization, history, and tradition; and when he turns to art Fanon is no less exacting of its purportedly liberationist and nationalist practitioners, letting his own readers know that decolonizing art equal to the ongoing work of colonization would require far more than the return to precolonial sources of culture but the very creation of a person, reader, artist, citizen that does not yet exist, a human that is radically “new.”[newnote] Again, perhaps remarkably, this, on rereading his oeuvre, is Achebe’s starting point for fiction, often missed due to the deceptive ease and comfort of his prose, and so requiring him as teacher and critic to return to it, restate and reiterate that point, correct or at least emphasize what had not yet been taken up, and even, as in 1981, call plaintively but boldly for a redefinition of his readers’s relationship to the novel, and of fiction’s place in a Nigeria worthy of its potential.
What interests me in this essay are the epistemic, pedagogical and social consequences of this self-assigned task and its willed impediments, which, I argue, are not to be found in aspects of Nigerian or African political structures, operations and participations, per se, but in a mode of literary reception and criticism — as well as artistic and cultural formation — that emerges in the wake of a collective, long-standing reluctance to seriously engage with Achebe’s call. In other words, I will attempt to account for the manner in which consensus modes of reading and teaching Achebe’s fiction and criticism, though varied and self-critical, have instead laid the foundations for increasingly published, circulated and received African literatures and their scholarship, whose artistic and critical alignment with institutions of learning, teaching, and knowledge production, and with the labor and politics of such endeavors, however much-needed and well-intended, has had a decidedly unimaginative and non-decolonizing result among readers and citizens, and has certainly rendered the more opaque, less teacherly, less historicist, more futuristic and interrogative texts of these traditions as offshoots or outliers, as practices of writing that occur at the margins of what may be considered to be African. Fleshing out these concerns will be paramount to understanding the Nigerian and the human that could be or become radically new, in the Achebean and Fanonian sense, when engaging with fiction. It will necessitate a revaluation of the relationship not just between Achebe’s most famous early novel, Things Fall Apart, and his later, less accommodating narratives, Arrow of God (1964) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), but also relations between the craft, intention and reception of his work and those of near-contemporaries not always understood as simultaneously engaged in a Fanonian inquiry toward the construction of a new human: Aimé Césaire, Alejo Carpentier, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, Bessie Head, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Derek Walcott, JM Coetzee, VS Naipaul, Toni Morrison. And it will require an exacting review of the manner in which education and the university have become central ends to African writing, problematic but useful, interrogated but largely maintained intact — at least pedagogically if not completely infrastructurally — from the 1960s of Achebe’s entry into the academy, on through to the beginning of our current century.
[vii] See accompanying footnote below for a discussion of Fanon’s nuanced understanding of the role violence retains in projects of colonization and decolonization, as seen, for instance, in Fanon, Frantz. Les damnés de la terre (Paris: François Maspero, 1961), p70. Note that in a Fanonian envisioning of colonizing and decolonizing projects, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart — written in a national English yet grounded in the specifics of the Igbo language and predicament — would itself as text and art be placed, operating and read in an ambiguous relationship to violence.
[newnote] See the culminating visions, or articulations, of a human to come in both Black Skins, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961). Fanon, Frantz. “En guise de conclusion,” in Peau noire, masques blanc (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1952), pp181-188 and “Conclusion,” in Les damnés de la terre (Paris: Éditions La Découverte & Syros, 2002), pp301-305.
The now substantial criticism on Olaudah Equiano, Sol Plaatje and Thomas Mofolo clearly prevent one from taking the 1960s as the beginning of African writing. However, the period can still be looked at as the onset of a recognition of such writing as part of a tradition and challenge. And it does become clear upon review of 1960s criticism that African writing presents at that moment a series of problems to the European-language canon and academe, chief among which is the difficulty of critiquing and teaching its novels and poems. Indeed, the issues of aesthetic critique and cross-cultural education are not always made distinct, and when the articles in question are written by Western thinkers wishing to solve the problem of African writing, these twin issues are most frequently co-expressed as a single unit. For professors such as JF Poovey, the project of setting up courses in African literature in the United States (and possible also Europe) requires a confrontation with a dilemma between the encouragement and judgement of a young literature.
The basic assumption, which ought not to be surprising, is that one can study African literature for the same reason that one reads French, German or Bengali writing. One assumes that it explores human concerns that are, in the final analysis, universal. One reads African literature not because it is African but because it is good. This assertion cuts both ways of course. On the one hand it will rescue African literature from the belittling assumption that it is of interest solely for the light it throws on African customs (the prior pejorative adjective there will be ‘unusual’ or ‘quaint’ depending on the standpoint of the reviewer). On the other hand it leaves such writing open to the chill winds of the ultimate standards of literary judgement….Perhaps one would in practice have to hedge on this issue because one would be forced to admit that a newly developing literature is hardly likely to offer beautiful evidence of “the best that has been thought and said.”[viii]
The dilemma, of course, is produced by a resistance to an adjustment of standards of literary judgement that are more ethnocentric than ultimate or universal. But the point here is to note that for several proponents of African literature in the States and Europe, the struggle to secure the subject a place in the academe proves to be a struggle against an aesthetic tradition. And what Poovey insists on is that the then common solution to this predicament—a recourse to considering the writing as instrumentalist, as providing the necessary history and anthropology to understand the African—leads both writer and student toward the “pernicious neocolonialism or the naïve idealism” that such studies are often in danger of fostering.[ix] The solution presented here (to wait for African literature to mature), however chauvinist it may now seem, is an attempt to rescue its novels and poems from a future in the social sciences.
Poovey’s view that the conflict between education and aesthetics would recede with the maturity of the tradition was not, in the early 1960s at least, unpopular within Africa itself. Paul Edwards and David R Carroll, for example, in their 1962 article, “An Approach to the Novel in West Africa,” define this conflict as being due in part to a newness of the reading and writing habit in Africa; and their desire for African literature to hold some serious place in the classrooms and libraries of an implicitly transatlantic middle class leads to a particular proposal for the educational uses of Achebe and his counterparts.
To return to the comment by the student quoted above, we believe when he says that literature does not provide useful facts, he really means that the facts in literature—the ideas, the record of experience, the language—are too alien to be of any use to him; that the books he is usually asked to read and study are remote from his experience and irrelevant to his needs. At a quite simple level, the West African is profoundly aware of the usefulness of literature in the moral tradition of his own folklore. But to present him with literature that demands more of him than he can possibly bring to it is to make reading in literature a morally worthless academic exercise. It seems reasonable to propose, then, that the literature which West African schoolchildren and undergraduates might be expected to read should have certain characteristics in order that reading might grow in significance for the reader, and that he might be drawn to read more….By this we do not mean that African readers should never have to read about winter, any more than we would suggest that English schoolboys should not read about Blake’s tiger or Lawrence’s mountain lion. But there must be clearly defined and important points of contact.
Good writing, especially good novels, by West Africans themselves might provide us with the stimulus we need in order to create this delight in reading.[x]
It would be best, once again, to abstain from too long a critique of some of the assumptions made by Edwards and Carroll, and to instead note that their concerns for reading in Africa, as well as their proposals for curriculum change, appeared cogent at the time and even necessary in newly independent West Africa. When Edwards and Carroll presented a similar paper at the April 1963 Conference on English Language Literature of Africa in Freetown, Sierra Leone, their proposals met with relative approval from writers such as Ezekiel Mphahlele, who saw the recommendations as a part of a mechanism for “liberalizing the study of English literature as a whole.”[xi] And their question of the manner in which African writing could be taught in relation to English or British literature matched in urgency similar questions posed in the June 1962 Conference of African Writers of English Expression in Kampala, Uganda, and for French and Francophone literatures, identical concerns raised in the March 1963 conference on the integration of African literature in the French syllabus, held at Dakar University, Senegal.
Thus, the Edwards and Carroll paper must be read as being highly attuned to the political atmosphere in which it was received. For recognised by the mid-1960s were the implications of an active blurring between West and Rest that had emerged as a cultural pattern in the immediate postcolonial situation, and it is important to read the series of conferences and the published criticism that emerged from them as attempts to respond to the most generous of possibilities then offered for the criticism and teaching of African literature. As Obiajunwa Wali aptly puts it, African writing seemed at the time bound to a mode of criticism in which African and European teachers alike would treat the tradition as “merely a minor appendage in the main stream of European literature.”[xii] Replacing this vision with another would therefore require an implicit refusal of Poovey’s proposal to catch-up or develop. It would necessitate, as we will see, a shift in the objectives of key conferences and lectures: from the goal of integrating African literature into an established aesthetic tradition to an attempt at establishing a new tradition of writing ethics and aesthetics. And this newer vision of African literature would also entail Edwards and Carroll’s attention to the infrastructure of education, albeit in the form of the increasingly radical proposals offered in works such as Achebe’s Morning Yet on Creation Day, Chinweizu et al’s Toward the Decolonization of African Literature (1983) and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonizing the Mind (1986).
Morning Yet in particular has been used in Achebe criticism as a source text for acceptable modes of reading and teaching his work. Of the fifteen essays in the collection, written between 1961 and 1974 and shifting with ease from autobiography to artistic manifesto to cultural analysis, two that have proved most seminal in the literature are the 1965 lecture “The Novelist as Teacher” and the 1974 paper “Colonialist Criticism.” Noteworthy in the former is Achebe’s early use of audience as a mechanism for defining African writing against the European tradition. Given originally as a lecture at Leeds University, the essay begins with a move to establish a difference in character between the writer’s two immediate audiences: the listening public of the talk and the reading public of his Nigeria.
Writing of the kind I do is relatively new in my part of the world and it is too soon to try and describe in detail the complex of relationships between us and our readers. However, I think I can safely deal with one aspect of these relationships which is rarely mentioned. Because of our largely European education, our writers may be pardoned if they begin by thinking that the relationship between European writers and their audience will automatically reproduce itself in Africa. We have learned from Europe that a writer or an artist lives on the fringe…in revolt against society, which in turn looks on him with suspicion if not hostility. The last thing society would dream of doing is to put him in charge of anything.[xiii]
The strategy employed here is self-conscious, indicative of an awareness of certain possibilities beyond the constructs—us, our, Europe and Africa—that Achebe provides. Indeed, his allusion to the effects of influence, signalled by the use of European when describing a shared education among writers in English, serves to signal an attentiveness to the issues raised since the 1963 Kampala conference in articles such as Obiajunwa Wali’s, which had recently argued against continued writing and criticism of African literatures in non-African languages.[xiv] Achebe’s attempt here is thus to present an alternative future for African literary criticism that is predicated less on a distinct set of languages and more on a distinct set of relations between writer and audience. So the inference Achebe asks us make is to see the Nigerian or African writer as English- and/or French-speaking but not positioned at the fringe of his community, as capable of occasional critique but not of continuous revolt against his own society, and as in fact regularly called upon by his society to be in charge of, or at least render, a set of services.
The actual nature of these services becomes a central subject of Achebe’s lecture, even as he further specifies his primary audience. He chooses to focus on those who purchase “the cheap paperback edition” of his Things Fall Apart (“…800 copies in Britain; 20,000 in Nigeria…”) and to describe the majority of them as being “young…either in school or college or…only recently left.”[xv] This method focusing and definition of audience demonstrates an attention to the economics of publishing and a conception of his primary readers as consisting of real or virtual students. The equation of reader and student is important to Achebe, particularly when he declares that “many of them look at me as a kind of teacher.” For here he is able to suggest that the distinct set of reading relations the African writer is faced with is one in which the means of reading are closely and continuously linked with those of schooling. This linking of the practice of reading with the infrastructure of education works as an effective segue to the dramatisation—via letters from and encounters with readers—of an ethical tension Achebe senses when confronted with the teacher’s task. For if he appears comfortable accepting or dismissing the requests made in letters from Buba Yero Mafindi and a “how-for-do” reader in Ghana, he admits to being rather uncertain of the appropriate response to demands made in person by “a young woman teacher,” also from Ghana, who criticises the author for not allowing the hero of his No Longer at Ease to buck custom and marry the woman he loves, an ending that, though perhaps more naïve than the original, would have better served a female readership that had found itself in a similar predicament:
I made the kind of vague noises I usually make whenever a wise critic comes along to tell me I should have written a different book to the one I wrote. But my woman teacher was not going to be shaken off so easily. She was in deadly earnest….this young woman spoke with so much feeling that I couldn’t help being a little uneasy at the accusation (for it was indeed a serious accusation) that I had squandered a rare opportunity for education on a whimsical and frivolous exercise.[xvi]
It would be difficult to ignore the fact that uneasiness in African reader relations is here provoked by a woman and by a teacher. In her capacity as a woman, this Ghanaian reader is described as revealing a previously unseen consequence of certain plot choices the author has made, decisions that she has interpreted as being in contradiction to the fulfilment of both the expected work of African writing and the presumed needs of a gendered reading populace. To be sure, part of Achebe’s initial reaction to this call is a kind of refusal (“I don’t agree, of course….It is important to say at this point that no self-respecting writer will take dictation from his audience”). But it is in her capacity as teacher that the reader is able to separate herself out from mere audience. Her accusation remains, long after the actual encounter, specifically because she is able to invoke the author’s need to join a second profession, to properly share the ethics and responsibility of political transition and cultural decolonisation. What follows, however implicitly, is an analysis of the implications of this interaction between teachers, a meeting that will eventually lead to an argument for an ethics of writing in the African situation that encompasses the task of re-educating an emerging generation of postcolonial citizens.
So there is this partial acquiescence to the woman’s point of view, this compliance to a request for services that is perhaps akin to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s own recruitment to a project of cultural re-education at a community centre in Kamiriithu. And while in the latter instance (detailed in a 1984 paper given at the University of Zimbabwe) the Kenyan writer receives a plea that is more persistent and explicit,[xvii] both narratives present us with women as reminders of certain needs and duties that may have gone unnoticed during an earlier process of writing, duties remembered that are then utilised toward a redefinition of African literature and its responsibilities. For Ngugi, writing in the 1980s, the end-result of his recruitment is a redirection of African literature toward an abandonment of European languages as a mode of expression. For Achebe, writing in the 1960s and 70s, writing too against recommendations such as Obiajunwa Wali’s, abandonment of this magnitude is dismissed as unworkable, and in its place one gets a meditation upon the tensions and benefits of doing African writing in English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, etc.[xviii] It is therefore important to Achebe that his petitioner in “Novelist as Teacher” not be visiting from a neighbouring village (as is the case in Ngugi), that she come not only from another ethnic group but also from a different country and so allow for an implicit definition of audience as cognizant of, though not delimited by, the frontiers of ethnicity and nationhood.[xix] It is important, too, that she is clearly marked as a reader. While it remains unclear in the Ngugi whether the woman is a reader of the writer’s work or even literate,[xx] Achebe makes sure to repeatedly describe his interlocuter as a participant in an English-language readership of his novels.
The nature of her participation cannot be overemphasised, for it is in a similar capacity that Achebe seeks to re-inscribe the African writer: as a participant in a transcontinental, post-Independence system of re-education.
The writer cannot expect to be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done. In fact he should march right in front. For he is after all—as Ezekiel Mphahlele says in his African Image—the sensitive point of his community. The Ghanaian professor of philosophy, William Abraham, put it this way:
Just as African scientists undertake to solve some of the scientific problems of Africa, African historians go into the history of Africa, African political scientists concern themselves with the politics of Africa; why should African literary creators be exempted from the services that they themselves recognize as genuine?
I, for one, would not wish to be excused. I would be quite satisfied if my novels…did no more than teach my readers that their past—with all its imperfections—was not one long night of savagery…. Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure. But who cares? Art is important, but so is education of the kind I have in mind. And I don’t see that the two need be mutually antagonistic.[xxi]
Indeed, if his response to the woman teacher’s criticism is somewhat delayed, deferred to essay’s end as a kind of manifesto, it is done so while referencing a network of African readers, writers and educators to which his woman teacher can be said to belong. And if his use of the woman teacher, Ezekiel Mphahlele and William Abraham makes transparent an effort to discuss cultural decolonisation at the level of the international, it also has the effect of defining the project’s educational arm as inherently interdisciplinary. This is not to argue for a dismissal of boundaries in Achebe’s lecture, but instead to point out that his attentiveness to the frontiers between nation-states such as Nigeria and South Africa, and between disciplines such as art, history and political science, does not obscure a vision of the African writer as committed to developing a communicative language capable of crossing such borders, particularly when the ends of writing are a continental audience and an artistic revision of the past. Hence, Achebe’s temptation at the end of the essay: to go beyond a compliance with a call to teach, and to instead also consider African writing as a kind of academic discipline, perhaps even an “applied art,” with narration being its mode of inquiry and education.
“Novelist as Teacher” allowed sympathetic critics of African literature to reinterpret Achebe’s work in two particular ways. With respect to a then growing criticism on Things Fall Apart, the lecture provided a declared artistic purpose and a non-European audience for the detailed accounting of quotidian village life that had been considered by critics to constitute a penchant for local colour or the mirroring of ethnographic narratives. Furthermore, the suspected didacticism of both these passages and the conclusion could now be read as an educative functionalism characteristic of African writers and their novels. As Charles R Larson argues in his 1972 study, The Emergence of African Fiction:
The conclusion to Things Fall Apart has often been considered over-written, anti-climatic, unnecessarily didactic….and if it is didactic in the sense of tying things up a little too nicely, then I would have to insist that this was Achebe’s intention from the beginning and not merely an accident because of his background of oral tradition. In an article…called, “The Novelist as Teacher,” Achebe has written about the functional value of literature in a young nation—young in written literature. ….In short, the novelist in an emergent nation cannot afford to pass up a chance to educate his fellow countrymen, and…contemporary African literature and other forms of African art have inherited a cultural inclination toward the didactic which in regard to African tradition may be called functionalism.[xxii]
What Larson seems to be attempting here in rescuing Things Fall Apart from charges of didacticism is to align the criteria for aesthetic judgement of the novel with the reinterpreted aims of the writer and the newly defined needs of his primary readership. And it should be mentioned that the functionalism he distils as a trait of this practice of writing is, in his interpretation, not a mere advancement of the appropriation of the village griot or prophet, an at times rhetorical move frequently made as a means of distinguishing Black writing from White and as a means of acquiring the platform from which the artist could teach and critique.[xxiii] Larson insistence, following closely from Achebe’s, is that the didacticism of the novelist-as-teacher not be considered an “accident…of his background of oral tradition” or a simple carry-over from pre-colonial practices, but a pointed response to the conditions of postcolonial nationhood. What becomes interesting is the manner in which this reading of Achebe, as well as Achebe’s own reading of the role of novelist, slightly mirrors Britain’s own complex attitude toward reading and literary study within the enterprise of imperial consolidation in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One could even argue that there is evidence here (in Larson, in Achebe, in Edwards and Carroll) of a subtle transference, from Enlightenment England to postcolonial Nigeria and Africa, of what Gauri Viswanathan has appropriately described as the practice of altering the “uses of literacy to accommodate the burgeoning requirements of statecraft.”[xxiv] To be sure, such transference of colonial practice to anticolonial agenda would be accompanied by the classic set of ambivalences previously detailed in a number of seminal studies within the field of postcolonialism. But the specific question it raises in the context of a re-reading of Things Fall Apart is the extent to which Achebe’s early intervention in the 1960s establishes an educational infrastructure that teaches best (and thus reads only) the new classics of African writing.
In fact, by the 1970s Achebe’s strategic conflation of the two roles in his lecture had drawn criticism from several critics, including Sunday O Anozie, the noted Nigerian academic. And though Anozie’s 1972 study, Christopher Okigbo: Creative Rhetoric, is primarily concerned with the struggles of the contemporary poet to incorporate a brand of Anglo-modernism within an Igbo metaphysical framework, Achebe takes as a personal critique the description in the text of a tendency among “poets particularly in the young countries to confuse their role with that of seers, and [for] novelists to see themselves as teachers.”[xxv] Achebe’s response, detailed in a 1974 lecture, “Colonialist Criticism,” takes issue less with Anozie’s use of the word “confuse” than with his assignment of this confusion to “young countries,” whose literatures are expected to progress up through, as Achebe puts it, “mankind’s evolutionary ladder…that you are enabled by the authority of that phrase to account for all their material as well as spiritual circumstance. Show me a people’s plumbing, you say, and I can tell you their art.”[xxvi] Most interesting in this exchange between Achebe and Anozie is not the early and even prescient critique of development discourse, or the creative elisions of the differences between teacher, seer, prophet, novelist and poet. Rather, what intrigues is Achebe’s tactics of situating Anozie’s remarks within a tradition of what he sees to be colonialist criticism. His labelling of Anozie’s reading of Okigbo as a product of “seduction” and “misdirection” is buttressed by an emphasis on Anozie’s use of Cecil M Bowra as an authority. And more uncomplimentary is Achebe direct association of the pointed reference to his “Novelist” with reprimands he had received from the West: “In his disapproval of what I had to say [Anozie] follows, of course, in the footsteps of certain Western literary schoolmasters, from whom I had already earned many sharp reprimands for that paper, who told me in clear terms that an artist had no business being so earnest.”[xxvii]
The implications of this manoeuvre will come to be important for the establishment of a developing set of nuances in Nigerian and African literary criticism. By the time of “Colonialist Criticism,” well after the Biafran War and well into the establishment of the first set of diaspora Nigerians, Achebe had begun to express a desire to establish, now on both sides of the Atlantic, an academe willing to receive writing produced with an African and a postcolonial aesthetics in mind. One perhaps sees in lectures such as “Thoughts on the African Novel” an admission on Achebe’s part that his audience remains, in 1973, transatlantic and overly indebted to colonialism. The proper corrective, involving the development of anticolonial criticism as well as fiction, would also entail the categorisation of critical writing less along strict lines of ethnic origin than along those of theoretical perspective. Hence, the importance in “Colonialist Criticism” for Achebe to argue for a consideration of certain African critics as seduced and misdirected by European traditions of art and academics. And it is noteworthy that this exchange between Anozie and Achebe, representative of several shifts in the criticism of the 1970s, should occur over conflicting readings of Okigbo, a poet whose eclecticism-read-as-obscurantism earns him a fraught position in the critical literature that would eventually be occupied by writers like Wole Soyinka.[xxviii] What one can argue for here is the development in 1970s criticism of a scepticism of and sensitivity to the persistence of colonial (and eventually simply Euro-American) influence in writing and thought. Indeed, when coupled with the mandate for cultural re-education, this scepticism of European influence in both colonialist critics and Afro-modernists writers becomes overt and eventually gains credence as a form of decolonising criticism most fully manifested in the seminal 1983 study, Toward the Decolonization of African Literature, by Chinweizu, Onwuchekwu Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike.
The text itself can certainly be read as a key crystallisation of the dual conceptions of African writer as teacher and of truly African writing as integral to the ongoing processes of decolonisation. It is this belief in the possible effectiveness of fiction and poetry in loosening Europe’s hold on African society that compels the authors to recommend a “deliberate and calculated process of syncretism” in African writing and criticism,[xxix] one that does allow the incorporation of vitalising contributions from foreign cultures, but only as part of an artistic project operating from within the African tradition, not without. That is, Chinweizu et al see some of the most celebrated writing and criticism of their day as being too focused on the “well-made novel” or on the radical equivalents of (post)-modernisms, and as failing, too, in their ability to differentiate between the needs of European, American and African readerships. They therefore offer a corrective in their call for a period of traditionalist experimentation, a time in which artists and academics would be focused solely on the detailing and invigoration of the parameters and practice of African art alone.
The emphasis here on the African is made with the rather progressive assumption that works by Soyinka, Senghor or Okigbo could in fact work in the opposite direction, contributing directly (perhaps even solely) to English and French writing and reading traditions. The authors’ disapproval of this possibility for African writing is apparent.
The artist in the traditional African milieu spoke for and to his community. His imagery, themes, symbolisms and forms were drawn from a communally accessible pool. He was heard. He had sense. But our “moderns”? When you cannot speak to your people there is a burning temptation either to speak to yourself (privatist mysticism), or to speak for them to outside ears (orphic messengers); to pose as ambassadors to foreigners, to pretend to be bearers of self-composed messages from your people to the rest of the world. The outsiders hear and understand you (perhaps), but your own people wonder what’s going on, what the jabbering is all about.
The African writer or critic must confront this issue of what community he is writing for. Is he content to scribble marginalia to the literatures of Europe? Is he content to write for an audience whose interest in his work is mostly exotic? Or is he more interested in writing for a community whose members, in reading his works, can confront their own life experiences and find them illuminated?[xxx]
Chinweizu et al’s response to Wali’s future for African literature is more militant in tone than Achebe’s, but it does similarly set out to correct certain audience assumptions shared by critics and writers of African and European descent. What Achebe achieves by way of paperback sales figures, selection of letters and the meeting with his woman teacher, Chinweizu et al attempt via an argument more directly aimed against the taking of Euro-American readers or the “abstract Civilisation de l’Universel” as community, readership or frame of artistic reference. Curtailing this habit entails a transformation of the ends of African writing, so that its central purpose becomes a communication of the flavour, complexities, realities and aesthetics of “African life, past and present, for an African audience.”[xxxi] What logically ensues are the “constraining parameters” and salutary checks on writers’ craft and language they have given the study its present notoriety.
Indeed, the strain of anticolonial criticism developed in Chinweizu et al offers up several assumptions worth investigating, one of which is the belief that literature and its criticism can at all be an effective tool of decolonisation. But overshadowing even this supposition is perhaps the questionable assertion they make regarding the nature of truly African art, an assertion that enables the authors to distinguish between experimentation that operates within the African tradition (Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola) and experimentation that operates outside of it (Okigbo, Soyinka). The opposition between these two types of work hinges mostly on a communal comprehensibility of the writers’ prose or poetry, an expectation of the reading experience that will likely lead to friction when dealing with writing that takes as its ‘tradition’ purposefully obscurantist or abstract African art.
But to offer the appropriate counterclaim—that not all African oral narrative and poetry was and is immediately decipherable by the general populace—would be, I think, to make mention of a relationship between the community and certain recesses of highly metaphorical and ceremonial art that Chinweizu et al must already be cognizant of. That is, the authors are likely aware of the fact that a good portion of ‘traditional’ and/or ‘pre-colonial’ art resists easy interpretation and often requires ceremonial explicators, a smaller sector of the community (often the artists themselves) that consists of highly-educated readers of the art and its tradition, gate-keepers of meaning and value, who are able then to reveal the significance of their work in a piecemeal fashion, when appropriate and necessary.[xxxii] Chinweizu et al, utilising a post-colonial conception of this set-up, seem to be insisting on two primary facets of decolonising writing in the 1980s: (a) that its meaning and/or value become once again open to explication, and (b) that the role or duty of explication be shared with, if not taken up by, a generation of anticolonial critics attached to a proposed infrastructure of education. And so in their contrasting of Achebe/Tutuola with much of Soyinka/Okigbo, Chinweizu et al are in fact demanding a series of teachable texts, in which the decolonising work of a given poem, novel or play is either readily apparent to the reader (Achebe’s Things) or can be made apparent by the African critic (Tutuola’s Drinkard).
It is possible, then, to see in their insistence on providing guidelines for the tradition—that the writer be “heard” within his community, that his imagery “make sense,” and that his work become “resonant” for Africans—an aspiration to the brand of teaching activism Achebe implicitly advocated for nearly twenty years earlier. One cannot, of course, simply equate the content of the two activisms. For it is not at all apparent (or even likely) that Achebe would demand of an Okigbo or Soyinka a kind of teacher’s clarity. One can argue, however, for a link between Achebe’s call for applied art and Chinweizu et al’s requests for constrained art, for writing bent toward African norms of communication, with the greater goal being engagement—the raising of reader consciousness—which in a sense is a form of teaching.[xxxiii] To be sure, there is little in Achebe’s Morning Yet that is akin to Chinweizu et al’s demands for a movement away from privatism toward commitment.[xxxiv] But what for Achebe is expressed as an individual artistic manifesto—a decision as an artist to no longer wish to be excused from decolonising work—logically becomes for Chinweizu et al a problem of educational infrastructure: a proposal to reorganise secondary and higher learning so as to equip writers, readers and critics with the ability to interpret art as doing decolonising work.[xxxv] And in their argument for a cultural continuity with a pre-colonial Africa via the reclamation and adaptation of orature,[xxxvi] Chinweizu et al demonstrate a desire for Africa as a poetic, non-European consciousness that is similar to the one expressed in Achebe’s 1981 call for a new Nigerian. At work in both conceptions of African literature and of the milieu in which it is to be read is a decolonising and so violent re-envisioning of Africa as a single readable and teachable community.
It would be difficult, therefore, to extensively critique Chinweizu et al’s proposals for African literature and literary education without in some sense dismantling an infrastructure, however hypothetical, in which Achebe’s novels may best be taught. This dilemma is produced not only via the aforementioned associations between the two teaching activisms; it is also generated by the likely persistence of a canon and the political necessity of teaching it well, by what Loretta Stec aptly describes as the “ghostly reemergence of a centrality” in writing traditions, especially those defined against and in many senses produced by a Europhonic equivalent.[xxxvii] Even when dealing with an openly deconstructive project such as Jacques Derrida’s and Gayatri Spivak’s one returns very quickly and perhaps frustratingly stubbornly to the “truism that a full undoing of the canon-apocrypha opposition, like the undoing of any opposition, is impossible.”[xxxviii] In the particular case of African literature and the 1950s through 1970s, one would have to argue that there was no real return to canonicity precisely because there was no going away from that concept or practice. Literary anticolonialism, with its close ties to the still present problem of cultural nationalism, relies heavily on the construction of new centralities, and not on the practice of decentring or on the posture of periphery. And rightly or wrongly, the centrality of Nigerian and African literature is occupied not simply by Achebe’s Things, but also by a body of European-language texts whose breadth of audience may have been integral to their efficacy as instruments of decolonisation and providers of cultural re-education. So it may be best to try not to dismiss Chinweizu et al entirely and to instead think through their vision of an educational infrastructure that distinguishes African literature from its European neighbours at a level less superficial than that of language.
The problem, however, is that if one is eager to know very much about Africa through its writings, one is—while reading the foundational texts in English, French and Portuguese—eventually confronted with the issue of reading in indigenous languages. This project puts the reader in a different sort of territory (one in which notions of Nigeria or Africa may be peripheral); and it presents the student of African literature with a different set of politics and difficulties. For those such as myself who claim no proficiency in one of several African languages in which there is some writing, the difficulties centre on the possibility of ever acquiring such capabilities, and so the politics are somewhat distanced or deferred as the student makes his way from lesson to course to attempts at immersion. But for the fluent and marginally literate, the politics become immediately awkward, shifting from concerns of the possibilities of such work to its necessity: how essential is it to read and work in Igbo or Yoruba? Or, to put things even more awkwardly: how essential, even possible, is it to read and work in Tiv or Efik? Is the idea of an African literature proposed by the Asmara Declaration of 2000—one in which African languages would eventually “take on the duty, the responsibility, and the challenge of speaking for the continent”[xxxix]—realistic and even successful at avoiding some of the pitfalls of Chinweizu et al? And if so, does one then consider as primary barrier to such a development the very success of Achebe as novelist and teacher of Africa? For to consider, for example, an Efik tradition of narrative writing as speaking for the continent or being canonically African, it seems necessary to seek a kind of permission from a parallel tradition of African literary criticism that has taken as a focus of scrutiny the relationship between the intent of an author and the specified results of his work, in other words, a continued linking between what he intends to communicate or teach and what his art succeeds in communicating or teaching. And though this approach to author, text and audience has over the years proved troubling to some within and outside the field of African literary studies, it does not seem to have lost its place in discussions focused on sorting out the relationship literature may have with the continent’s emerging, stabilising and dissolving national societies, nearly all of which have continued to be languaged in English, French, Portuguese or Arabic.[xl] This intrinsic association between artist and the Europhonic struggles of his readership is in part a testament to the extent to which early writers of African literature have been able to shape certain aspects of its criticism. And among the more visible of these early writers, Achebe has proven almost implausibly persuasive.
Finally, I realise how incongruous it may seem to ask for a consideration of Chinweizu et al’s proposals more than two decades after they were initially published, especially since much of the North Atlantic academy has come to sense a “profound insufficiency” to and the serious need for revision of the notion that literature exists within a national or regional framework.[xli] Still, it is not clear that inattention to the regional or national (and its attendant histories) is a solution for African writing or even a possibility for postcolonial texts. And even in its best possible permutation, a globalisation of literary study would not, it seems, placate the fears and pessimism rightly expressed in the 1960s by critics such as Obi Wali. Perhaps that is the whole point of their text and Achebe’s: that what one must continually consider as a solution, even in the wake of an advanced though incomplete modernity, may be the exact opposite of unification across divides between West and Rest or North and South. It may be, instead, the conscious and intellectually curious fragmentation of the academe, or at least the careful development of multiple practices of teaching in such a way that the “university will become the multiversity.”
[i] Ogbaa, K. “An Interview with Chinua Achebe.” Research in African Literatures, Spring 1981, 13.
[ii] Achebe, C. “The Novelist as Teacher,” in Morning Yet on Creation Day (New York: Anchor Press, 1975), p73.
[iii] While there are several examples of this refashioning of self and/or history in (anti)-colonial literature, one of possible interest to a reader of this paper is the case of Olaudah Equiano/Gustavus Vassa, whose self-fashioning in his letters and well-known autobiography has recently been taken up by Vincent Carretta. See his articles: “Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa? New Light on an Eighteenth-Century Question of Identity.” Slavery and Abolition, 20:3, 1999, 96-105; and “Defining and Gentleman: The Status of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa.” Language Sciences, 22 (2000), 385-99. It would be interesting to keep Carretta’s discussion of eighteenth century self-reformulation in mind while revisiting Achebe’s positioning of The Interesting Narrative of Gustavus Vassa… as a beginning to African literature.
[iv] Duerden, Dennis and C Pieterse. African Writers Talking (London: Heinemann, 1972), p11.
[v] Gikandi, Simon. Reading Chinua Achebe (London: James Currey, 1991), p15.
[vi] Achebe, C. “Colonialist Criticism,” in Morning Yet on Creation Day, pp21-2.
[vii] See Fanon, Frantz. Les damnés de la terre (Paris: François Maspero, 1961), p70, for a highly nuanced positioning of the role of violence in projects of both colonisation and decolonisation.: « La violence du colonisé, avons-nous dit, unifie le peuple. De par sa structure en effet, le colonialisme ne se contente pas de constater l’existence de tribus, il les renforce, les différencie. Le système colonial alimente les chefferies et réactive les vielles confréries maraboutiques. La violence dans sa pratique est totalisante, nationalisante. De ce fait, elle comporte dans son intimité la liquidation du régionalisme et du tribalisme…. La liquidation des caïds et des chefs est un préalable à l’unification du peuple. » Note that in a Fanonian envisioning of colonising and decolonising projects, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart—written in a national English yet grounded in the specifics of the Igbo predicament—is itself placed in an ambiguous position. Though one is left to argue whether certain colonial self-notions are furthered in the project of forming and advancing Achebe’s new Nigerian, there remains the very certain possibility of reading both forms of writing (the colonial and anticolonial) as intrinsically violent.
[viii] Poovey, JL. “How Do You Make a Course in African Literature?” Transition, 1965, 18, p18.
[ix] Poovey, p17.
[x] Edwards, Paul and David R Carroll. “An Approach to the Novel in West Africa,” Phylon, Fourth Quarter, 1962, 23:4, p321.
[xi] Mphahlele, Ezekiel. “African Literature and Universities: A Report on Two Conferences to Discuss African Literature and the University Curriculum,” Transition, September 1963, 10, p17
[xii] Wali, Obiajunwa. “The Dead End of African Literature?” Transition, Sept 1963, 10, p13. This article—in which Wali reads certain implications of the June 1962 Conference of African Writers of English Expression held in Makerere College, Kampala—is alluded to by Achebe himself in a 1964 paper, where he discusses possible definitions for the tradition and its possible relations with European languages, a topic that I will treat more fully in my conclusion. See “The African Writer and the English Language,” Morning Yet on Creation Day, pp91-2.
[xiii] Achebe, C. “Novelist as Teacher,” p67.
[xiv] Wali, Obiajunwa. “The Dead End of African Literature?” Transition, Sept 1963, 10, p14.
[xv] Achebe, C. “Novelist as Teacher,” p68.
[xvi] Achebe, C. “Novelist as Teacher,” p69.
[xvii] The woman is reported to have visited Ngugi repeatedly, each time demanding, “We hear you have a lot of education and that you write books. Why don’t you and others of your kind give some of that education to the village?” See Thiong’o, Ngugi wa. “The Language of African Theatre,” in Decolonising the Mind (1986; London: James Currey, 1997), p34.
[xviii] Achebe, C. “The African Writer and the English Language,” in Morning Yet on Creation Day, pp91-103. See also the collection’s preface, written in 1974, on his prior statements on language: “…the fatalistic logic of the unassailable postion of English in our literature leaves me more cold now than it did when I first spoke about it in the auditorium of the University of Ghana…. And yet I am unable to see a significantly different or a more emotionally comfortable resolution of that problem,” (xii-xiii).
[xix] Though audience is rarely explicitly defined in Morning Yet, African literature often is. For example: “I do not see African literature as one unit but as a group of associated units—in fact the sum total of all the national and ethnic literatures of Africa,” (92). It would be interesting to attempt reading corollary to this literature, one whose membership would likely consist for the greater part of a sum total of the varied national and ethnic readerships of Africa.
[xx] Note how she is reported to have begun her request: “We hear you have a lot of education and that you write books.” The detail is crucial for the gradual development of Ngugi’s stance on the question of language, for the woman can be read as petitioning on behalf of a listening audience eager to watch and hear some work from the well-known author.
[xxi] Achebe, C. “Novelist as Teacher,” p72-3.
[xxii] Larson, Charles R. The Emergence of African Tradition (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1971), pp60-1.
[xxiii] See, for example, Soyinka, Wole. Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture (London: Metheun, 1993) p20: “A concern with culture strengthens society, but not a concern with mythology. The artist has always functioned in African society as the record of the mores and experiences of his society and as the voice of vision in his own time. It is time for him to respond to this essence of himself.” Interestingly enough, Soyinka was to feature prominently in Chinweizu et al as a certain type of non-African writer that had lost his way in an Anglo-modernism seen as too popular in the 1970s and 80s.
[xxiv] Viswanathan, Gauri. “Milton, Imperialism, and Education,” Modern Language Quarterly, September 1998, 59:3, p349.
[xxv] Anozie, Sunday O. Christopher Okigbo: Creative Rhetoric (New York: Evan Brothers, ltd, 1972), p17.
[xxvi] See Achebe, C. “The Colonialist Critic,” in Morning Yet on Creation Day, p20.
[xxvii] Achebe, C.“The Colonialist Critic,” p21.
[xxviii] See the shift in the 1970s and 1980s on Okigbo, from an evaluation of his success in negotiating European and African traditions to a consideration of the value of such an enterprise. One could start with Anozie in 1972, who ends his study by describing the poet as having never achieved the “curious purgative experience of art” established as a goal by a primary influence, TS Eliot: “The dilemma of Christopher Okigbo is that he never truly experienced this normal purgation of art. Every new artistic experience left, on the palate of his intuition, nothing but the sour taste of something raw and unfinished….In other words, his poetic world is informed by a sense of the inscrutable absence of reconciliation of opposites. It is this that has shaped the puzzled syntax of his creative rhetoric,”(182).
Then: Egudu, Romanus N Four Modern West African Poets (New York: NOK Publishers, 1977), p22: “Okigbo’s poetry is essentially a hodgepodge of many cryptic ingredients and this has naturally led to its tense obscurity—a quality by no means to its credit.”
And perhaps the more charitable but no less dismissive: Goodwin, Ken L Understanding African Poetry: A Study of Ten Poets (London: Heinemann, 1982), p46: “But at his death he had not solved either his own intellectual problems of the problems of poetry-making; though a tragic figure, he is not necessarily a good model for poetry.”
Though the primary subject of this paper is Achebe as teacherly text, it is important to keep in mind the contradictory readings of Okigbo in African literary criticism, which in prefiguring a similar treatment of Soyinka also help us to understand the type of non-educative writing Chinweizu et al have in mind when setting up Achebe as an ideal example.
[xxix] Chinweizu et al. Toward the Decolonization of African Literature, Vol 1: African Fiction and Poetry and their Critics (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1983), p239
[xxx] Chinweizu, p241.
[xxxi] Chinweizu, p241.
[xxxii] A good example would be Yoruba praise poetry, which is often characteristically cryptic and obscure in nature. The bards of the royal court, charged with constructing the lyrical praise of prominent monarchs, also continue a tradition of critique of present-day rule. This tradition continues in part because the critique is often well disguised by the figuratively dense language in which it is presented. See Akinyemi, Akintunde, “Positive Expression of Negative Attributes: An Aspect of Yoruba Court Poetry.” Research in African Literatures, 35:3, Fall 2004, 93-111.
[xxxiii] Chinweizu, pp247-8.
[xxxiv] Chinweizu, pp248-55.
[xxxv] See Chinweizu, pp295-99 for a discussion of a proposed reorganisation of secondary and higher learning of the humanities into departments of (a) African Languages, Oratures and Literatures, (b) Comparative Literatures, and (c) Colonial Languages and their literatures.
[xxxvi] Chinweizu, pp256-85.
[xxxvii] Stec, Loretta. “Publishing and Canonicity: The Case of Heinemann’s ‘African Writers Series’,” Pacific Coast Philology, 1997, 32:2, p141.
[xxxviii] Spivak, Gayatri. “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value,” Diacritics, Winter 1985, 15:4, p74.
[xxxix] Asmara Declaration of African languages and Literatures, January 17, 2000.
[xl] See, for example, Mazrui, Alamin. “The Asmara Declaration on African Languages: A Critical Reappraisal,” A Keynote Address delivered at the Annual Conference of African Linguistics, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. In particular, his comments on the linguistic “anomaly” of state function in African make clear some of the contradictions that underpin the concerns of the Asmara Conference: “Part of the problem – in the prevailing attitude that one can pursue knowledge on Africa in languages other than African – lies, of course, on the degree of Africa’s linguistic dependence on the West. It has been argued elsewhere that, except in Arabic-speaking Africa and, perhaps, Somalia, Africans are yet to demonstrate a strong sense of linguistic nationalism. And because of this factor,…they are seldom resentful of their massive dependence on the imported imperial languages. And as long as this dependence continues to be a pervasive feature of the African condition, it would not be inappropriate to use the vocabulary ‘Anglophone,’ ‘Francophone’ and ‘Lusophone’ to describe different regions of the continent.”
[xli] Said, Edward W. “Globalizing Literary Study,” PMLA, January 2001, 116:1, p64.
[xlii] Mignolo, Walter D. “Globalization and the Geopolitics of Knowledge: The Role of the Humanities in the Corporate University,” Nepantla: Views from South, 4:1, p116.