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The First Ethiopians: The Image of Africa and Africans in the Early Mediterranean World

The First Ethiopians: The Image of Africa and Africans in the Early Mediterranean World

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The First Ethiopians: The Image of Africa and Africans in the Early Mediterranean World

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The First Ethiopians: The Image of Africa and Africans in the Early Mediterranean World

Published by Wits University Press

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http://lwb.book.co.za/blog

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12/20/2013

Malvern van Wyk Smith

The Image of Africa and Africans in the Early Mediterranean World

The First Ethiopians

Introduction
To us in the West, Africa is that part of the world which remains most deeply endowed with the two central facets of the other; that is, the mysterious and the exotic. —Patrick Chabal, ‘The African Crisis: Context and Interpretation’, 1996, 45 I thought for some reason even then of Africa, not a particular place, but a shape, a strangeness, a wanting to know. —Graham Greene, Journey without Maps, 1936

This book is a history of the idea of ‘Africa’ in the consciousness of the early Mediterranean and European world. G.M. Young once remarked that ‘the real, central theme of history is not what happened, but what people felt about it when it was happening’ (1952, vi), and the present study has been conceived in these terms. In 1979 Jean Devisse concluded the second volume of the magisterial The Image of the Black in Western Art, produced for the Menil Foundation by a team of scholars under the general editorship of Ladislas Bugner, with the following thoughts: Many see the sixteenth century as the starting point of relations between Europe and Black Africa, and in a way this is not inexact, give or take

fifty years. This book, however, proves that these relations had a long prehistory. If Africa hardly dreamed of Europe before the middle of the fifteenth century, Europe, on the other hand, had had certain images of the black continent and its peoples for centuries before (1979, 2: 2. 258). Despite Devisse’s optimism that the Bugner enterprise had ‘proven’ the long antecedence of European images of Africa and Africans, these volumes also made it clear that much further work was needed to explain the provenance and import, rather than merely to record the persistence, of such images. In his Preface to the first volume of The Image of the Black in Western Art, the general editor had himself suggested one way forward: ‘What is most urgently needed is an in-depth examination of the literary sources in relation to our theme.’ This sentiment chimed well with my own interests at the time. A life-long personal engagement with a particular set of perceptions of Africa, namely those of a white South African, seemed to confer privileged insights into the iconographic history of Africa in the European imagination even as it challenged the very substance and legitimacy of such concepts. Unlike Patrick Chabal, I am not one of ‘us in the West’, but have experienced Africa as both ‘mysterious and exotic’, yet also as home and intimate. Growing up in one of the world’s most unambivalently pariah states, namely apartheid South Africa, yet with no other country to think of remotely as home, I had to embark on an early intellectual pilgrimage to resolve how I could relate to that vast landmass and its people north of me, a world of which I was an unmistakable part, but that was somehow also forbidden and (officially) irredeemably ‘other’. An early venture into such explorations produced a study of the poetry of the Anglo-Boer War (Van Wyk Smith, 1978), in which I attempted to place the substantial legacy of verse that this southern African conflict of 1899–1902 had produced within the wider history and context of the emergence of the poetry of war. In 1988, at the time of the by-then inevitably controversial commemoration of the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese in 1488 and the resultant colonisation of southern Africa, it seemed appropriate to compile an anthology of poetry inspired by this theme, from the Lusiads onward, that stressed not the celebratory and imperialist aspects, but rather the tragic endeavours and missed opportunities of that high emprise (Van Wyk Smith, 1988). But by the late 1980s, it had also become clear to me that the southern African encounter between indigenous peoples and Europeans, and the conflicts among rival imperial powers in the region, had not only rehearsed ancient EuropeanAfrican disharmonies, but were the local manifestation of racial dynamics, 

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expansionist drives, and perceptual paradigms that had impacted on protoEuropean responses to the continent and its people since ancient times. These responses seemed to demand a thorough archaeology of the earliest European ideas about Africa. If mine was an image of Africa as the product of a particular kind of racist ancestry and upbringing in South Africa but shared by many others, an early rudimentary truth I had to confront was that the origin of such images was highly elusive, and lay well beyond the simple racism of my own background. It became clear to me that the ‘Africa’ that fascinated me was not a place but an idea; not so much a subject for geo-historical and ethnographic investigation, as the site and product of myth and discourse. I found, moreover, that moving backwards through the centuries of European-African encounter persistently produced the effect of déja vu – at each stage the evidence suggested conjunctions and prejudices already firmly in place and stereotypically invoked. The backward trawl through the high imperialism (and racism) of the nineteenth century, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and the Christian Middle Ages repeatedly suggested that unsympathetic European perceptions of Africa and its people somehow always had the status of the already self-evident. Even the Greeks and Romans seemed to be invoking ideas about black Africans and their continent that had come from somewhere else. In a recent substantial collection of essays, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, one of the editors speaks of ‘firmly held classical and medieval preconceptions relating to the African continent’ (Earle and Lowe, 2005, 3), yet no contributor explains how pejorative and racist views about Africa and Africans could have become ‘firmly held … preconceptions’ by classical times. Not surprisingly, the outcome is another series of binarist indictments without much enlightenment. The ‘somewhere else’ referred to above has turned out to be pharaonic Egypt. The crucial informing paradigm for almost all subsequent Euro-Mediterranean comprehensions of Africa derived ultimately from Egyptian conceptions of an African hinterland, conceptions that by archaic Greek times had resolved into the Homeric notion of ‘two Ethiopias’ invoked in both the Iliad and the Odyssey (see Chapter 1). As the following study will show, the Homeric conceit of a ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ Ethiopia became a powerful and pervasive discriminatory template for the earliest Mediterranean and subsequent European encounters with inner Africa, and for the earliest assessments of its peoples. Furthermore, the vexed question of how ‘African’ ancient Egyptians themselves were – or saw themselves to be – resolved itself in the course of my investigations into the

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likelihood that while Egyptians were certainly African, they were not ‘Negroid’ or ‘broad African’ in the sense in which such terms are now understood in African-American academic discourse. Rather, they were descended from one or more of the several phyla of pre- or non-Negroid peoples who in the late Holocene period inhabited the continent from north-east Africa to the Cape of Good Hope (see Chapters 2–5). This distinction had steadily encouraged the rulers of pharaonic Egypt to distance themselves from other Africans, and the consequent racial typology that they developed prompted later Greek and Roman commentators in turn to perpetuate and celebrate the notion of an elite culture of ‘worthy Ethiopians’ based on the lands and legends of Meroitic Nubia and, later, Aksumite Ethiopia, and to dismiss the rest of sub-Saharan Africa as ‘savage Ethiopia.’

What had also become clear by the 1970s was that an exercise in the history of ideas such as mine could not be confined to a mere content analysis of a limited range of texts from the colonial past. The reading of such texts, as of the whole phenomenon of colonial and transcultural encounter, had been and were being transformed in the aftermath of the colonial era by the rise of Third World scholarship and anti-colonial polemics, and by a revolution in our understanding of the discursive, cognitive and linguistic processes that condition all truth claims. My project, it appeared, would require not only a distant reach into the very origins of European ideas about Africa, but a broad survey of whether, why, how, and to what extent not only European but all observers are purportedly trapped within historically and cognitively conditioned horizons. It seemed important to establish whether, in the language of popular neuropsychology, we are hard-wired to see only what our conceptual grids allow us to see; for if this should indeed be the case, no genuine cross-cultural enlightenment could ever be possible. A seminal work in the revisionary discourse of Europe’s encounter with its ‘others’ was Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) – to which we shall come – but that work was itself the product of a ferment of debate and rewriting of history that had both inspired and recorded the processes of decolonisation. Said had been anticipated by writers and activists such as J.A. Hobson (1901, 1902), E.D. Morel 

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(1920), Frantz Fanon (1952, 1961), Oscar Mannoni (1950), C.L.R. James (1958, 1963) and Albert Memmi (1965), but it was Said who launched that particular wave of the discourse of postcolonialism, in the ebb of which we still find ourselves. Before moving on to an examination of the impact of figures such as Fanon and Said on postcolonial debates, however, we need to glance at the broader context of these polemics in the changing dimensions of the historiography of Africa, and as they were deployed in the dismantling of colonial empires. Hegel had notoriously argued in 1822 that Africa was ‘the land of childhood’ (1822/1902, 111) and that its people were beyond the grasp of history: ‘The Negro … exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state…. In Negro life the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any substantial objective existence…. At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again’ (95–103). By 1850, Robert Knox would ask: ‘What signify these dark races to us? Who cares particularly for the Negro, or the Hottentot or the Kaffir?’ and go on to suggest that ‘it matters little how their extinction is brought about’ (cited by Malik, 1996, 101). From here it is not difficult, with the benefit of hindsight, to draw a genealogy of European perceptions of Africa and Africans that leads directly to Hugh Trevor-Roper’s equally shocking claim in the early years of the postcolonial debate: Perhaps, in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of the European in Africa. The rest is largely darkness … the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe (1965, 9). Such views have survived in surprising quarters. In a cult novel of the 1980s, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the following sentiment occurs: ‘We need to take no more note of it [a soul not reincarnated] than of a war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny of the world, even if a hundred thousand blacks perished in excruciating torment’ (1984, 3). From Hegel to Trevor-Roper, the relationship between Africa and Europe became that summed up by Stanley Leathes in Volume 12 of the Cambridge Modern History: ‘Almost the whole of Africa has thus become an annex of Europe’ (1910, 4), or, perhaps more ominously, by E.A. Benians: ‘In Europe the occupation of Africa has increased wealth and trade, and cheapened some of the comforts of life; what it will mean for Africa cannot yet be judged’ (1910, 666).

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By the time Trevor-Roper made his pronouncement, such meanings for Africa were being vociferously judged. It should be remembered, however, that Trevor-Roper’s verdict was at least partly provoked by an emergent African historiography making equally startling claims about the originary status of Africa itself, legitimated in turn by Perham’s ‘colonial reckoning’ (1961) that had set in after the Second World War. In South Africa in 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had memorably reminded the apartheid government of the ‘winds of change’ blowing through colonial Africa, and of which they would soon feel the cold blast. Ghana had achieved independence in 1957, a triggering event that would not only fundamentally change the political dispensation of Africa, but that would also inspire a discourse of dismantlement aimed not just at the institutions, but at the discursive maintenance of the assumptions of colonialism. Reviewing two quite contradictory early myths about Africa, that of Hobbes and that of Rousseau, in which Africa was either a continent ‘in which there was no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and, which [was] worst of all, continued fear and danger of death’ or the site of ‘a golden age of perfect liberty, equality and fraternity’, T. Hodgkin captured the simplistic terms in which the discourse of Africa had traditionally been conducted, and warned that such binaries would no longer do (1957, 174–5). Lord Elton’s Imperial Commonwealth of 1945 was probably the last magisterial review of its subject that could sum up British colonial activity in Africa as follows: ‘British explorers had called a new Continent into existence, and gradually British emigrants had begun to people it’ (1945, 363) – evidently on the assumption that the continent’s own inhabitants did not count as ‘people’. Pervasively discriminatory assumptions about what had transpired between colonisers and colonised still prevailed. Boies Penrose, whose Travel and Discovery in the Renaissance 1420–1620 remains a seminal study of its subject, nevertheless was of the opinion that ‘intermarriage with the natives resulted in the creation of a half-caste population with the weaknesses of both races and few of their better qualities’ (1952, 74). Such verdicts I recognised as the absolute creeds of the world in which I had grown up. They also suggested that all travel writing and colonial history was irresistibly appropriative, as remarked by James Duncan and Derek Gregory: ‘All travel writing, as a process of inscription and appropriation, spins webs of colonizing power’ (1999, 3). But a ‘discourse switch’ was under way. In another seminal work of the time, Margery Perham and John Simmons’s African Discovery: An Anthology of Exploration, the compilers placed their selections from the greats of nineteenth- 

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century African exploration into a new context, despite betraying assumptions that Africa was not in ‘the civilized world’: The contemporaries for whom the explorers wrote were probably more interested in the character of the continent than of its peoples. That order is reversed today and to many the most interesting subject upon which their evidence can be sought is that of the state of African society when untouched by direct contact with the civilized world (1942, 16). In 1920, E.D. Morel, appalled by his own experiences in the so-called Congo Free State, had published one of the first major exposures of colonial atrocities, The Black Man’s Burden: The White Man in Africa from the Fifteenth Century to the First World War. In 1944, Alexander Campbell’s Empire in Africa, sponsored by the Left Book Club, offered a radical Leninist analysis of such expansionism, and by 1962 Melville J. Herskovits, whose Myth of the Negro Past had appeared in 1941, would write: Africa, when seen in perspective, was a full partner in the development of the Old World, participating in a continual process of cultural give-andtake that began long before European occupation. Neither isolation nor stagnation tells the tale. It is as incorrect to think of Africa as having been for centuries isolated from the rest of the world as it is to regard the vast area south of the Sahara as ‘Darkest Africa’, whose peoples slumbered on until awakened by the coming of the dynamic civilization of Europe (cited by Ngũgĩ, 1972, 3–4). As the present study will show, Herskovits’s upbeat reading of pre-colonial African society, inspired by new visions of African historiography and quoted affirmatively by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in 1972, was itself an oversimplification of complex transcultural and historical dynamics, but for the next three to four decades, such assumptions would be foundational in the writings of a generation of revisionist historians of Africa, whether from the West or from Africa itself. The disarticulation of colonial authority, both in politics and in colonial discourse, became the widely shared project of a new African historiography. The ‘real’ African past had to be recuperated, and the indigenous rather than the Eurocolonial rendering of that past had to be promoted. That process, and the new images of Africa consequently devised, are not a material part of the present study, as my focus is precisely on those perceptions – and their sources – that

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promoters of a revisionary African history wished to discredit. Nevertheless, a brief survey of some of the tenets of this polemic will help to contextualise the key issues that concern me, and must preface a more serious interrogation of how and to what extent the operations of discourse theory may be a help or hindrance in our reading – at present – of the European library of Africa. The first wave of revisionist African historiography, more or less up to the appearance of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978, tended to be content-based, concerned with providing new information, unproblematically considered as ‘correct’, about the European exploitation of Africa. Behind many such works lay a conviction that an emergent postmodernism would soon regard as naïve, namely that the ‘truth’ of colonialism could readily be ascertained, and that the attitudes and perceptions of the past could be ‘corrected’ by the provision of more information from indigenous sources in particular. Richard Gray, reviewing an important later contribution to this enterprise, David W. Phillipson’s African Archaeology (1985), summed up the iniquities to be addressed, yet also the problems posed by the proposed remedies: Africa invites stereotypes. Few Europeans and North Americans would dare to generalise so confidently about their own continents as they have so often done about Africa. The first modern, colonial, stereotype was that of a barbaric continent, one without history until quickened by outside forces. The second, which accompanied the process of decolonisation, was of an original Arcadia, prosperous and progressive until engulfed by the slave trade and European conquest…. Inevitably, the disillusionment which has often accompanied the decades of independence is provoking another reassessment (1985, 646). Between the end of colonialism and the above comment lay a revolution, not only in liberationist political terms, but in our understanding of how notions of ‘truth’ and the ‘correct’ rendering of historical events, including those of colonialism, are themselves contingent and historically determined. What we shall see is that the sceptical and agnostic imperatives of postmodernist insights, engaged by many a postcolonial campaigner, would have the startling effect of rendering the optimistic hopes and convictions of a recuperative postcolonial project highly problematic, if not downright forlorn. 

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In the meantime, a number of new works had set about reviewing the colonial history of Africa, and had managed to uncover much new or neglected information. In 1950, John W. Blake, afterwards Lord Blake, read a paper to the Royal Historical Society making a plea for ‘an integrated study of African history from the point of view of Africans’ (69). That such a history ‘from the point of view of Africans’ could be written by non-African outsiders we might now regard as a contradiction in terms, but it was an enthusiastic call. Launched at the same time and beginning publication in 1950 was the massive Ethnographic Survey of Africa, which eventually ran to some forty parts of 100– 200 pages each, with prominent contributors such as Hilda Kuper, Daryll Forde, Edwin Ardener and G.W.B. Huntingford. There was not a black African among them. Titles such as Africa Emergent (Macmillan, 1949) and The Emergent Continent (Halladay, 1972) became popular among authors who appreciated the urgency of revision, but nevertheless regarded Africa as a distant planet – in the words of W.M. Macmillan, former Professor of History at the University of the Witwatersrand, ‘If in any sense there is a single “African problem” it is nothing less than the bringing of civilization to Africa’ (1949, 9). Colin M. Turnbull’s The Lonely African (1963) attempted to bridge the gulf by sentimentalising its subject, but Basil Davidson, in a series of seminal and still highly readable works starting with Old Africa Rediscovered (1959), set about opening up an astounding but persuasive history of a continent effectively ‘lost’ to Western readers since before the Renaissance. Davidson described here and afterwards (1961, 1966, etc.) an Africa that by 1000 CE had developed mighty kingdoms, iron smelting and working, and extensive trade links across the Sahara with Mediterranean countries, and across the Indian Ocean with Arab states, India and even China. His Black Mother (1961, revised 1968) became an inspiration for students in South Africa, both white and black. For me, it was one of the earliest spurs towards the present study. In 1962, Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage published the first edition of their Short History of Africa, which would remain over many editions a standard introduction to its subject, its approach adumbrated by Ronald Segal in the Penguin African Library version of 1975: ‘Much of Africa’s past has now been excavated from ignorance and error. Yet the study of African history has hardly begun’ (1975, 10). A similar service was rendered by Ronald Robinson, John Gallagher and Alice

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Denny in Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (1961/1970), which presented ‘the paradoxical nature of late-Victorian imperial expansion in Africa’ (1970, 25) as a process that neither matched the visions of the proconsuls of empire nor wholly deserved the chastisements of Afrocentrist critics. The balanced assessments characteristic of such works have not fared well. Oliver and Fage would go on to become the doyens among English historians of Africa, co-responsible for the editing of the eight-volume Cambridge History of Africa that began publication in 1974. Their version of a recuperative history of Africa would, however, fall short of the expectations and agendas of indigenous historians of the very continent that the work was designed to promote. The rival UNESCO General History of Africa began publication in 1981, and in Chapter 1, I deal with its questionable representations of ancient Egypt’s relationships with the rest of Africa. When in 1985 Roland Oliver felt obliged to write a sharply dissident review of such fanciful historiography (867–8), this time as exhibited in Volume 7, Africa under Colonial Domination 1880–1935, he was savaged by the Nigerian historian, Chinweizu, as a lackey of ‘colonialist ideology’ and as now redundant: ‘Oliver’s review is the sort of attack which a jaded orthodoxy is liable to make on its supplanters as it is being pushed off the stage’ (1985, 1062). The impulses of reaction and rejection that marked the emergence of an indigenous African historiography between the 1950s and the 1980s, and inspired such hostile responses to its Western counterpart (however sympathetic), will remain a theme of the present study. As we shall see, such dissent was rendered increasingly inevitable in the wake of broader controversies and contradictions generated by the uneasy league between postcolonial and postmodernist onslaughts on the ‘master narratives’ of Western colonialism and imperialism. More orthodox literary, historical and ethnographic research continued to open up new stopes of information on the Euro-African past. The first volume of Robin Hallett’s The Penetration of Africa: European Enterprise and Exploration Principally in Northern and Western Africa up to 1830 appeared in 1965 and revealed the vast number of relevant works on northern and western Africa that had been published by 1815 – indeed, so vast that the second volume was never published. Part of the problem of reinterpretation that this new wave of scholarship had to confront was the sheer abundance of low-grade information that had stacked up over the centuries, as Anthony J. Barker found in 1978. His work, The African Link, which attempted to review ‘British Atitudes to the Negro in the Era of the African Slave Trade 1550–1807’, revealed that a mass of descriptive literature on Africa was available in Britain by the eighteenth century, but that

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most of it was derivative or merely compendious in the repetitive accumulation of indiscriminate and uncomprehended detail. The material was there, but the keys were lost. Nevertheless, these Renaissance and Enlightenment compendia – one thinks of the great collections of travel accounts from Ramusio (1550), De Bry (1597– 1628), Hakluyt (1598–1600), and Purchas (1625) to the Churchills (1704), Harris (1705), Astley (1745), and Osborne (1745) – although often soulless in their limited comprehension of African societies, would, for my purpose and for that very reason, prove invaluable in their revelation and confirmation of the popular images of Africa and its peoples at the time. Poor history can still make good stories, and it was the European ‘story’ of Africa that increasingly concerned me. Furthermore, the sheer descriptive and anecdotal density of these compendia does at times reflect a substantive, despite inadequate, ethnographic impulse that must caution against sweeping dismissal. A recent verdict such as that of Kate Lowe, that ‘to the majority of Europeans, the defining feature was African skin colour, and nothing else [my emphasis] … mattered, and consequently nothing else was recorded’ (Lowe, 2005, 6), is simply not true, ignoring as it does libraries full of earnest, albeit amateurish, ethnographic record. Histories of ‘the image of Africa’ rather than of the continent itself soon began to emerge as popular narrative sources became academically respectable, the discourse of revision unfolded, and African Studies programmes proliferated, especially in the United States of America. Philip D. Curtin’s The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action 1780–1850 appeared in 1964, and remained for decades an important survey of the colonialist assumptions that continued to rile revisionists. By 1966, Robin Winks could assemble an impressive cohort of Africanists to contribute the African chapters to his Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth, even if, despite his opening comment that ‘societies not yet nations are using the anvil of their history to beat out their claims to a separate identity’ (1966, 3), none of the authors of the African chapters were black Africans. He also had to confront an awkward truth: ‘The problems represented by nationalism, racial antagonisms, oral traditions, and illiterate or semi-literate societies are not readily reducible to the historian’s traditional tools and attitudes’ (1966, 21). Yet, despite such difficulties, the Nigerian scholar K.O. Dike (1956), as well as Michael Crowder (1968), L.H. Gann and Peter Duignan (1968), and Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson (1969) succeeded in producing seminal new histories of West, sub-Saharan and Southern Africa, and would soon be joined by several others. By 1975, Theodore Besterman could produce a voluminous World Bibliography of African Bibliographies, a further witness to the rapid expansion of African

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Studies programmes. Five years earlier, John N. Paden and Edward J. Soja had opened their three-volume collection of essays, The African Experience (1970), with a report on the ‘phenomenal growth’ of African Studies in the United States as, in the words of Gwendolen Carter in the Preface, ‘the sheer drama of the process [of African independence had] captured world-wide attention’ (1: viii). The drama had also, of course, captured the attention and inspired the polemics of an emergent black scholarship committed to exposing the roots and course of colonial discrimination and slavery, projects that demanded the further rewriting of African history. As one contributor to the Paden-Soja volumes, John A. Rowe, put it: ‘It seems hardly a coincidence that 1957 saw both the independence of Ghana … and the introduction of African history into American classrooms’ (1970, 1. 154). A slate of doctoral dissertations on the Eurocolonial encounter with Africa, all revisionist and all offering strictly binarist and minatory readings of that encounter, soon emerged. Some of these theses and the articles or monographs they inspired confronted the relatively straightforward histories of explorers, settlers and colonial administrators (Rogers, 1970; Casada, 1972; Smith, 1972; Gallup, 1973; Luther, 1979), but others turned to the more indirect production and proliferation of images of Africa in literary sources (Knipp, 1969; Rose, 1970; Miller, 1972; Linnemann, 1972; Steins, 1972; Jacobs, 1975; Schneider, 1976; HarrisSchenz, 1977; James, 1977; McDorman, 1977; Taube, 1979; Milbury-Steen, 1980). Some were the workmanship of an early wave of African scholars studying at American and European universities, although their findings could also not proceed much further along the binarist tracks evidently sanctioned by their supervisors (Opoku, 1967; Wali, 1967; Fanoudh-Seifer, 1968; Okoye, 1969/1971; Adewumi, 1977). The argument of one of the earliest of these is typical: ‘The dominant image of the Negro … is one of hopelessness, passivity and innocent naivety, and the relation envisaged between the white and black races is one of teacher and taught, the ward and the novice’ (Wali, 1967, 62). Several articles and monographs of these years duplicated the findings of such dissertations (Randles, 1956, 1959; McCullough, 1962; Bolt, 1971; Frederickson, 1971; Johnson, 1971; Walvin, 1972; Mark, 1974; Parry, 1974; Barnett, 1975; Street, 1975; Berghahn, 1977; Mahood, 1977; Lorimer, 1978). In a response to one of these, Christine Bolt’s Victorian Attitudes to Race (1971), Janet Robertson lamented an approach that was a common limiting feature of several: ‘History is a dialogue with the past, not a diatribe against it’ (1975, 2). All aimed to illuminate the bleak racial polarities of a past from which these modern observers deemed themselves to have become immune.

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A few of the studies in question detected some redemptive qualities in an atavistic approach to Africa that would now be associated with high modernism, notably the art of Picasso, the psychology of Jung, the fiction of Conrad, Celine and Loti, and the African adventures of Blixen, Greene, Hemingway and Van der Post. In such works, Africa becomes the primal stage for the European’s confrontation with his (almost never her) primitive nodal self, and for engagement with psychic depths and verities not accessible in the modern ‘developed’ world. This line of exploration seemed, however, to have been exhausted and to hold little further promise for my own investigation into the furthest origins of the West’s images of Africa. Most of the scholarship in question proceeded from an assumption that had also been mine, namely that European images of Africa could be definitively sourced and substantiated in the Victorian age, or the Enlightenment, or the Renaissance, with the result that such scholars could only treat racism as a given, a malicious conceptual aberration that should and could have been avoided, and not as the intimate correlative of cognitive processes that had anticipated racist thinking long before it had achieved any specific identity in Western discourse. Much of this discourse of blame was inspired by a conviction that the ‘truth’ of the colonial encounter and its ravages could be readily ascertained and condemned. The discussion thus unfolded as cumulative content analysis, on the assumption that the deplorable behaviour of European colonialists and their literary spokespersons was the result of ignorance and perfidy that could have been avoided (or could still be corrected) by better information, compunction, and what Thomas Kuhn has called a ‘gestalt switch’ (cited by Hacking, 1981, 3), a fundamental but willed change in the European conception of its ‘Others’ (Anderson, 1995, 190). In other words, inspiring most of the studies reviewed was a conviction that the colonial authors in question had had a Cartesian independence of cognition and will that should have been more honestly and humanely exercised. It still dominates the arguments of recent studies in the field (Hood, 1994; Byron, 2002; Kidd, 2006). An additional problem was that, insofar as this descriptive-analytical reading of the Eurocolonial library of Africa could yield any illumination, its main findings had all been secured by a few of the earliest studies in the field, notably those of Wylie Sypher (1942), Harold Reeves Collins (1951), Katherine George (1958), W.G.L. Randles (1959), Alta Jablow (1963) and Dorothy B. Hammond (1963). Collins’s Columbia thesis of 1951, ‘British Fiction during the Age of Imperialism’, exposed most of the stereotypes of African subjects, while Randles

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plotted out very persuasively the mytheme of Monomotapa in the imagination and literature of Renaissance Europe. Katherine George, in a brilliant ten-page paper published in Isis, identified the consistent tendency in European literature from Herodotus to Haggard ‘to emphasize the strange, the shocking, and the degrading qualities of the peoples and cultures they deal with, and thus to emphasize the gulf between the civilized and the primitive worlds’ (1958, 63). Complementary insights emerged from Wylie Sypher’s examination of British anti-slavery literature of the eighteenth century, which summed up its findings as follows: ‘The African appears … as a thoroughly noble figure, idealized out of all semblance to reality, and living in a pastoral Africa – a pseudo-African in a pseudo-Africa’ (1942, 9). These remained the signatory themes of the discourse, and were most comprehensively canvassed in two theses submitted by Hammond and Jablow, also at Columbia, in the early 1960s and subsequently developed into their book, The Africa That Never Was: Four Centuries of British Writing About Africa (1970), republished in 1977 as The Myth of Africa. The popularity of the Hammond and Jablow volume confirmed that there was little left to add to a minatory, binarist discourse of dismantlement that condemned all British – and by extension all Western – writing about Africa from at least the Renaissance to the nineteenth century as bigoted, insulting, ignorant and racist, and as exposing European prejudice while saying nothing worthwhile about Africa. The gist of such discourse was captured many years later by Alberto Manguel: ‘The West recognizes the Other only to better despise it, and is then astonished at the answer reflected back’ (2006, 70). Jablow’s verdict summed up and anticipated those of a generation of like-minded commentators: The ‘beastly savage’ and the ‘noble savage’ are conventions equally lacking in realism. Both represent opposite poles on the single scale of English values…. All the virtues of character esteemed by the British – courage, a sense of honour, truthfulness, refinement, intelligence – are embodied in the one; the other epitomizes the non-valued opposites – cravenness, dishonesty, gluttony, and stupidity (1963, 44). As the present study will show, Jablow’s invocation of the eighteenth-century trope of ‘beastly’ and ‘noble savage’ pointed in the right direction, but failed to discern the true sources and implications of a conceit of ‘two Ethiopias’ as old as Homer. But the stark and punitive alterity, a manichaean binarism, deployed in almost all of the works identified above, inevitably led to a dead end. In 1978, G.D. Killam, who had himself produced such a work of thematic content

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analysis and categorisation, Africa in English Fiction 1874–1939 (1968), and who could thus recognise the looming impasse, summed up common misgivings in a review of Brian Street’s The Savage in Literature: Representations of ‘Primitive Society’ in English Fiction 1858–1920 (1975): There is a pattern in such books as Street’s that is dictated by the body of literature they set out to scrutinize. And the pattern in the literature is dictated by a typicality in the assumptions made by the authors who write the books (1978, 483). And, one had to add, in the assumptions of scholars who continued to produce critiques such as Street’s. The tendency towards an accusatory and manichaean reading of the Eurocolonial record of African encounter was encouraged by an increasing number of black African writers entering the discourse (Dike, 1956; Mphahlele, 1962/1974; Akinjogbin, 1967; Dathorne, 1974; Echeruo, 1978). They would lay the foundations of a substantial black revisionary enterprise, even as they often still failed to move beyond the binarist confines of prevailing models and the demands of an adversarial agenda. In these years Chinua Achebe notoriously called the Conrad of Heart of Darkness a ‘bloody racist’ (1978, 9), and Ezekiel (Es’kia) Mphahlele, embittered by exile from South Africa, expressed the rage subsumed in such scholarship, and which had also sharpened my own quest for the sources of white racism: ‘Whites have launched a barbarous onslaught on the blacks and after long long [sic] centuries of hurt, pillage and plunder by whites, the blacks are faced with unequivocal fascism’ (1974, 56). Behind such indictments one could detect the cadences and anger of Frantz Fanon, and he would increasingly come to occupy my field of vision.

By the mid-1970s, the stark binarisms of an emerging Africanist and revisionist historiography had become a major characteristic of and inspiration for AfricanAmerican scholarship; an enterprise also set on drawing an empowering legitimacy from the uncompromising discourse of alterity just reviewed, and

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perpetuating its more aggressive claims. From such beginnings emerged the militant aims and tenets of academic Afrocentrism. In Chapter 1, I deal more specifically with Afrocentrist speculations about ancient Egypt’s relations with Africa and the entanglement of these ideas with those of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (1987), but some observations are pertinent here. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki once invoked as a scholarly commonplace ‘the irrefutable fact that the Egyptians who built that great civilization were “black with kinky hair” as the great Greek historian, Herodotus, said’ (2006, 26). The reference is to the Histories (2, 104), where it is not the Egyptians but the Colchians of the Black Sea, perhaps settler descendants of the numerous Nubian troops drafted into Egyptian armies, that are described as ‘black-skinned and [with] woolly hair’. Yet Herodotus immediately goes on to qualify his surmises as ‘amount[ing] to but little, since several other nations are so too.’ Elsewhere, writing about Egyptian funeral customs, Herodotus makes it clear that when Egyptians ‘lose a relative, [they] let their beards and the hair on their heads grow long’ (2: 36; my emphasis). While remarking that Egyptians were darker than Greeks, nowhere in the Histories does Herodotus regard them as either Negroid or ‘kinky-haired’. Yet President Mbeki’s ‘irrefutable facts’ are now also the gospel truths of a militant Afrocentrist academic enterprise that has established its own orthodoxies, despite the fact that such tenets have been comprehensively discredited by scholarly research (Howe, 1998; Shavit, 2001), as well as by informed African opinion – Kwame Anthony Appiah speaks of ‘a cultural brew as noxious as any currently available in popular culture’ (1993, 24). When in June 2005 National Geographic published the reconstructed face of Tutankhamun on its front cover, as well as an article detailing the scientific care and forensic expertise that had yielded an image of a pharaoh who was quite obviously not Negroid African (Williams, 2005), the response was immediate. ‘This misrepresentation of King Tutankhamun as pale skinned and ski nosed is once again an effort to Europeanize Egypt’, fumed one correspondent (Oct. 2005: Forum). Behind such reactions lie several decades of a revanchist Africanist discourse that is relevant here as a further indication of how controversies over the possession of African history and culture have unfolded; and how they continue to make the attempt to source Western conceptions of Africa and Africans ever more controversial. As early as the 1950s, the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop averred as an article of faith that ‘Ancient Egypt was a Negro civilization…. The ancient Egyptians were Negroes’ (1954, xiv), and such claims have become the received wisdom of the African-American academy (Noguera, 1976; Asante, 1988). Such

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ideologies did not arise in a vacuum. They are contingent on the recuperative zeal that came to inspire Africanist historiography as it emerged from the colonial era. In the United States in particular, such convictions have been an inevitable and burgeoning product of the revisionary zeal inherent in African-American biblical discourse ever since the early nineteenth century. Colin Kidd speaks of ‘a Black vindicationist hermeneutic which reject[s] out of hand the corrupting whiteness of white Christianity’ (2006, 248), and therefore, what is regarded as its endemically biased historiography. We shall return to Afrocentrism. Such views have also been the inevitable outcome of both the isolation in which African history has customarily been pursued, and the binarist manichaean drive that has imbued its Africanist narratives from the start. Indeed, the isolation of the history of Africa from that of the rest of the world seems at times to have been fostered by authors from both outside and inside the continent, producing startling conundrums. So, for instance, S. Davis’s Racerelations in Ancient Egypt (1951) is silent about relations between Egyptians and other Africans, concentrating instead on Greeks, Romans and Hebrews. Jonathan M. Hall’s Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (1997) is solely concerned with the Greeks’ sense of their own identity. Books with inviting titles such as Ethnicity in Ptolemaic Egypt (Goudriaan, 1988), The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (Isaac, 2004) or Memories of Odysseus: Frontier Tales from Ancient Greece (Hartog, 1996) typically make no or minimal reference to Africa, Ethiopians, or black people. Leading surveys such as Charles Freeman’s Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean (1996) habitually fail to list Ethiopia, Nubia or Meroë in their indices. Benjamin Isaac, purporting to write on the origins of Mediterranean racism, side-steps the crucial theme of black-white relations in the period with the excuse that black Africans ‘did not form much of an actual presence in the Greek and Roman worlds’ (2004, 49), and in any case had had a largely ‘mythical’ status in the classical mind (50). The modern mind boggles. Yet Africanist historiography has also habitually fostered isolationist agendas. In 1948, Jean-Paul Sartre published his essay ‘Black Orpheus’, which called upon French-African writers to let themselves be heard. As the introduction to Leopold Senghor’s influential Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre (1948), it served as a rallying call for a new generation of African (and Africanist) writers. Authors such as Camara Laye, Ferdinand Oyono and Aimé Césaire would promote negritude as a ‘Black Aesthetic’ in opposition to and indeed as a denial of the European intellectual world, now disqualified, in their view, by its scandalous burden of colonialist and ethnocentric legacies (Mudimbe, 1988).

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Such a stark division came to be regarded as the only legitimate response to the ‘experience [of slavery] that has defined and appears to continue to shape our [i.e., black people’s] relationship with the rest of the world. It is the one single experience that binds all Black people together’; thus the ‘sense in which every Black writer is an exile’ (Ogude, 1981, 21–22). The full dimensions of this ‘Black Aesthetic’ and the evolution of its exclusionist aspects over the last half-century cannot be explored here, but we may note that an African-American academic as prominent as Henry Louis Gates Jr, while claiming to reject binarist notions of a ‘Black Aesthetic’ or negritude, in 1987 still espoused the legacy of exclusivist thinking in arguing for ‘our own [aesthetic] theories …, black, text-specific theories’, and in insisting that black people learn ‘to read a black text within a black formal cultural matrix’ (1987, xxi). Such sentiments continue to yield astonishing claims of an Africanist essentialism that would hardly be tolerated if applied to a Western postmodernist world now. Thus Abiola Irele, expounding ‘The African Imagination’, claims for it ‘a special dimension’ that has ‘imparted to black expression a particular tonality’ that conveys ‘an African belonging that commands the vision of an entire people regarding their place in the world’ (1990, 53). Lurking behind such beliefs is a racial essentialism and ethnocentric logic that, ironically, simply reverses the manifestations of white European racism that for so many centuries discounted African people. At a graphic level, it ‘posits the existence of a basic divisional line across the Southern Sahara: to the north of this line, one finds white peoples and non-African ways of thinking; to the south, one finds the Black race and African ways of thinking’ (Lewis and Wigen, 1997, 118). We shall witness the blight of such perceptions in the chapters to come. These have become the orthodoxies of a dialectic initiated by Senghor and Sartre – even though Sartre is also on record as having come out with the extraordinary statement that ‘there is always some way of understanding an idiot, a child, a primitive man or a foreigner if one has sufficient information’ (1948, 47). The truth is that Sartre was not fundamentally interested in an emancipatory ‘Black Aesthetic’ or an emergent African liberationist militancy. One of his inspirations, however, was Frantz Fanon, and in Fanon we come to a figure and a way of looking at Africa and Africans that continue to have far-reaching implications, not only for any study of European images of Africa (such as mine), but also for any understanding of the ways in which both the revisionist Western discourse of Africa, as well as an Africanist counterdiscourse, have unfolded (Young, 1995; Read, 1996; Irele, 2001; Loomba, 2002). Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s tribute of 1991 captures the intensity of the impact as well as

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the evolving objectives of what might be called the Fanonist enterprise: ‘Frantz Fanon became the prophet of the struggle to move the centre [of the universe from Europe to Africa], and his book, The Wretched of the Earth [1961, trans. 1964], became a kind of Bible among the African students from East, West and South Africa’ (1991, 198). Fanon’s version of Africa and the colonial encounter was, of course, no less dependent on an image of Africa than any other, and not necessarily closer to the ‘truth’ of colonialism than were the biases it sought to displace. Yet Fanonist pronouncements such as ‘the black man is the white man’s fear of himself ’ or ‘the real Other for the white man is and will continue to be the black man’ (1952/1959, 161) have reverberated down the decades of postcolonialist critique in credos such as R.S. Khare’s: ‘The Other, like the self, is an irreducible cognitive template of human culture’ (1992, 4); or V.Y. Mudimbe’s that ‘Europe … invented the savage as a representation of its own negated double’ (1994, xii). They have inspired Henry Louis Gates Jr to conclude: ‘As a psychoanalyst of culture, as a champion of the wretched of the earth, [Fanon] is an almost irresistible figure for a criticism that sees itself as both oppositional and postmodern’ (1991, 458). The ready enlistment of postmodernism here in the recuperative programme of postcolonialism is diagnostic and will occupy us later. That the Manichaean heresy of the fourth century (which posited an absolute dichotomy between equal forces of good and evil in the cosmos) was itself hugely popular in the early Christianity of the Maghreb Africa from which Fanon would eventually speak, has not been noticed by many; but Fanon spoke in accents resonant of that ancient debate: ‘The primary Manichaeism which governed colonial society [has been] preserved intact during the period of decolonization; that is to say, the settler never ceases to be the enemy, the opponent, the foe that must be overthrown’ (1961/1964, 40). Yet a current inspection of Fanon’s two major texts, Peau noir, masques blancs (1952, translated as Black Skin, White Masks, 1959) and Les damnés de la terre (1961, translated as The Wretched of the Earth, 1964), reveals a febrile, emotive and naïve dramaturgy of racial conflict that can only have derived its potency from the harrowing Algerian struggle that had inspired these works and which had been carried over to the heroic early phases of the postcolonial era. Fanon’s major thesis, that colonial occupation destroys not just the political and socio-economic independence of black people, but the very essence of their being, their sense of self-hood, a thesis corroborated by the works of Mannoni (1950) and Memmi (1965), is an important one. It has understandably remained an inspirational tenet of liberationist discourse.

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Less inspired and more problematic was Fanon’s insistence that the colonial struggle was an utterly manichaean contest between dire enemies that had to be carried into all aspects of existence and could be invoked to sanction violence: ‘Violence was cathartic and unifying, transforming disempowered and atomised colonial subjects into a powerful political force’ (Vaughan, 2001, 18). For the rest, the intellectual substance and persuasive rhetoric of Fanon’s polemics could be thin and even preposterous, as in the following playlet from Black Skin, White Masks: I put the white man back into his place; growing bolder, I jostled him and told him point-blank: ‘Get used to me, I am not getting used to anyone.’ I shouted my laughter to the stars. The white man, I could see, was resentful. His reaction time lagged interminably…. I had won. I was jubilant (Fanon in Goldberg 1990, 119). Nevertheless, Fanon’s morality-play version of racial contestation constituted and enlisted a powerful body of images of Africa, the foundational status and potency of which continued to become clearer in the unfolding genealogy of the imagined Africa of my project. When in 1979, in the course of the annual BBC Reith Lectures, East African academic Ali Mazrui recommended that African states should set up ‘a continental nuclear consortium’ (808) to protect themselves from South Africa and Israel – one correspondent had already charged that ‘a more frightening concoction of Nazi-style cant I have not had the privilege to hear in years’ (781) – it was still Fanon speaking.

If Fanon provided the moral passion and aggressive energy of the first generation of postcolonial polemicists, Edward Said was to furnish the intellectual ordnance of the second generation. Sharing Fanon’s manichaean, contestational view of the colonial and Third World struggle against Western imperialism, Said infused into this paradigm the epistemological tenets of Foucault that knowledge, language and power are intimately related, and that a given culture’s language acts as both a conceptual armature and a straitjacket from which escape is wellnigh impossible: ‘Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of 

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truth, that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true’ (Foucault, 1972, in Cahoone, 1996, 379). The absolute distinctions and imbalances between those with and those without power (the fundamental colonial situation) are enhanced by and expressive of the fact that, cognitively, each culture is trapped within the paradigms of experience and visions of power made possible, even dictated, by its language. In addition, in The Order of Things (1966, translated 1970), Foucault proposed the notion of the episteme, or time-bound habit of mind, which ensures that human understanding and empathy is not only difficult and imperfect across different languages and cultures, but also across the centuries. Beyond the perceptual horizons allowed by our languages and temporality, we cannot ‘see’ the worlds of other cultures and times. Hayden White speaks of ‘ruptures in Western consciousness, disjunctions or discontinuities so extreme that they effectively isolate the epochs from one another’ (1978, 235). The stark denial of any transcultural understanding or negotiation implied by such arguments of course renders a postcolonialist critique itself untenable and would, if true, have made the present study impossible. With Louis Montrose, one wants to say: ‘I find this aspect of Foucault’s social vision – his apparent exclusion of a space for human agency – to be extreme. In other words, my intellectual response is that his argument is unconvincing, and my visceral response is that it is intolerable’ (cited by Cheney, 2007, 265). Nevertheless, the intellectual pedigree that Said could invoke in support of a Foucauldian revamp of Fanon, enlisting linguists and philosophers from Saussure to Derrida, ensured that Third World proponents of postcolonialism (and notably those from the Indian subcontinent) now had an elite theory to bolster Fanonist indignation on the one hand, and to expose the delinquency of Eurocentric colonialism on the other. Though Said made many attempts over the quarter of a century that followed the publication of Orientalism in 1978 to soften the rigour of its charges (1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1998), its essentialising and totalising condemnation of Western transcultural discourse speaks from every page. ‘Orientalism’ as ‘a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient’ (1985, 3) ‘assumed an unchanging Orient absolutely different … from the West’ (96). Said’s conclusions were blunt and, after 200 pages of argument and indictment, uncompromising: ‘It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was … a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric’ (204). Said seemed to revel in the harsh simplicity of his claims, and in this anticipated the mood of many followers:

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The argument, when reduced to its simplest form, [is] clear, it [is] precise, it [is] easy to grasp. There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate; the latter must be dominated (36). According to Said, the ‘ruthless cultural and racial essences’ of the West had been elevated and manipulated into a ‘streamlined and effective’ mechanism for confronting and subjugating the non-European world. Little wonder that as recently as 2005, David Parker has been driven to the conclusion that such arguments ‘are better understood as the elaboration of a gigantic conspiracy theory than as constructive thinking’ (3). More pointedly for my own project, if Said’s claims were to be conceded for the West’s annihilating discourse of the East, how could the Eurocolonial library of Africa, far more blatantly racist and dismissive than that of the East, warrant any attention at all? The margins within which a Western discourse of Africa might be thought to have anything useful or ‘true’ to contribute about its subject were dwindling to invisibility. The ongoing debate about ‘Orientalism’ and its implications for the scholarly study of the East in the Western academy need not detain us here (see Ahmad, 1992; Behdad, 1994; Mackenzie, 1995; Teltscher, 1995; Young, 1995; Moore-Gilbert, 1997; Cannadine, 2001; Buruma and Margalit, 2004; Irwin, 2006; Jasanoff, 2006), but some of its tenets and African inflections warrant attention. Crucially for me, Said inadvertently suggested a way forward from the moribund thesis industry of content analysis and blame-mongering inspired by simplistic assumptions that European observers could have written more empathetically about Africa if only they had been more honest and less racist. For if Foucault and Said were right about an absolute cultural and linguistic determinism, namely that ‘Europeans were ontologically incapable of producing any true knowledge about non-Europe’ (Ahmad, 1992, 178), then the authors of the centuries-old Eurocolonial library of Africa could not be accused of perfidy, but had instead to be understood (and exonerated?) as the victims of conceptual determinants beyond their control. Better still – those writers from Homer and Herodotus onward who, despite such glacial forces of conceptual arrest stacked against them, had nevertheless steadily reported that African cultures could be complex, varied, different, yet comprehensible, now not only deserved more respect and serious attention, but might yet be recruited into a discourse of reclamation that seemed ever more urgent. Several Saidean acolytes drew attention to further directions that could be pursued, some even when denying such options. So, for instance, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in a much-cited essay, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1985a), 

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held that the colonial subject could only ever speak as a ventriloquist’s dummy in colonial discourse, even when sympathetically and authentically presented in a first-person voice, since, as she put it elsewhere, ‘the project of imperialism has always already historically refracted what might have been absolutely Other into a domesticated Other that consolidates the imperialist self ’ (1985b, 253). Some of Kipling’s first-person Indian tales are pertinent here – their narrators appear authentically Indian, yet are comprehensively manipulated. This ‘process more insidious than naked repression’ would also occupy Abdul R. JanMohamed, for whom ‘any evident “ambivalence” is in fact a product of deliberate, if at times subconscious, imperialist duplicity, operating very efficiently through the economy of its central trope, the Manichaean allegory’ (1985, 61). How such a ploy could be at once ‘deliberate’ and ‘subconscious’, JanMohamed does not explain, but the uncompromising manichaeism evident here was diagnostic of a first cohort of postcolonialists inspired by Fanon and Said. It was propagated assiduously as a timeless and cosmic absolute by writers such as JanMohamed: Fanon’s definition of colonial society as a Manichaean organization is by no means exaggerated. In fact, the colonial mentality is dominated by a Manichaean allegory of white and black, good and evil, salvation and damnation, civilization and savagery, superiority and inferiority, intelligence and emotion, self and other, subject and object (1983, 4). Yet such pronouncements ineluctably drew me to the dissident recognition that they simply did not match the evidence of my everyday experience as a bilingual speaker in a multicultural African country, and even less the testimony of many texts in the discourse of Africa that I had come across. With Benita Parry, I felt that Said had fostered ‘readings that are indifferent to textual gaps, indeterminacies and contradictions’ (1992, 26), and that Spivak’s anxieties did not express either the sentiments or the performance of generations of colonised speakers who could speak clearly from their host texts. Nevertheless, the stark and punitive manichaeism inherent in Said’s thesis continued to supply former-colonial and Third World critics and their sympathisers in the West with a new arsenal of theoretical weaponry that could be deployed against all Western (univocally read as ‘imperialist’) scholarship. JanMohamed’s contributions (1983, 1985), and Hugh Ridley’s (1983 – see below), were among the earliest, but they were joined by many others dedicated not only to the dismantling of the Eurocolonial archive, but also to the disparagement of much Western cultural and intellectual achievement deemed to underlie it

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(Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o 1972, 1981; Mudimbe, 1988, 1994; Salami, 1998; Afzal-Khan and Seshadri-Crooks, 2000). ‘Institutional colonialism was maintained by language as much as by guns,’ declared Chris Tiffin and Alan Lawson (1994, i), and a large echelon of postcolonialist scholarship has come into being to explore the ‘linguistic turn’ and a consequent cognitive determinism in the colonial project. Mahmoud Salami has argued that all European authors are ‘politicized and ideologized whether [they] like it or not’ (1998, 151), hence their work merely encodes ‘accumulated Western guilt’ (155). Evidently, such ‘accumulated Western guilt’ is akin to Calvin’s notion of Original Sin – it might be forgiven, but must remain a crippling moral and cognitive curse from which no Western mind can escape. By 1982, Peter Marshall and Glyndwr Williams felt obliged to complain that ‘Europe’s reaction to the blackness of the Negro has been exhaustively examined by recent scholars’ (228). By then, this discourse of exhaustion, focusing relentlessly on a perceived inability of European commentators to say anything ‘true’ or worthwhile about Africa and its people had led to totalising and exasperated conclusions such as those of Hugh Ridley: Colonial literature [is] an exclusively European phenomenon with next to nothing worthwhile to say about other races and cultures. No more than anti-Semitic literature can be used as a handbook to Jewish culture should colonial literature be treated as a source-book on the Third World (1983, 3). There did not seem much left to say after this. The postcolonial project of disparagement, energised by the scandals of slavery, colonialism, racism and the Holocaust, constantly revivified by contemporary liberation struggles, the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and the universal abhorrence of the apartheid policies for which my own country had become notorious, seemed set to derail any serious attempt to rehabilitate the textual record of the centuries of encounter between Africa and the Western world.

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Yet the sheer vehemence of this discourse, paradoxically, continued to suggest other lines of approach. A seminal contribution to the debate, at one level indicative of the mounting impediments with which my own project had to contend, came from Australia – Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin’s The Empire Writes Back (1989). The work’s title and informing impulse derived from Salman Rushdie, although its central assumptions shared little of the playful iconoclasm of Rushdie’s novels. For its authors, the English language was itself an endocultural racialised code, deeply implicated in the cognitive ravages of imperialism. It was the bearer of a ‘cultural conspiracy’, appropriating the non-imperial world and enforcing a ‘violent hierarchy’ of knowledge and power. According to this view, ‘Europe and its others’ are locked in a permanent binary opposition, a conceptual grid of violation in which language with its own coercive dynamic towards enforcing difference plays the major constitutive role. Thus ‘the nexus of power involving literature, language, and a dominant British culture’ (4) meant that the very process of encrypting the ‘other’ into a text was already a violation, an imposition and a disempowerment of the subject. All writing – and most especially all transcultural writing – was in a sense illicit, and, in the colonial context, expropriative. It would appear that none of the European texts about Africa that I had been studying should even have been written. If I seem to be lampooning The Empire Writes Back – its insights were widely respected and are still cited – it is not to discredit its scholarship, but to indicate how a punitive discourse of postcolonial rectitude was itself heading for a speechless abyss even as it increasingly refined and redefined the kinds of question one had to ask of Eurocolonial texts. The unease generated by the uncompromising stance of The Empire Writes Back is codified in its style. A lexis of violence articulates its thesis – language, we are told, intrudes, invades, subverts, intervenes, seizes, demands, asserts, disfigures, oppresses, dislocates, denigrates and violates everything it used to be thought of as merely imparting. In this, the work echoed its Fanonist and Foucauldian inspirations and anticipated other critiques of a manichaean cut. So, for instance, Sara Suleri’s The Rhetoric of English India (1992), despite promising a more nuanced reading of Eurocolonial discourse, is marked by a discursive pathology of such vehemence – ‘anxiety of empire’ (13), ‘epistemological terror’ (15), ‘cultural terror’ (17), ‘discursive terror’ (18), etcetera, all the way to ‘imperial horror’ (112) – that it could only confirm what it had set out to challenge. ‘The astounding specificity of each colonial encounter’ (13) that it promises to celebrate reveals only ‘a binary rigidity … which is an inherently Eurocentric strategy’ (4).

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For several decades, the bleak binarism displayed by works such as these echoed through the discourse. Jan Nederveen Pieterse assembled an exhibition in the Tropical Museum, Amsterdam, and wrote an accompanying text to demonstrate ‘how much of Western culture is made up of prejudices about other cultures, how much of Western identity is constructed upon the negative identity of others’ (1992, 9). Benita Parry has devoted several studies (1987, 1992, 1997) to an apparent critique of the relentless construction of ‘a model of colonial discourse overwhelmingly concerned with processes of othering’ (1987, 33), yet has been unable to free herself from talking about ‘imperialism’s epistemic violence’, its ‘agonistic space’ (29) and its ‘valorizing gladiatorial skills’ (54). Indeed, her call to arms is uncompromising: ‘The common pursuit of all who engage in the study of colonial discourse [must be] to reveal the limits of a Western modernity which had accommodated slavery and colonial genocide and was complicit with the imperial project’ (1997, 10). Yet some champions of Said’s Manichaean model of colonialism nevertheless managed to open up spaces in the binarist severity of his thesis. Homi Bhabha (1982, 1994), once referred to by Robert Young as forming with Said and Spivak the Holy Trinity of postcolonialism, posed important challenges to Saidean doctrine, notably in his notion that the colonial subject, despite always being mediated through the lenses and pages of the coloniser, could frequently disrupt colonialist assurance through parody, mime and unguarded reportage. In my own reading, I had come across many instances of such delightful one-upmanship on the part of reported African subjects. One example comes from Guy Tachard’s account of a Khoi servant from the governor’s household at the Cape of Good Hope who in the 1680s had deserted, saying that he would not submit to the rack of a regular life, that the Dutch and such other nations were slaves to the earth, and that the Hottentots [Khoikhoi] were the masters of it, that they were not forced to stand with the hat continually under the arm, and to observe a hundred uneasy customs; that they ate when they were hungry, and followed no other rules but what nature had taught them (1688, 72). An even more striking spoof of colonialist presumptions occurs in an early seventeenth-century Dutch source that records a local response on the Gold Coast to European traders’ complaints about theft: ‘[They said] we are rich and have great stores of wares, and brought ships full unto them, and took great pains and labours to sell it, and were so long before we sold it, that they thought 

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it fit to help us therein, that we might the sooner be rid thereof ’ (Artus, 1600, in Purchas, 1625, 6: 318). A sharper local response was recorded by Charles Wheeler, who in the early eighteenth century had spent ten years in West Africa: The discerning natives account it their greatest unhappiness that they were ever visited by the Europeans. They say that we Christians introduced the traffic of slaves, and that before our coming they [had] lived in peace; but, say they, it is observable that wherever Christianity comes, there come with it a sword, a gun, powder and ball (Smith, 1744, 266). Although these utterances are all of the ‘they say’ variety, and Gareth Griffiths has warned that there is always ‘a real concern as to whether what we are listening to is really a subaltern voice’ (1994, 75), there can be little doubt about the immediacy and authenticity of the voices just behind these reports. They once again confirmed for me that the Orientalist paradigm was wide of the mark regarding a significant sector of the Western discourse of Africa.

If supporters and exponents of Said’s views have at times contributed provocative possibilities for my own project, so of course have an array of critics who from the outset had taken issue with Orientalism. One of the earliest, Dennis Porter, spotted two major flaws in Said’s argument that would at first hardly be commented on – his achronicity and his fundamental essentialism: ‘Said asserts the unified character of Western discourse on the Orient over some two millennia’, and ‘he ignores in both Western scholarly and creative writing all manifestations of counter-hegemonic thought’ (1983/1993, 152). These shortcomings failed to register with most of the scores of British and American reviewers who welcomed the book – ‘Said’s Orientalism appears to be a monolithic and uncontested discourse’ marvelled Lata Mani and Ruth Frankenberg in 1985 (191) – but they became ever clearer. By 1994, Ali Behdad charged that ‘in denouncing the essentialist and generalizing tendencies of Orientalism, Said’s critical approach repeats these very faults’ (11). A few years later, a sustained critique came from Bart Moore-Gilbert (1997), who argued that

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‘Said falls back on discredited kinds of essentialism and displays a determinism which reduces the entire Western cultural canon to an archive of bad faith and Orientalist defamation’ (154). Such criticism has reverberated and intensified down the years. Recently Robert Irwin described Orientalism as ‘a work of malignant charlatanry in which it is hard to distinguish honest mistakes from wilful misrepresentations’ (cited in De Bellaigue 2006, 6–7). Yet, while the Occam’s Razor effect of Orientalism has continued to be cited as a major weakness, Said had himself long since pointed the way out: Against this static system of ‘synchronic essentialism’… [which] presumes that the whole Orient can be seen panoptically, there is a constant pressure. The source of such pressure is narrative…. What seemed stable … now appears unstable…. Narrative asserts the power of men to be born, develop, and die, the tendency of institutions and actualities to change…. Narrative, in short, introduces an opposing point of view, perspective, consciousness to the unitary web of vision (1978/1985, 240). This optimistic insight not only undermines much of the main thesis of Orientalism, but in its privileging of the transformative, even subversive, powers of narrative, it has matched my own experience of the Eurocolonial discourse of Africa. Seamus Heaney has remarked that ‘poetry is a symbolic resolution of conflicts insoluble in experience’ (1989, 1412), and this is true also of narrative, especially romance. Mark Currie has explored this notion – ‘Sometimes it is exactly the imprecision of narrative fiction that appeals’ (1998, 51) – and has demonstrated that all narrative encodes ‘values which often subvert what might be called the conscious intention of the narrative’ (5; see also Bruner, 1991 and Van Wyk Smith, 1997a). Such reconciliatory and potentially subversive functions of narrative are also implied in Jean François Lyotard’s seminal exposition of postmodernism, La condition postmoderne (1978), as a persuasion sceptical of the ‘grand’ or ‘master narratives’ of imperialism, world faiths, racism and other ‘great metanarratives of legitimation’, and as preferring instead the multivocal and multivalent ensembles of ‘little narratives’ of humanity (Lyotard in Cahoone 1996, 482–483). My reading of the library of Africa had yielded many such by-ways, and they seemed worth exploring. Furthermore, Said’s promotion of narrative pointed to another approach that was to prove most valuable in my own investigations, namely Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the dialogic imagination (1981). Bakhtin’s proposal that all discourse 

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(even the apparently univocally racist) is in fact polyphonic and based on the reciprocity or at least dialogic nature of all utterance, while at the same time no utterance can ever be wholly inclusive or fully in control of its intentions, would open up new vistas on the Eurocolonial discourse of Africa. I shall return to this thesis in due course. Despite Said’s championing of the power of narrative, his own evident neglect of the ‘little narratives’ of colonial encounter continued to draw fire. Aijaz Ahmad, though regarding Orientalism as ‘undoubtedly in the entire career of literary theory the grandest of all narratives of the connection between Western knowledge and Western power’ (1992, 13), nevertheless launched a comprehensive critique of Said’s thesis as being itself Westernised and dismissive of actual Oriental resistance. For Ahmad, Said was concerned mainly ‘to displace an activist culture with a textual culture’ (1992, 1), and was evidently ignorant of a ‘vast tradition, virtually as old as colonialism itself ’ (174), of a Western counterdiscourse critical of its own colonialism. The fear that a theorised postcolonialism born from Said’s endeavours would merely textualise the real agonies of ‘the wretched of the earth’ began to emerge, too. Ato Quayson wrote: ‘From the publication of Edward W. Said’s Orientalism … postcolonial studies have been dominated by a shift from the material specificities of colonialism to the detailing of the discourses and ideas produced by the colonial encounter’ (1997, 137). Indeed, we shall see that the baleful reliance of postcolonial polemicists on the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ proposed by postmodernism would aggravate such preoccupation with the textuality rather than the materiality of the past, and would precipitate a crisis in the activist agenda of postcolonialism. Along similar lines, Nicholas Thomas has deplored the ‘fatal impact’ paradigm implicit in Orientalism, whereby the import of settler cultures is exaggerated and ‘the capacities of colonized peoples to respond to intrusions are denied and ignored’ (1992, 279). We have already seen evidence of such ‘subaltern’ African responses, and they can be duplicated throughout the record. But the heady mixture of Fanon, Foucault and Said, mustering the energies of two dominant discourses of the late twentieth century – postcolonialism and postmodernism – continued to develop a recriminatory and dismantling critique aimed at indicting not only Western authors who had explicitly written about empire (Kipling, Conrad and Forster come to mind), but all those who may never, or hardly ever, have written about the Eurocolonial world, yet were deemed to have unconsciously promoted or at least to have benefited from its existence, such as Jane Austen, the Brontës, Dickens and George Eliot (Said, 1993).

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Robert Young would later suggest that, like Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, Said’s work ‘holds out the much more disturbing possibility that all Western knowledge is, directly or indirectly, a form of colonial discourse’ (1995, 160). Phrases such as ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, ‘epidemiology of representations’, ‘devices of doubt’, ‘violence of comprehension’ and ‘discourses of dismantlement’, deriving from postmodernist discourse, energised the debate, indicating a combative stance that suited the recuperative project of postcolonialism nicely. ‘Postcolonial theory and colonial discourse analysis have spread like an antibody through the disciplines of history, anthropology, literature, and cultural studies’, complained Rod Edmond (1997, 24). ‘Soon the postmodern category will include Homer’, quipped Umberto Eco (1983, ‘Postscript’). The combined forces of postmodernism and postcolonialism seemed set to rout the remaining outposts of imperialist confidence. The main burden of these polemics is not material to the present study, but some of its import is, notably as exhibited in the persistent but self-contradictory assumption that Eurocolonial authors were both guilty of imperialist and racist perfidy, yet also (because of the perceptual grids deemed to confine such writers) cognitively incapacitated and so unable ever to perceive the ‘truth’ of their errors. Several critics also pointed out that even where Saidean acolytes would attempt to refine and diversify his thesis, its underlying manichaeism remained unimpaired. Stephen Howe, reviewing works by Bhabha and Spivak, summed up how virtually all contributions to this minatory discourse continued to work: ‘First, monolithic, ahistorical, collective subjects are set up – the colonizer and the colonized – and then their relations are argued to be shifting and equivocal, through the deployment of deconstructive techniques and psychoanalytical procedures’ (1994, 40). The insights yielded by such procedures were always the same: ‘Imperialism is what light skins do exclusively to black skins’ (Sutherland, 1988, 996). Terry Eagleton delineated a critical industry that had become ‘a set of footnotes to Foucault…. [T]he theory is all in place, and all that remains to be done is to run yet more texts through it’ (1993, 8). By now it was clear that while many authors might repeat the criticism that Said’s monolithic and ahistorical image of the imperial enterprise was ‘guilty of creating the very monolith [it] purported to condemn’ (Youngs, 1994, 6), few were able to resist the mesmeric attractions of Said’s neatly punitive model – as Tim Youngs, just quoted, himself fails to do in his 1994 book, Travellers in Africa: British Travelogues 1850–1910 (Van Wyk Smith, 1999b). 

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To me it became ever clearer that at the heart of this impasse or ‘crisis of representation’ (Adam and Tiffin, 1991), there lurked an unresolved disjunction between the crusading ambitions and idealism of postcolonialist critiques to reveal the ‘truth’ of, and thus to disarticulate, all imperial authority; and, conversely, the fundamentally agnostic, iconoclastic import of postmodernist ideology, according to which ‘truth’ is a chimaera, infinitely deferred, always only partially captured in language which in turn, and despite all its lesions, erasures and contingencies, holds our cognitive powers in thrall. While the discourse and project of postcolonialism is inspired by the conviction that grossly biased Eurocolonial representations of the colonial encounter and the exploitation of colonised subjects can and must be replaced by ‘true’ accounts of these nefarious processes, postmodernism proposes an equally substantive but sceptical precept that no representation is necessarily superior to another, that no subjective insight is inevitably more ‘true’ or ‘correct’ than another, and that all truth beyond the arithmetically self-evident or the fundamentals of the natural sciences is contingent on context. ‘The postmodern sensibility sees the human condition as ephemeral, discontinuous and plural,’ writes Zygmunt Bauman (1990, 501), or, more forcefully, Joel Schwartz: ‘we are mired in indeterminacy’ (1990, 35). Behind such views lies Nietzsche’s foundational insight that truth is a construction, perspectival and contingent (1887/1968), and the disruptive effect of such thinking on the idealism of postcolonialism has been much debated (Hutcheon, 1987, 1988; Harvey, 1989; Elam, 1992; Lash and Friedman, 1992; McHale, 1992; Bauman, 1993; Cahoone, 1996; Eagleton, 1996; Jenkins, 1997; Moore-Gilbert, 1997). The scepticism and iconoclasm endemic to postmodernism may, it is assumed, be usefully recruited by a crusading postcolonialism to undermine Eurocentric and Eurocolonial confidence, and to bring to an end the Enlightenment project with its presumption that ‘the world could be controlled and rationally ordered’ (Anderson, 1995, 4). Thus the Enlightenment, with its rationalising and categorising zeal to define ‘races’ and rank them according to some hierarchy of progress or excellence, is frequently cited in postcolonial discourse as the major inspiration underlying Eurocentric racism, with the further inference that what was so opportunistically invented may just as readily be demolished. ‘Race is no more than a social construct’ is the accepted wisdom (Pagliaro, 1973; Augstein, 1996; Fredrickson, 2002); or, more bluntly, race ‘is a bogus scientific category rather

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1

than a fact of nature’ (Kidd, 2006, 18). Yet, as Lawrence Blum warns: ‘Racialized thinking is deeply imbedded in our social existence; its constructedness notwithstanding, we may not be able to change these social forms without far-ranging and currently barely imaginable changes in familiar structures’ (2002,159). In such a context, what hopes does postmodernist scepticism hold out for a postcolonial project of recuperating lost ‘truths’? The bear-baiting apostasy of a postmodernist ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ might prove invaluable in the demolition of the bastions of Enlightenment imperialist thinking, but how can these same tenets be reconciled with assumptions that the ‘truth’ of the colonial past is wholly recoverable and may be readily ascertained? Authors, including colonialist writers, either have a Cartesian capacity to understand and judge or condemn freely and justly the observed world, in which case they may in turn be judged by their critics, or they have no such freedom, are the victims of an imperfect human perceptual apparatus, and thus cannot be condemned. In other words, if the linguistic and cultural determinants of our conceptual world are as fixed and uncompromising as Foucault and Said would seem to maintain, certain individuals, and indeed entire cultures, are condemned by their cognitive and cultural grammars to be racist. Racism, then, would not be an unfortunate ideological aberration or delinquency that from time to time afflicts some people because of remediable socio-cultural and other negotiable factors, but would have to be conceded to be a primordial and inescapable feature of at least some, if not all, people’s conceptual worlds. The alarming implications for a society such as mine, a country attempting to recover from centuries of racial disharmony and rampant racism, and now dedicated to the construction of a non-racist world, are obvious. Are the hopes of the ‘rainbow nation’ forlorn, and is such forlornness always already fully inscribed in the Eurocolonial discourse of Africa that I have been pursuing? For there can be no question that if Western representations of the Orient have to be regarded as fundamentally and inevitably biased, the European discourse of Africa would by the same token have to be regarded as utterly irredeemable. By contrast with the treatment of Africa and Africans in much Eurocolonial writing, the rendition of the East in a parallel Orientalist discourse can only be described as verging on the admiring or utopian, as in the following passage from Thomas Astley’s compendium of travels of 1745: Such is the difference between Africa and Asia…. [In Asia] the scene at once changes from sandy deserts to well-cultivated plains; from poverty and want to wealth and plenty; from miserable villages and huts, to 

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magnificent cities and buildings; from people dwelling in a kind of savage state, to nations improved by all the refinements of policy and arts (3: vi). Contrary to Said’s claims, it is not the Orient but Africa that has in the minds of most commentators over the ages figured as the utter ‘Other’ of the civilised world. This realisation raised new challenges for my project even as it also clarified lines of approach and opened up new possibilities. The Foucauldian challenge to the independent status of human cognitive processes rendered the unproblematic and judgemental assumptions of earlier academic studies of ‘the image of Africa’ ever more questionable, even as it suggested new approaches. One extreme position was taken up by Christopher L. Miller in Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French (1985), where the ‘real’ geo-historical Africa simply disappears in a discourse of utter disempowerment. Miller’s ‘Africa’ is no more than a blank, an emptiness, a function of language: ‘an allegory of inauthenticity …, conceived of as a void and unformed prior to its investment with shape and being by the Christian or Islamic outside’ (13). Such extreme positions became paradigmatic as the awkward embrace of postmodern relativism and postcolonial idealism spiralled into incoherence. ‘Language is a self-referring system of signs that does not indicate meaning outside itself, and does not refer to or have any correspondence to reality…. [Hence] one cannot expect a literary text to relay information about … “the South African situation”’, wrote Paul Williams (1988, 33). If such tenets were true, there could of course be no ‘real’ or ‘true’ pre-colonial Africa to redeem or recuperate, just as no one image of Africa could be declared superior to another, and the idealist endeavours of postcolonialism would be pointless. Ultra-postmodernist approaches such as those of Miller and Williams erased Africa along with the postcolonial recuperative project that their anti-colonialist critique appeared to support. By contrast, Peter J. Marshall and Glyndwr Williams, historians of a realist school, were in 1982 still committed to archetypal verities and an unquestioning assumption that Africa and its peoples were solid entities that had been shockingly confronted: There is no need to labour the point: when white Englishmen first encountered black Africans preconceptions of distaste, even repulsion, already existed. The Negro – black, naked or semi-naked – was deviant in appearance, and there would be no great surprise if he should turn out to be deviant in behaviour and custom…. The fact was that the African instead of being white and clothed, was black and naked (1982, 34–36).

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Such stark views are still very much with us. Writing in 2005, Arnu Korhonen, arguing from a Finnish perspective, is of the opinion that ‘the enigmatic nature of black skin [has been] central to the construction of black “otherness” … to define the borders of civility and barbarism’ (95), and to serve as the central metaphor that has ‘allowed the various meanings ascribed to Africa and Africans to be gathered together’ (110). For Europeans, ‘dark skin was both comic and horrifying: it embodied vice, sin and terror’ (106). Such disabling caricatures of cross-cultural encounter, and their implications for any redemptive re-examination of the Eurocolonial discourse of Africa, would have been bleak were it not for the fact that such verdicts once again did not match my own experience of many pertinent texts as pluralist, dense, multivalent and culturally interactive. Clearly, some compromise had to be found between the nihilism of Miller and the reductive phenomenalism of Marshall and Williams, and Korhonen.

That the essentialist and evangelical convictions of a postcolonialism wedded to the view that Eurocentrists of the imperial era were either plain evil or irremediably cognitively handicapped, could not be reconciled with the disruptive scepticism of a postmodernist discourse of suspicion, eventually dawned on both parties, but not without difficulty. By 1995 the editors of a special issue of ARIEL dedicated to ‘Postcolonialism and its Discontents’ would speak of their subject as ‘a suitcase blown open on the baggage belt’ (McCallum et al., 1995, 7). However, none of their contributors seemed able to identify the incendiary device. At the crudest level, misgivings about the affiliation of the two ‘posts-’ emerged in the shape of resentment at the domicile of many theoretical postcolonialists not in the Third World for which they presumed to speak, but at prestigious institutions in the West: ‘Their [Said, Spivak and Bhabha’s] inspiration comes perhaps more from nicely subtle readings of fashionable European theorists, Foucault or De Man and Derrida or Bakhtin and Lacan, than it does from … current local knowledge of the cultural politics of everyday life in postcolonial hinterlands’ (Young, 1995, 160). Aijaz Ahmad spoke darkly of ‘this relationship 

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between the immigrant intellectual, literary Third-Worldism [and] avant-garde literary theory’ (1992, 91) that had the disempowering effect of displacing ‘an activist culture with a textual culture’ (1) and of turning the crises of the wretched of the earth into academic accolades. The harshest censure came from an African intellectual, albeit one also based at an American university. Asking whether ‘the Post- in Postmodernism [is] the Post- in Postcolonial’, Kwame Anthony Appiah concluded: ‘Postcoloniality is the condition of what we might ungenerously call a comprador intelligentsia: a relatively small, Western-style, Western-trained group of [Third World] writers and thinkers who mediate the trade in cultural commodities of world capitalism at the periphery’ (1991, 348). Clearly the naïveties of postcolonialism hold few charms for at least some of the beneficiaries of both a postmodernist discourse of dismantlement emanating from the Western academy, and a consequent postcolonial programme of affirmative action at Western universities. Other scholars, investigating specific periods or localities of colonial discourse, have been able to show that Saidean postcolonialists have at times simply had their facts wrong. John David Ragan, in a chapter entitled ‘French Women Travellers in Egypt’, concludes that ‘Orientalist discourse was not hermetically closed but rather permeable and porous, and under constant challenge and discussion’, and that there were always ‘plenty of people around who were “thinking otherwise”, who were speaking “ungrammatically”’ (1998, 227). Such views are duplicated in many other studies of ‘Orientalist’ writing (Lowe, 1992; Melman, 1992; Donnell, 1995; Carolyn Shaw, 1995; Codell and Macleod, 1998; Irwin, 2006). In her study of nineteenth-century French treatments of North Africa, Lisa Lowe proposes an Orientalist discourse ‘through which the management and production of many Others take place … [and] in which we trace not only the desires for mastery, but the critiques of these desires as well’ (1991, 217). Carolyn Shaw, writing about colonial Kenya, reveals a colonial encounter ineluctably ‘temporal, unstable, contingent, fragmentary, localized, multi-vocal, the process and product of decentred selves’ (1995, cited by Ranger, 1996, 277). ‘If postcoloniality has been defined as the transcendence of imperial structures and their histories, such a definition is obviously contradicted by the everyday experiences and memories of the people in the ex-colonies’, writes Simon Gikandi (1996, 15) as he goes on to show how postcolonial African nationalist governments have internalised only too thoroughly some of the very worst features of the colonialism they claimed to repudiate and replace. Most pertinently for my purpose, more authors have come to explore the overall destabilising and disempowering impact on meaningful action and

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intervention when a postcolonial critique attempts to accommodate the disruptive and dissentient aperçus of a postmodernist discourse of suspicion (Slemon and Tiffin, 1989; Mason, 1990; Adam and Tiffin, 1991; Carusi, 1991; Mishra and Hodge, 1991; Appleby et al., 1994; Bahri, 1995; Werbner and Ranger, 1996). As early as 1983, Dennis Porter asked about Orientalism, if ‘as Said sometimes implies, truth in representation may be achieved, how can it be justified on the basis of a radical discourse theory [i.e. postmodernism] which presupposes the impossibility of stepping outside of a given discursive formulation by an act of will or consciousness’ (1993, 151)? If Said were right, Porter added later, there could be ‘no way out of cultural solipsism’ (1991, 4) – no culture could hope to understand another. Aijaz Ahmad took this depressing prospect further, arguing that the logic behind Foucault’s and Said’s arguments bestowed ‘upon the world a profound cage-like quality, with a bleak sense of human entrapment in Discourses of Power [sic]’ (1992, 130). Such propositions ‘depict human beings as caught in a prison of language’ (Appleby et al., 1994, 213). Billy Pilgrim, the character from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five (1969), strapped to a flat-car and peering through a fixed tube, comes to mind. Ahmad lamented the crippling of a postcolonialism predicated on postmodernist scepticism: ‘Any attempt to know the world as a whole, or to hold that it is open to rational comprehension, let alone the desire to change it, [is] to be dismissed as a contemptible attempt to construct “grand narratives” and “totalizing (totalitarian?) knowledges”’ (1992, 69). Speaking at a conference in 1991, the Ghanaian novelist Ama Ata Aidoo quipped: ‘Colonialism has not been “posted” anywhere’, and warned that as celebrated in the Western agnostic academy, the ‘postcolonial’ was ‘a pernicious fiction’ (cited by Gikandi, 1996, 14). More recently, Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge, revisiting an article they had written in 1991, have charged that ‘postcolonial theory … has aestheticized the struggle’ instead of confronting it, and they have called for the postcolonial project to ‘re-establish vital links with Marxism’ in order to re-enhance its credentials as ‘a proactive and radically anticolonial theory’ (2005, 389–395). I shall return below to South African anxieties along the same lines. Numerous further discomfiting insights have followed in the wake of the recognition of the misalliance of postcolonialist idealism and postmodernist incredulity. Helen Tiffin has observed that ‘certain tendencies within EuroAmerican post-structuralism and post-modernism have in practice operated … to appropriate and control the “other” while ostensibly performing some sort of major cultural redemption’ (1988, 70). Confronting ‘The Problems of 

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Cultural Paralysis in Postcolonial Criticism’, Alison Donnell has deplored ‘the propensity to deal in perpetual marginality and voicelessness [that] not only condemns writers to dismal and oppressed self-denying narratives but burdens readers with a baggage of unresolved cultural sensitivities’, when in fact the colonial record is full of ‘writings that often rest uncomfortably on the cusp of coloniality, and writings that select to work with rather than against European models’ (1995, 102). Such views are echoed by other critics weary of the Billy Pilgrim flat-car orthodoxies of postcolonial critiques: ‘The contemporary reification of otherness reproduces the sharp “us and them” opposition of colonial discourse itself, and simplifies the complex transactions and migrations of the history of colonialism’ (Edmond, 1997, 21). Deepika Bahri speaks of ‘the comfortable umbrella of essential binarism that characterizes much postcolonial discourse’ (1995, 61), which effectively blurs any insights it might have to offer. On the other hand, Salman Rushdie’s postmodernist playfulness in contexts properly deemed to demand a postcolonial solemnity has frequently been targeted as ‘an exercise in self-reflexive literary game-playing’ and as writing that ‘allows us to evade the necessity of concrete political and ethical choices’ (Baker, 2000, 43). A local version of such anxieties occupied South African academics and authors in the 1980s and 1990s in the shape of controversial polemics about ‘Writing in a State of Emergency’ (Chapman, 1992). Behind this preoccupation lay the heavy weight of centuries of apartheid and an already long history of agonised confrontation with South Africa’s racialised society that had occupied local writers – Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) is perhaps still the most famous instance. As apartheid ran its final desperate course and state repression increased, South African writers increasingly had to ponder Seamus Heaney’s question: ‘What is my apology for poetry?’ (1979, 41). Their most obvious response was the argument that South Africa’s crisis demanded a literature of socio-economic conscientising and exposure, a mirror-like recreation of the conditions, repressions and agonies that affected especially black people’s lives. Postmodernist ‘game-playing’, such as that deemed to occupy much of the early fiction of J.M. Coetzee was considered irrelevant, even abhorrent. Magic realism, metafiction, irony and satire were branded the irresponsible distractions of the neo-bourgeois author. Students of Marxist literary theory will recognise the debate, as ‘committed’ South African academics rehearsed the pro-historicist, pro-activist arguments of Lukács (1971), Adorno (1977) and Fredric Jameson (1984). The temptation to expect the poem

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or novel to be a petrol bomb, or, again as Heaney puts it, ‘a slingstone / Whirled for the desperate’ (1975, 72), is always a strong one in such contexts. The relevance of the controversy here is that the ‘Writing in a State of Emergency’ polemic not only demonstrated for me once again the problems created by a postcolonialist critique in confused alliance with the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ encouraged by postmodernist scepticism and irreverence, but also continued to sharpen the focus and caveats of my own enquiries. There simply was no such thing as a monolithic, monovalent Eurocolonial discourse of Africa, nor a single ‘master narrative’ of the fraught European-African encounter. Instead, there were many different stories, attitudes, interactions and surprises. Postcolonialism still remains high on the international conference agenda, even if the stark binarisms of earlier decades have now been flushed out (Gurr, 1997; Cannadine, 2001; Hall, 2002; King, 2004). As for postmodernism, Raymond Tallis has trenchantly identified the ultimate nihilism embedded in its central tenets: ‘All attempts to demonstrate that the truth about truth is that it is not really true fall foul of the Cretan Paradox’, for if ‘the critique of truth were true, then it would be false’ (2001, 4). Put more simply and with specific relevance to my project, authors who have tried to expose the ‘truth’ about colonialism have generally fatally impaired their project by seeking an alliance with postmodernist iconoclasm. Richard Rorty puts it well: ‘People who wave the banners of multiculturalism typically pride themselves on their postmodernism, but revert to old-fashioned essentialism when they start describing the incommensurable identities of members of diverse cultures’ (1994, 13). Similarly, many others, arguing that it is impossible for the European (or Eurocolonial) observer ever to have fathomed the ‘truth’ about the colonial subject while nevertheless holding forth confidently on the ‘truth’ of the colonial encounter from some privileged position already denied, have to be guilty, at the very least, of gross self-deception. By 1995, Robert J.C. Young would remark: ‘We have reached something of an impasse with regard to the theoretical questions raised in the study of colonial discourse’ (164), and the ghosts have not yet departed – see Mishra and Hodge (2005), quoted earlier, or Richard Gott’s scathing review of the new Oxford History of the British Empire (2001) in the London Review of Books (Gott, 2002, 26–28). The untenability of the postmodernist postcolonialism of a sometime doyenne of the discourse, Gayatri Spivak, has been laid bare: ‘Spivak wants to discern politically expedient ideological falsehoods where there can allegedly be no truth; she wants to help reconstruct the history of female literary marginalization whilst denying the possibility of authentic histories’ (Freadman and Miller, 1991, 39). Edward Said 

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eventually had to confess: ‘[The] crucial difference between the urgent historical and political imperatives of postcolonialism, and postmodernism’s relative detachment, makes for altogether different approaches and results’ (1995, 6).

Other recuperative debates of our time have drawn on postcolonialist discourse and have displayed the same symptoms of unease when allied to or utilising the disruptive and apostate tenets of postmodernism’s ‘posture of suspicion’. One such is feminism. As Annette Kolodny had demonstrated earlier (1975), Helen Carr argues that colonialist, racist and sexist discourse have continually reinforced, naturalized and legitimized each other during the process of European colonization…. [In the New World] and in other colonized territories the difference man/woman provided a fund of images and topoi by which the difference European/non-European could be politically accommodated (1985, 46). Yet here, too, the passing years would reveal a growing threat of disempowerment, until Laura Lee Downs would ask: ‘If “Woman” is just an empty category, then why am I afraid to walk alone at night?’ She warned that ‘the politics of identity, feminist and otherwise, rests on a disturbing epistemological ground’ where ‘the group’s fragile unity’ – and, indeed, its powers of advocacy – are under threat (1993, 416). Susan Stanford Friedman agonises over ‘a pressing urgency to reclaim and hold on to a newly reconstituted history of women’ aided by the insights of both postcolonialism and postmodernism, against ‘the subjectivist epistemology [also of postmodernist making] that can lead toward the paralysis of complete relativism’ (1997, 231–235). These are the same fears voiced by proponents of a crusading postcolonialism. Thus Nancy Hartsock finds ‘it curious that the postmodern claim that verbal constructs do not correspond in a direct way to reality has arisen precisely when women and non-Western peoples have begun to speak for themselves and, indeed, to speak about global systems of power differentials’ (1987, cited by

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Mascia-Lees, 1993, 230). Dark surmises that postmodernist scepticism is a secret weapon of a re-mastering imperialism have emerged (Krupat, 1992; hooks, 1995), while Anne McClintock has worried over the dismissive implications of the term ‘postcolonial’ itself when it is supposed to articulate a rallying cry: ‘The word “post” … reduces the cultures of peoples beyond colonialism to prepositional time. The term confers on colonialism the prestige of history proper; colonialism is the determining marker of history’ (1992, 86). We have come full circle back to Hugh Trevor-Roper’s notorious verdict that precolonial Africa had no proper history. Out of such anxieties have emerged various proposals for a truce between postcolonialist idealism and postmodernist scepticism, expressed in calls for a moratorium on the use of radical postmodernist insights in postcolonialist critiques, so as not to undermine the latter’s essentialist agenda of reempowerment. Gayatri Spivak has made a plea for a ‘strategic essentialism’, that is, ‘the construction of essentialist forms of “native” identity [as] a legitimate, indeed necessary, stage in the emergence … [of ] a fully decolonized national culture’ (cited by Moore-Gilbert, 1997, 179). Linda Hutcheon elaborates: The current poststructuralist/postmodern challenges to the coherent, autonomous subject have to be put on hold in feminist and postcolonial discourses, for both must work first to assert and affirm a denied or alienated subjectivity; those radical postmodern challenges are in many ways the luxury of the dominant order which can afford to challenge that which it securely possesses (1989, 151). This is, of course, nonsense. If the tenets of postmodernism regarding the constructedness and contingency of all cognition, identity, ‘truth’ and cultural values are correct and not merely rhetorical postures, we are being asked here to accept a logical charade for the purposes of well-meant but nevertheless fraudulent expediency. Yet such shaky options have attracted other promoters. Despite regarding postmodernism as ‘a discursive practice dominated primarily by the voices of white male intellectuals’ (1995, 118), bell hooks wants to retain its disruptive usefulness for the ‘renewed black liberation struggle’ as long as it is stripped of its ‘critique of essentialism’, since ‘we cannot cavalierly dismiss a concern with identity politics’ (120; my italics – the term sounds suspiciously like a euphemism for racialism, if not racism). That such a stance could no longer qualify as postmodern seems to escape the writer. Altogether then, crusading postcolonialists have major problems with the ahistoricity of postmodernism, its clamant decentredness, its inherent scepticism, 

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and its agnosticism about the imperatives of historical materialism and the idealist liberationist programmes of postcolonialism. The political agenda for a better world, free of imperial domination and capitalist exploitation, that lies at the heart of the classical Fanonist enterprise is by definition questioned, destabilised and relativised by a postmodernist verdict – which in its most agnostic manifestations argues that all is verbiage, all is construct, nothing matters. On the other hand, if it were to be accepted that ‘time-out’ has to be allowed for the reconstruction or re-affirmation of the essential identities of peoples and cultures ravaged by colonialism and imperialism, it must be conceded that the same privilege should be extended to at least those ‘colonisers’ and Western commentators who had resisted the mastering drive of their own cultures and had tried to meet African societies on their own terms, or at least on terms that recognised reciprocity and mutuality. In other words, if the discourse of postcolonialism is to be interpreted as condemning all Eurocolonial writing about Africa and its people as simply prejudicial and worthless, the insights of postmodernism invite a resurrection of such texts for the operations of quite different investigations and conclusions.

Lurking behind the unease and unequal encounter between postcolonialist ambition and postmodernist doubt have always been larger issues concerning the nature of human cognition itself. Both postcolonialists and postmodernists have been in the habit of making large and often unexamined assumptions about how we know what we know, and what we can do about changing our minds and thus the world. Cognitive philosophy is a huge discipline, but for my purposes, we may start with an anthropologist’s observation that ‘in each culture … reality is distinctively conceptualized in implicit and explicit premises and derivative generalizations’ (Albert, 1970, 99). Yet such distinctiveness is not a conceptual trap, but a cultural diversity worth celebrating. It may be true that ‘accurate and systematic knowledge about the world’ (Hartsock, 1987, 205) is hard to attain and even harder to convey across cultural divides, but that does not disqualify the effort or the results. When Linda Hutcheon concludes her examination of postmodernism with the thought that ‘There is not so much

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“a loss of belief in a significant external reality” as there is a loss of faith in our ability to (unproblematically) know that reality, and therefore to be able to represent it in language’ (1987, 299), she is not counselling despair, but informed awareness of the difficulties entailed in making sense of the world, particularly across cultural boundaries. In anthropology, as in history, fierce debates surged between the 1970s and the 1990s around issues of representation, cultural translation, narrativisation and the so-called linguistic turn in a number of disciplines, all deemed to deprive the subject under investigation of its intrinsic identity (White, 1973, 1978, 1980; Geertz, 1973; Marcus and Cushman, 1982; Fabian, 1983; Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Himmelfarb, 1987; Spencer, 1989; Schwartz, 1994). One polarity in the debate is represented by Peter Mason: ‘To understand the other by comprehension is to reduce the other to self…. All ethnography is an experience of the confrontation with the Other set down in writing, an act by which that Other is deprived of its specificity’ (1990, 2–13). Obviously such an elision in which knowledge becomes synonymous with theft or erasure must once again lead to cognitive anomy, a helpless confrontation with a world in which an exchange of minds and cultures is impossible. If we are indeed ‘prisoners of the conceptual system that we are enabled by’ (Battersby, 1992, 55), the outlook would be bleak. Terry Eagleton, reviewing Stanley Fish’s The Trouble with Principle (1999), which effectively proposes just such a cognitive strait-jacket, expresses the intuitive dismay elicited by such an assault on cognitive flexibility: ‘To imagine that we are either the helpless prisoners of our beliefs or their supremely disinterested critics is to pose the problem in an absurdly polarised way’ (2000, 11). Eagleton was responding to Fish’s exposition of a Billy Pilgrim-style logic that, as we saw earlier, inevitably follows on the awkward alliance between postcolonialism and postmodernism in the indictment of European imperialism: ‘A historically conditioned consciousness’, Fish had argued earlier, cannot … scrutinize its own beliefs [or] conduct a rational examination of its own convictions … for in order to begin such scrutiny, it would first have to escape the grounds of its own possibility, and it could do that only if it were not historically conditioned and were instead an acontextual and unsituated entity (1985, 10). Such a deterministic conception of a ‘hard-wired’ human mentality obviously leaves no room for either change or progress in human understanding. Barbara 

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J. King, reviewing Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought (2008), calls it a ‘reductive abyss’ that takes no account of ‘the great plasticity of the human brain’ and its infinite mutability: ‘Our brain circuits are sculpted and resculpted’ constantly (2008, 5). In the words of Susan Haack, challenging the ‘Higher Dismissiveness’ of cognitive sceptics such as Fish, ‘it doesn’t follow from the fact that people disagree about what is true, that truth is relative to perspective’ (1999, 12). Truths can be both foundational and negotiable, and we see such truths in operation around us every day. It became clear from views such as these that my own attempts to assess what Europeans over the millennia had known about Africa, what they had thus regarded as ‘true,’ and how they had processed and expressed such knowledge would demand further investigations into how human ‘knowing’ actually works. Megan Vaughan nicely pointed up the dilemma for my own researches: If Orientalism is more than a set of misrepresentations, but is rather a system of academic knowledge outside of which it is impossible for any (western) scholar to stand; and if this system of knowledge constituted an active force in the operation of colonial power, then the possibility of writing histories which are in some sense ‘better’ reflections of lived experience seems to be denied us (1994, 3). Simply put, the question is whether we are all helplessly strapped to Billy Pilgrim’s cognitive flat-car, or whether cognition is a fluid, interactive and revisionary process whereby we constantly adjust our ‘take’ on the world. Martin Kreiswirth offers one useful approach, distinguishing between a ‘mimetic epistemology’ and a ‘poetic epistemology’ (1992, 636), and suggesting that at different times we employ different ways of knowing. ‘Mimetic epistemology’ is Cartesian and definitive, based on recognition, in which the mind matches things, perceptions, events and so on with concepts already known, including language. ‘Poetic epistemology’ turns on cognition as an inventive, narrative process creating its reality out of an experiential and linguistic repertoire. Paul Ricouer (1971), Paul Feyerabend (1975), Hayden White (1978, 1987), Jean François Lyotard (1979), and Richard Rorty (1979) may be said to espouse versions of a poetic epistemology, which underlies much of postmodernist thinking. Versions of a mimetic epistemology, on the other hand, may well inspire much of the binarist thinking imbedded in Western thought and values; for example, the Judaeo-Christian tradition of Good and Evil, God and Satan, Abel and Cain, and eventually, white and black as reified in Western racism. This has also been called the ‘spectator

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theory of knowledge’, presupposing ‘a naïve relationship between a body of objective facts and the individual consciousness of the observer who records them’ (Washington, 1989, 61). It clearly also underlies much of the postcolonialist discourse we reviewed earlier. Yet, if the historic pressures favouring a Cartesian judgemental and binarist mimetic epistemology may be immense, to the point of coming to seem foundational and archetypal, the very fact that human beings have an imagination constantly invites the invocation of a poetic epistemology as well. We can and do change our minds. Our reception of the world is not a one-way, predetermined process, but a conversation, a revisionary loop, an ongoing dialogic encounter such as made famous in Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘dialogic imagination’ (1981). Norman Mailer remarked that we live in ‘a universe based upon metaphor rather than measure’ (cited by Harris, 1996, 27), an insight in line with the notions of both a ‘dialogic imagination’ and a ‘poetic epistemology’. That we may at any given time and in any given place be conditioned as to what we regard as ‘knowledge’, true or false, and that seeing beyond ‘a horizon of expectation’ (Jauss, 1982, in Selden, 1989, 127) requires effort and application, does not mean that we are hopelessly trapped in historical prejudice. The ‘Gestalt switch’ or rapid change in conceptual paradigms proposed by Thomas Kuhn (1962) and implied in Foucault’s notion of radical shifts in the dominant episteme (1966) does indeed occur, and is for my purposes most dramatically instanced in the way Third World postcolonialists now have little hesitation in excoriating the efforts of nineteenth-century missionaries or colonial educators and philanthropists who in their own time were universally taken to be selfless (even misguided) humanitarian idealists. Theories and revelations about how the human mind works have in recent decades greatly advanced the case for the capacities and reach of a poetic epistemology (Dennett, 1991; Rorty, 1991). Cognitive neuroscience has revealed (or at least speculates persuasively) that while the mind may exploit complex computer-simulating features such as ‘multiple drafts models’ (Dennett, 1991), ‘reactivity cascades’ and ‘feedback loops’ (Damasio, 1995), and ‘parallel distributed processors’ (Churchland, 1996), our brains are still immeasurably more complex, unpredictable and inventive than any computer simulation (Bloch, 1990; Dennett, 1995; Fodor, 1995; Sperber, 1996; Hacking, 2007). This is not the place to pursue such arguments, but they make it clear that the sheer inventiveness of the human mind renders naïve many of the cognitive assumptions dear to postcolonialist doctrine. For instance, the once widely held opinion that we cannot hold concepts for which we do not have words, 

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basic to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (see below) and essential to proponents of cultural singularity, is now countermanded by the ‘well-established fact that concepts can and do exist independently of language’ and ‘that much knowledge is fundamentally non-linguistic’ (Bloch, 1990, 185–186). Most particularly, essentialist assumptions – some fundamental to Said’s Orientalism and much of the discourse reviewed earlier – that some cultures are intrinsically doomed to be racist by irreversible mind constructs and linguistic paradigms are unsupportable in light of the ever more complex and extraordinary features of human mentality that are revealed. The Derridean, almost Calvinist, mantra that our cognitive architecture is ‘always already constructed’, rendering us merely responsive to the triggers of socio-cultural preconditioning, is not supported by contemporary models of the mind. Indeed, Derrida has himself at times contradicted the deterministic implications of his work. In Positions (1981), for instance, he proposes that all epistemologies depend on systems of difference that operate within networks of indeterminacy or ‘unstable disequilibriums’ (Selden, 1989, 89). Our minds do not think us – we think with our minds. Stephen Greenblatt, urging that we resist ‘à priori ideological determinism, that is, the notion that particular modes of representation are inherently and necessarily bound to a given culture or class or belief system’, also explains why: ‘Individuals and cultures tend to have fantastically powerful assimilative mechanisms, mechanisms that work like enzymes to change the ideological composition of foreign bodies’ (1991, 4). What all this adds up to is that ‘the process of cultural contact and reporting [is] often “messy” and undirected’ and that ‘power by itself is too crude an instrument for measuring all the subtleties that make up cultural interaction’ (Schwartz, 1994, 7).

Fundamental to most of the cognitive and cultural models considered above is the nature and function of language, not only in so far as language has the foundational role in our cultural and cognitive being, but also in that language may constitute a model or metaphor for the actual workings of both mind and culture. Culture itself is structured like a language – it is a semiology that may

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be acquired, read and interpreted like a grammar or a text. This is the essential insight of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967, translated 1974), which conceives of all cultural practices as versions of écriture. Language is not merely a means to describe reality but actually constitutes our version of reality, and does so differently in different languages with potentially alarming implications for cross-cultural endeavours (Grace, 1987; Green and Hoggart, 1987). Different cultures, contingent upon different languages, cut up reality in different ways, making some ‘grammars’ perhaps more amenable to negotiating transcultural encounters and conceptualisations than others. Such were the implications of the so-called Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the proposition of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, who in the early twentieth century argued that discrete forms of language ‘predetermine for us certain models of observation and interpretation’ (Handler, 1990, 891). The notion was further developed in Claude Levi-Strauss’s argument that given conceptual systems are linguistically orientated, and will thus always lie beyond the comprehension of other linguistic systems. Such thinking encouraged the widespread introduction into cultural studies of the notion of the ‘linguistic turn’, not only to explore the ‘grammars’ of culture, but to raise questions (indeed, misgivings) about how accessible the intricacies of one culture can ever be to ‘speakers’ or practitioners of another (Geertz, 1973). The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may no longer be accepted (Albert, 1970; Cohen, 1993), but its anxieties are still with us, as suggested by the claim in The Empire Writes Back that ‘the power structures of English grammar … [are] themselves metonymic of the hegemonic controls exercised by the British on Black peoples throughout Caribbean and African history’ (1989, 48). Once again, so it would appear, some people are doomed by their linguistic, as by their cognitive, apparatus to be imperialists. In the field of postcolonial studies, such debates have fuelled the larger contention between cultural monodists for whom insuperable barriers between cultures would always exist, and cultural pluralists optimistic about the human capacity to acquire other ‘grammars’, whether in language or in culture. My own experiences as a bilingual South African have urged the latter position, but the ‘linguistic turn’ in cultural, cognitive and ethnographic discourse has suggested yet further useful possibilities. For Stephen A. Tyler, the ideal ethnographic encounter is a ‘hermeneutic process’ of ‘textualization’, leading to the outcome of a ‘negotiated text’ between observer and observed (1986, 127). Clifford Geertz (1973) has promoted the concept of ‘thick description’ inspired by and dedicated to the ideal of faithfully capturing an observed culture in the fullest possible linguistic and semiotic 

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detail. In this way, ethnography might resist its almost irresistible bias towards repeating the appropriative dynamics of colonialism itself, as has been noted (Mason, 1990; Schwartz, 1994). John and Jean Comaroff, examining nineteenthcentury missionary encounters in the Northern Cape of South Africa, propose ‘a complex dialectic of challenge and riposte, domination and defiance’, in which ‘the very act of conceptualizing, inscribing and interacting with the Other implies discourse as much as domination’ (1991, 1: 15). David Theo Goldberg has invoked the operations of grammatical parsing to indicate how not just the functions but the very fibres of racism might be exposed by ‘cutting up the body of racist discursive practices and expressions, stripping them to reveal the underlying presuppositions, embodiments of interests, aims and projections of exclusion and subjection’ (1990, xiii). On a lighter note, Malcolm Bradbury’s novel, Rates of Exchange (1983), speculates on a reality (ostensibly Heathrow Airport, but in fact the text under the reader’s eye) that is entirely a tissue of texts: ‘Here are subtle grammars, cases, declensions, and inflexions, an entire constructed universe that in turn constructs and orders the universe itself ’ (1990, 31). Obviously, such insistence that reality is not only textually constituted but may, like a text, yield multiple readings has suggested yet more ways of engaging with the centuries-old library of Africa, itself the record of many attempts to decode the continent. Furthermore, if anxieties about our linguistic bondage have contributed to the various ‘crises of representation’ reviewed earlier, other aspects of language – its infinite inventiveness, its metaphoric reach, its cognitive repertoire, its transformative genius – suggest that it is precisely language that may be our most liberating ally in transcultural comprehension and expression. This is well understood in Africa. ‘Spoken words are living things like cocoa-beans packed with life’, writes Gabriel Okara in The Voice (1964, 110), a novel about just such power. That language is ‘arbitrary’ in a sense made famous by Ferdinand de Saussure (1915, translated 1959), in that the signifying function of language depends on an ultimately arbitrarily established relationship between sounds, signs and meanings, does not mean that we are the victims of a mindless system that speaks us, but rather that we have the power (and responsibility) to deploy language so as to achieve understanding. That ‘the outside world is always mediated by language and narrative, however much it is naturalized by the [assumed] transparency of realistic language’ (Currie, 1998, 62), is not a prison sentence but a challenge that may enhance insight. Mark Currie argues that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) ‘is about the failure of language to

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reveal the truth’ and does not capture something called ‘Africa’ at all (1998, 142). However, while it is clear that the treacherousness of language is indeed thematised in the novel so that the text’s convolutions and revisions act as a gigantic metaphor of uncertainty, it is also precisely this element that alerts the reader to the multivocality, the many meanings, the semantic challenges that constitute not only this novel’s ‘Africa’ but many other ‘Africas’. James Clifford and George E. Marcus, in a seminal collection of essays surveying culture as a form of ‘writing’, suggest that we muster cultural understanding or exegesis in ways similar to our apprehension of a literary text: ‘Literary processes – metaphor, figuration, narrative – affect the ways cultural phenomena are registered’ (1986, 4). But if both culture and its representations work like a poem or a novel, the analogy must also benefit from the essentially dialogic, interactive, imaginative processes that the reading of a poem or novel entails. ‘Culture is contested, temporal and emergent,’ state Clifford and Marcus (19), while ‘a cultural poetics … is an interplay of voices, of positional utterances’ (12). Most sensitive ‘readers’ of other cultures have always understood this. If it is true that a gap always ‘opens between the experience of place and the language available to describe it’ (Ashcroft, 1989, 9), it is equally true that in many colonial contexts, alert authors (such as Thomas Pringle and Olive Schreiner in the South Africa of the early- and mid-nineteenth century) have drawn attention to precisely this hazard in their confrontation with colonial realities (Van Wyk Smith, 1999a, 2000b, 2003). While both James Clifford and Christopher L. Miller, with different objectives in mind, have argued that ‘ethnographic texts are inescapably allegorical’ (Clifford, 1986, 99) and ‘all [colonial] Africanist utterances are allegorical’ (Miller, 1985, 136) in the sense that such texts are always about something else (the observer’s own generalised notions of societal processes and values, for example) rather than primarily about the culture observed, the invocation of ‘allegory’ also opens up a vast repertoire of human meaning-making procedures, including the innovative, surprising and non-linear ways in which we make sense of the world. ‘The world is emblematic’, said Ralph Waldo Emerson, and our apprehension of this is a challenge, not a bondage.

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Several of the commentators on the ‘linguistic turn’ in recent investigations of cognition in general and of ethnography in particular (reviewed above) have also more specifically invoked a ‘narrative turn’ in cultural discourse (Barthes, 1957; Eliade, 1957; White, 1973, 1978, 1980; Bruner, 1991; Kreiswirth, 1992). Not only do we interpret cultures and existence itself in terms of ‘grammars’ or sets of syntactical rules, but we may also construct such knowledge as ‘narratives’, semantic sequences that are deemed to have coherence, meaning and even an informing teleology on the intuitive assumption that life is supposed to make sense. Thus Louis O. Mink speaks of narrative as a sense-making procedure, ‘a form of human comprehension’ (cited in White, 1981, 2). Human cognitive encounters may be largely based on setting ourselves in storied relationships to the world, whether at a personal level or at the level of the ‘grand narratives’ of nation, religion and race. We experience the world sequentially, through space and time, and we assemble our knowledge and experience in narrative strands, almost like chromosomes in the genes. These narratives may be networked into larger units, complex systems of knowledge and belief, but they never lose their narrative or even dramaturgic thrust. They become the story of us in – and against – the world. ‘We organize our experience and our memory of human happenings mainly in the form of narrative – stories, excuses, myths, reasons for doing and not doing, and so on,’ according to Bruner (1991, 4). Speaking of historiography, Robert Berkhofer sketches procedures that are just as common in general epistemology: ‘Historians apply plot and narrative logic … not only to their synthetic expository efforts, but also … to the past itself as history …[,] postulating the past as a complex but unified flow of events organized narratively’ (1988, cited by Jenkins, 1997, 144). The dangers of such constructivism are apparent: ‘[Such] narrative organization … (re-)presents its subject matter … as the natural order of things, which is the illusion of realism’ (147). Numerous analysts of ethnographic discourse have pursued these hallucinatory compulsions of story-telling, the imperative of narrative to impose order and comprehensibility on its subject matter and thus to encourage comforting illusions of meaning and control. ‘Narrativity as such tends to support orthodox and politically conservative social conditions, and … the revolt against narrativity in modern historiography and literature is a revolt against the authority of the social system’, argues Hayden White (cited by Mitchell, 1980, 2). Yet it is also possible that there is a fundamental competitiveness built into human cognition that may manifest itself through these very same narrative urges, emerging as an aggressive dramaturgy of story-telling, usually configured

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in favour of the teller or his or her culture. That we may never fully master this narrative of self and may thus create but never fully control our own ‘story’ probably accentuates its urgency (Sprinker, 1980). Much racial and cultural prejudice is obviously fuelled by such a solipsistic narrative drive, whether on the individual or societal level. It is possible, too, that in different epochs (Foucault’s epistemes), the human narrative may be configured in radically different ways – for instance as redemptive romance in the Christian Middle Ages, or as triumphal epic in the nineteenth century, or as existential tragedy or even farce in our own time. François Lyotard’s notion of the ‘grand narratives’ that inspire epochs and civilisations is the most obvious development of such an epistemology of narrative. Similarly, the narrative and dramaturgic urgencies of Fanon’s binarist rendering of the colonial experience have accounted for much of its appeal. The concern of Hayden White and others that narrative may be inherently conservative and compliant may be challenged further. Earlier, we saw Edward Said coming close to undermining the stark impeachments of Orientalism by conceding that ‘[n]arrative, in short, introduces an opposing point of view, perspective, consciousness to the unitary web of vision’ (1978/1985, 240); and these concessions may be taken further. More particularly, the explosion of narrative modes and manners over the last few decades has shown just what disruptive and subversive functions narrative can have. Magic realism, achronological structures, self-reflecting metanarratives, deeply disturbed or suspect narrative voices, and crossed genres (such as the socalled novelistic documentary) are among the numerous devices now commanded by writers to explode narrative from the inside, so to speak. Yet the transgressive mechanisms of such manoeuvres have been with us ever since the appearance of Laurence Sterne’s episodic novel Tristram Shandy (the first volumes of which were published in 1759). Like language itself, narrative can configure the world in infinite ways, and from Herodotus to Haggard, the architects of Euro-African narratives have exploited such polyphony and diversity. Many Western writers about Africa devised their narratives so as to express perceptions that we must now regard as prejudices, but a significant number also used narrative to critique such presumptions. When Charles Wheeler’s West African wife mounted a scathing attack on European duplicity and presumption in the early 1700s, recorded by William Smith (1744), or the Prince Naimbana from the area that was to become Sierra Leone uttered a passionate speech of despair and anger occasioned by the slave trade, transcribed by agents of the Sierra Leone Company (1795), or William Snelgrave confessed himself repeatedly 

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checkmated in debates with the ruler of Dahomey (1734), or an anonymous account of the ‘Young Prince of Annamaboe’ concluded ‘that good sense is the companion of all complexions, and … the brain in black heads [is] made for the same purpose as in white, whatever some people may imagine’ (1750, 20)– all were exhibiting the disruptive power of ‘little narratives’ embedded in the larger and admittedly discriminatory European ‘grand narrative’ of Africa. Not only have some narratives of Africa always been as dissident in theme and intention as others may have been conformative, but the generic decisions they embody may at times have had their own discordant effect. A narrative cast as romance or epic will clearly function differently to one proffered as firsthand reportage. Relatively few texts produced up to the Enlightenment that present themselves as chronicles or travelogues can be treated as realistic records, and the declared or implied intentions of such texts must constantly be correlated against the conventions of the genre employed. So, for instance, many of the earliest Portuguese chronicles of African discovery (Azurara, 1453; Cadamosto, 1455/1507), or of the first century of Portuguese encounter with Ethiopia (Castanhoso, 1564; Bermudes, 1565), are cast as chivalric romances, hence the African actors in them are often not seen as social beings but as the local avatars of cosmic moral forces against whom the champions of Catholic Christianity must contend. Thus a simple judgemental response on a modern reader’s part to Portuguese ‘racism’ in such a context may be problematic. Columbus took texts such as Mandeville’s and Marco Polo’s Travels with him on his voyages not because he was foolish or gullible, but because the distinction between empirical experience, scientific knowledge, and ‘romance’ did not exist at that time. This was so both because of what Foucault would have regarded as a major epistemic difference between Columbus’s and our understanding of what constitutes ‘true knowledge’, and an equally fundamental difference in conceptions of which genres are appropriate for the conveyance of ‘truth’ as against ‘fantasy’. In Chapter 9, we shall see how Diodorus Siculus’s account of the ethnic groups and cultures of north-east Africa in the late pre-Christian centuries (now often cited as evidence of Hellenistic attitudes to Africa) was not meant as either history or ethnography, but is merely incidental to a fabular account of the origins of the Greek pantheon. It thus renders a select society of ‘Ethiopians’ as ‘sacred’ or ‘worthy’, while dismissing the rest of the continent as ‘savage’. This is not ethnography so much as mythography. If narrative can be as disruptive as it can be coercive, romance in particular can exploit these Janus-like effects. Umberto Eco has argued that romance is

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the most slippery and subversive of all genres, juxtaposing events, points of view, values and ideologies not readily commensurable in reality, but creating interesting synergies in the realm of ideas. ‘Romance has no continuing city as its final resting place’, argues Northrop Frye (1976, 172) as he goes on to develop the anarchic potential of the genre, as Umberto Eco has also done: ‘Romance must always have as its base a misconception … and from that fundamental misconception … must arise developments, digressions and, finally, unexpected and pleasant recognitions’ (Eco, 1983/1995, 81). Seamus Heaney proposes that ‘Poetry is a symbolic resolution of conflicts insoluble in experience’ (1989, 1412), and much the same may be claimed for romance. I have shown elsewhere that romance was regularly and suggestively invoked in the literature of the early South African frontier to develop resolutions to racial conflict that would not have been countenanced in reality (Van Wyk Smith, 1999a). The counter-realist nature and contrivance of romance, often invoked in European attempts to render the ‘difference’ of African realities, is not necessarily and only productive of ‘othering’. Techniques of defamiliarisation typical of romance can be manipulative and misrepresentative, but they can also suggest new ways of seeing, of generating different insights and disturbing possibilities, and of relaying the significance of challenging encounters.

Several other developments over the last few decades in our understanding of how the mind works, how knowledge is constituted, and how ‘hidden texts’ (in cartography, for example) function have proven illuminating for my own researches. Chief of these is the emergence of the concept of memetics, the brainchild of Richard Dawkins (1976), but extensively promoted elsewhere (Dennett, 1996; Lynch, 1996; Blackmore, 1999; Aunger, 2000). The huge popularity of Dawkins’s idea of the meme, defined as a ‘gene analogue’ and ‘a self-replicating element of culture, passed on by imitation’ (Dawkins, 2003, 120), has slotted neatly into the rapid development of the science of genetics over the last few decades, encouraging the argument that, like genes, memes or packages of ideas (racism or religion, for example) have a self-replicating and tenacious power of their own in the human mind. ‘Cultural transmission is analogous to 

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genetic transmission’, argues Dawkins (1976, 189). He goes on to suggest that cognate memes combine to form memeplexes, ‘gangs of mutually compatible memes’ (117) that in turn combine to shape the major cultural and ideological programmes that inform human behaviour and define cultural norms and belief systems. Such memeplexes can be ‘viruses of the mind’ (as in racism and other cultural prejudices) or they can benefit human existence (as in humanitarianism or convictions of fundamental human liberties). There has been much resistance to the notion of the memeplex, notably from sociologists and Marxists alarmed that Dawkins’s arguments might confer on cultural prejudices and practices such as racism and capitalism an archetypal or foundational identity inaccessible to human intervention. However, Dawkins has provided the answer to this anxiety right from the start: ‘We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators’ (1976, 201). Once again, as a white South African who had grown up in a society that could be described as a classic example of a polity wholly infested with the memeplex of racism but now re-inventing itself as a ‘rainbow nation’, I could learn much from Dawkins’s ideas. Even as his theory made it clear that facile notions of racism as a social aberration that could merely be legislated away were unrealistic, it confirmed that we are masters of our own ideas and can change them, however tough such transformation might be. Memeplexes, narrative packages, cultural chromosomes – all have become useful terms in the assessment of the subtlety and perdurance of human mindsets. Said’s ‘Orientalism’ could be regarded as a memeplex, a set of replicable cultural prejudices, and as such it may also be confronted and remedied like any other stubborn cultural shibboleth. Likewise, racism is not a ‘primordial maladaptive practice’ (Blackmore, 1999, 35) inherent to the Eurocolonial ideological make-up, but rather an intellectual fungus that can be eradicated, albeit with difficulty. As Susan Blackmore has shown, ‘one of the consequences of memetic evolution is that humans can be more altruistic than their genes alone would dictate’ (1999, 146). Dawkins’s notions of meme and memeplex have generated or are paralleled by other concepts of the same kind, all suggesting that cultural habits such as racism are coherent (albeit reprehensible) assemblies of ideas that create the illusion of the primordial or self-evident. Thus Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen speak of ‘extelligence’ as ‘the contextual and cultural analogue of internal personal intelligence’ (1997, 10) or as ‘all of the “cultural capital” that is available to us’ (243) and that has ‘its own characteristic structure and behaviour’ (x). Like the

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memeplex, such ‘extelligence’ can over time build up its own coercive logic, and can be both boon and curse; but it is not mandatory. Fredric Jameson has proposed the term ideologeme for similar purposes, and I am indebted to my colleague, Dan Wylie, for the invention of another, the narreme. Narremes are strands of narrative structure that seem to have their own replicatory logic and seem to support, ‘naturally’, the ideologemes that they convey, the ideologeme being defined as ‘a conceptual or belief system, an absolute value, an opinion or a prejudice’ that readily takes on a ‘protonarrative’ quality (Jameson, 1981, 87–88). Myths, faiths, folklore and prejudice can thus all present themselves as self-evident and self-validating cultural ‘stories’ that are hard to resist. Jameson stresses ‘the fundamentally narrative character of such ideologemes’ (88), thus underscoring again the dangerously but illusively coercive power of narrative. Finally, Claude Levi-Strauss’s notion of the mytheme (which may originally have inspired Dawkins) as an irreducible motif that enters into many stories and has a symbolic-cultural origin and explanatory function beyond the individual story in which it occurs, is clearly pertinent as well. All of these foster what Jerome Bruner has called ‘hermeneutic composability’ or the illusion that ‘a story “is as it is” and needs no interpretation’ (1991, 9). The cultural force or leverage of such stories is self-evident, but not irremediable, and the Eurocolonial library of Africa can offer many pertinent records of dissent and resistance to such ‘grand narratives’. The notion of the perdurable memeplex would in due course clarify for me the nature and force of the theme of ‘two Ethiopias’, the one ‘worthy’, the other ‘savage’, that over more than two millennia became habitual in the European discourse of Africa. As I explain in this volume, notably in Chapter 8, by latedynastic and early classical times, Homer’s suggestion in both the Iliad and the Odyssey that the ‘Ethiopians’ were ‘sundered in twain’ and lived ‘some where Hyperion sets and some where he rises’ (Odyssey 1: 22–24) would furnish the inspiration for the Mediterranean world’s earliest ethnographies of Africa. Homer’s rudimentary distinction, elaborated by Herodotus, Agatharchides and Diodorus Siculus, would have profound implications for Europe’s subsequent encounters with Africa and its peoples. The concept of ‘two Ethiopias’ became an early discriminatory memeplex in Mediteranean discourse, and would exhibit all the tenacity and prejudice-generating propensities of its kind.

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In Ethics, Theory and the Novel, after examining various critical discourses pertinent to how we read and benefit from texts, some reviewed in this Introduction and all inspired by ‘the moral scepticism that post-structuralism derives largely from Nietzsche…[and] the Enlightenment’ (1994, 12), David Parker settles for a dialogic model of literary-ethical evaluation: The various theories of culture or existence that the best imaginative literature comprehends tend to be set in dialogical interrelationship with each other, in a searching, mutually revealing exploration in which there is no final vocabulary or master-narrative ( 5). It must be clear to the reader that the concept of ‘dialogical interrelationship’ had over the years come to direct my own reading of the European discourse of Africa. ‘World is incorrigibly plural’, announces Louis Macniece in ‘Snow’, and this has seemed good advice. Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘dialogic imagination’ (1981), with its implication that all discourse is essentially interactive and always subsumes a conversation, a speaker and listener, coupled to his further elaboration of heteroglossia and the carnivalesque provocativeness of all utterance, whereby signification is rarely monologic but mostly contestational, not definitive but propositional, has increasingly opened up possibilities of reading Euro-African texts differently and provisionally as dense and often contradictory semantic structures. If the construction of Africa is discursive, it has also been inherently dialogic. Writers who set out to publicise their views about Africa normally did so not merely to repeat what everyone before them had said, but to offer what they took to be new, corrective and even dissenting material. That with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that often they produced no more than a litany of conformity does not mean that they intended to chant in unison. The mere fact that many authors wrote as if they expected dissent, as if they were aware that they were entering a highly contested field regarding the continent and its people, must at least be grounds for caution and revison in the modern reader. ‘The attempt to describe another culture is never simply an act of appropriation, nor are images of the other merely versions of the self-image of the observer’, suggests Rod Edmond (1997, 21). The texts of such encounters, riven by anxiety and contradiction, are not monologic but contestational. In the discourse of race, a field notably marked by essentialist claims, it is particularly important to observe such caveats. In his seminal examination of the deep contradictions that persist in our discourses of race – ‘Western

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society seems to be repelled by the consequences of racial thinking yet forced to accept its importance’ (1996, 2) – Kenan Malik concludes that the only viable way of resolving the dilemmas of ‘inequality as a practical reality’ is an ongoing dialectic, Bakhtinian in essence: ‘The dialectical approach to humanity sees the universal and the particular in a state of constant tension and dialogue’ (267). Furthermore, hard as it may be, we can choose: ‘Human beings [are] conscious active subjects constantly making and remaking the world around them’ (268). Nor are such insights new. In 1670, summing up the African section of his English rendering of D’Abbeville Sanson’s Geographical Description of the Four Parts of the World (1656), Richard Blome clearly saw just such diversity in Africa: If we would have believed certain authors among the ancients, this Africa had been represented to us with unsupportable heats, unsufferable droughts, fierce and cruel beasts, perfidious men, horrible and affrightful monsters; whereas time, which daily discovers things unknown to the ancients, hath made us see that the greatest heats of Africa hath some refreshments; that the driest sands have some wells, some waters; that the vastest solitudes have some green fields, some fruits; that the beasts are not so dangerous but that men may defend themselves from their fury; nor the men so faithless, but that they have commerce and society among themselves, as also with strangers; [and] that their dragons, serpents, griffons, etc. are for the most part imaginary (82). Like many before and after him, Blome insists that the visitor to Africa should read the continent between the lines and listen to the edges of conversations to understand the many meanings that ‘Africa’ and its people had come to acquire over the ages. Lawrence Cahoone argues that ‘every text is built on some kind of exclusion or repression, hence it belies itself and, when read carefully, undermines its own message’ (1996, 17). As we have seen, in much postcolonialist critical discourse ‘the return of the repressed’ is usually taken to confirm in all such writing the repetitive Eurocolonial record of perfidy and oppression, but Cahoone’s verdict (inspired by postmodernist insights) alerts us to the more exciting possibility that all such texts also contain other stories, stories that may countermand, complicate or even discredit their avowed themes of racial superiority and imperial mastery. As Pierre Macherey has argued, there can be no text ‘which is completely self-conscious, aware of the means of its own realization, aware of 

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what it is doing’ (1966/1978, 27). Arnold Krupat (1992) and E.M. Beekman (1996) have used such insights to show how the colonial archive may be explored to yield readings very different from those of a conventional postcolonialism. In the present study, which attempts to identify the sources of the very earliest European images of Africa in Egyptian, North African, classical Mediterranean and early Christian cultures, such countervailing dynamics will emerge constantly as the discourse of that encounter reveals itself to be unstable and contradictory. It will, for instance, transpire that concepts we may presently regard as typical indicators of prejudices generated by Eurocolonial misconceptions of Africa and as firmly diagnostic of Western racism and imperialism, actually had their origin not in the colonial record but in Africa itself, specifically in Egyptian, Nubian and Mediterranean-African conceptions of the rest of the continent. That the grossly caricatured image of Negroid facial features that we would now associate with the worst phases of European racism was devised not in Mediterranean Europe, but was an Egyptian and, indeed, Nubian creation (see Chapter 8) formulated precisely so as to distinguish the African ‘other’ from the superior world of Nile Valley civilisations, is just one demonstration of the pervasive presence of the dissident subtext in the discourse of Africa. If, as proposed by Bakhtin, all discourse is dialogic and expressive of the fundamental situation that a speaker is persuading a listener, it is also true that all texts tend to be both energised and scarred by anxieties concerning their own rhetorical and appropriative procedures. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is probably the most teasing and spectacular instance of such textual neurasthenia in the library of African encounter, but traces of similar self-subverting or at least doubt-generating procedures may be found in Africanist texts from Herodotus to Hemingway. In these texts, the authorial voice is always in dialogue, promotionally or defensively, addressing a (non-African) audience that may consent or dissent, but is always prone to register responses different from those the author may have intended. We also have to accept that there may be a ‘profound silence between cultures which finally cannot be traversed by understanding’ (Ashcroft et al., 1989, 86). Yet none of this necessarily leads to cognitive paralysis; on the contrary, these inevitable hazards of making and reading texts challenge the imagination and prompt our interpretive skills. In the words of Linda Colley, speaking of a much later period, ‘read scrupulously [such texts] usefully disrupt the notion that there was ever a single, identifiably British, still less “European”, perspective on the non-European world’ (2003, 15). Similar insights prompted Roland Barthes’s seminal formulation of textual polyphony:

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We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture (1966/1977, 170). The verdict on the extent to which users of a particular language are trapped by its terms to the exclusion of other cognitive systems must remain open. In the meantime, practitioners of cross-cultural studies must continue to explore the nature and possibilities of the zones of interaction available to them and suggested by the texts themselves. Some will continue to court logically untenable but politically seductive panaceas, as Dana D. Nelson (1992) does in assuring us that race is ‘a socially constructed idea, a fiction maintained through language, imagery and imagination’, while she nevertheless upholds a cognitive paradigm that discounts the power of the imagination and human discretion, and keeps us trapped in hard-wired racial alterities (cited by Elliot, 1994, 463). Similarly, Gustav Jahoda admits that ‘scant attention is given to minorities who held relatively more positive images of savages, or at least repudiated the extreme negative ones’ (1999, xvi), but then adopts an Occam’s Razor approach in which all cross-cultural records are reduced to starkly binarist chronicles of the absolute Other. Critics now hasten to join in the universal rejection of ‘race’ as an archetypal or essential entity – ‘the concept of race is socially created and thus historically variable’ (West, 1996, 3; see also Gates, 1985 and Sollors, 1989) – but continue to write as if this must not then mean that, over the ages, numerous commentators have been able to elude or oppose the ready simplicities of racism, and that many surprising, ironic and counter-hegemonic instances of cultural encounter will have occurred.

To complicate matters further, the comforting belief that race is merely a social construct is facing uncomfortable new challenges. The startling genetic discoveries that have been made in the last few years regarding the human genome and the distribution of genetically defined ‘families’ around the globe may well have to lead to further revisions of our concepts of ‘race’ and genetic 

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socio-biology. Tom Wolfe has suggested that ‘an uncompromising determinism’, of which our ‘racial’ demographics may be an expression, may well be more firmly ‘genetically hard-wired’ in our ancestry than our political sensitivities are now willing to accept (1997, 6–10). Precisely such ‘genetic hard-wiring’ is being traced by several major research projects currently in progress, notably the National Geographic’s Genographic Project (Wells, 2006). The objective of this and similar investigations (see Sykes, 2001) is to plot such connections among human groups (some formerly defined as ‘races’) as are indicated by genetic mutations in our mitochondrial and chromosomal profiles ‘that occur in a random manner [but] accumulate in a stepwise fashion over time’ (Barkhan and Soodyall, 2006, 139) so as to lay down a retraceable record of our ancestry. These genetic lineages confirm that all living human beings indeed descend from ‘a common female and male ancestor’ (op. cit.) – a genetic Eve and Adam – but have raised other alarms. Marek Kohn, author of The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science (1996), has warned that ‘we are ill-prepared to respond to the complex challenges posed by the racial arguments bobbing up in the unstoppable tide of genetic research’ (2006, 9), while Henry Gee is concerned that the fear of confronting the demographic implications of genetic research ‘has emasculated anthropology’ and ‘has denied physical anthropologists access to human variation’ (1994, 19). Kohn concludes The Race Gallery with a thought provocatively out of tune with contemporary non-racial ecumenicalism: ‘It is true that the only certain race is the human race. Perhaps, however, the time has come to explore how biological variation and social constructions are related…. Denial no longer appears to be an option’ (1996, 285). Included in the undeniable genetic verities that are now emerging is the evidence that while all extant human beings may indeed descend from a single ‘mitochondrial Eve’ who lived about 200 000 years ago, the major migration out of Africa that peopled the rest of the world took place only 60 000 to 80 000 years ago. Before and since that emigration, which stemmed from a fairly confined African source, many other African human groups must have continued to evolve independently, some (such as the Khoisanoid peoples of southern Africa) in deep isolation from the rest of the continent’s peoples (not to mention the world’s), as the ‘text’ contained in human mitochondrial-DNA and Y-chromosome haplogroups is making increasingly clear (Stringer, 2006; Soodyall, 2006; Wells, 2006). Simply put, the majority of Africans cannot have descended from migrations that left Africa between 80 000 and 60 000 years ago, but have to be the progeny

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of various (and very varied) human groups that remained in the continent. Chris Stringer speaks of ‘evidence from genetic data of the maintenance of deep and separate lineages during African human evolution’ (2006, 19). If the confident but unexamined mantra of a liberal academy that ‘race is quite literally no more than skin deep’ (Kidd, 2006, 3) should – in the light of such findings – come under renewed scrutiny, we must expect that the popular mind will once again be confirmed in racial ideologies that seek to exaggerate difference. This is not a comforting prospect. While I return to some of the implications of these revelations in Chapters 2 and 3, the present study cannot hope to resolve the dilemmas glimpsed above. Yet the likelihood of their growing urgency may make my attempt to unpick the beginnings and course of a two-millennia-old discourse of race ever more pertinent. For mine is really a cultural genome project: the tracking of the memetic genealogy of the Western world’s earliest images of Africa and Africans, and of both the tenacity, yet also the great variability, of the resultant icons of race and culture. When I started this project some thirty years ago, postcolonial Africa was celebrating its achievement of independence from Europe; three decades later, Africa still has to free itself from the bonds of Western corporate and global imperialism, as well as the depredations of venal and dictatorial rulers who simply appropriated the resources, mindsets and exploitative structures surrendered by departing colonialists. My study may help to explain why it is taking such a bitterly long time for Africa to recover from its Eurocolonial past.

The work now before the reader concentrates on the images of Africa and Africans that evolved in ancient Egypt, in classical Greece, Rome and the wider Mediterranean world, and in the early Christian era. Large time scales are involved, and one must resist the temptation to see the human relationships, conflicts and demographic dispensations of north-east Africa in ancient times in terms of information and attitudes that have emerged since. In the words of Henry Ansgar Kelly: ‘The bane of all historical writing is the impulse to retro-fit past events with present-day theories – that is, to interpret past events in the 

0

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light of later knowledge’ (2006, 2). I confess, however, that my ‘Ethiopia’ is very much an imagined world, despite also being a real (though peripatetic) place; it is a metaphor or iconic node for a range of perceptions about Africa that were held by different observers at different times over many centuries, but that also steadily confirmed views of Africa held by many current observers. Not only must the earliest Mediterranean and proto-European conceptions of Africa have been mediated primarily through Egypt, but Dynastic Egypt must itself have had both ancient African roots and affinities, yet also evolving perceptions of that African hinterland as ‘different’. The African ancestry and identity of Egypt is nowadays a controversial subject, and in Chapter 1, I survey some of the parameters and implications of a revisionary discourse associated in some minds with Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (1987), concluding that while the Nile Valley ancestors of Dynastic Egyptians were not ‘Negroid’ or ‘Broad African’, they were certainly African. Chapters 2 and 3 attempt to provide more specific answers to the question ‘Who were the Egyptians?’ by surveying the history of Nile Valley occupation since Holocene times, the emergence of Africa’s four major language families, and the proposition that proto-Egyptians must have belonged to one of the great phyla of pre-Bantu-speaking peoples who once populated the eastern parts of Africa from the Red Sea hinterland to the Cape of Good Hope, and of whom the Khoisanoid populations of southern Africa may be regarded as prototypical. Arguing that African rock art from much of the continent is redolent with themes, iconographic styles, belief systems, cultural preoccupations and shamanist inflections that in due course would find their echoes in Egyptian tomb and temple art, Chapter 4 confronts the relevant evidence. Chapter 5 explores the ways in which pre- and proto-Dynastic culture adapted the repertoire of eastern-desert rock art, especially as evidenced in artefacts such as ceremonial palettes, mace-heads and funeral vases, to develop an iconography of distinctiveness from and mastery over the very African world from which it had derived. Chapters 6 and 7 explore vestigial elements of African origin in the cosmology, therianthropic divinities, totemic artefacts and symbolic worldview of Dynastic Egyptians that nevertheless eventually resulted in an Egyptian selfimage construed in terms that discriminated sharply against other Africans. A major African encounter that preoccupied Dynastic Egypt over some two-and-a-half millennia was that with the successive civilisations of Nubia, from Kerma on the Third Cataract to Meroë between the Fifth and Sixth. Chapter 8 considers the identity, image, cultural status and legacy of these ‘First Ethiopians’ in the Egyptian and then the early classical symbolic world. Here

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1

I argue that by the late pre-Christian centuries, the ruling elites of both Egypt and Meroitic Nubia had adopted a highly discriminatory repertoire of images of ‘other Ethiopians’ (non-Egyptian and non-Nubian Africans, in other words) that would result in stereotypically derogatory depictions of Africans in the Mediterranean world. Chapters 9 and 10 examine the evidence for such claims in Greek, Ptolemaic and Roman literature and art, from Herodotus to Heliodorus, developing Homer’s conceit that there were two kinds of ‘Ethiopian’, an eastern and a western. Chapter 11 pursues these investigations into the early Christian era, exploring how the contestational development of the early church along the northern littoral of the Sahara from Alexandria to Carthage generated, both doctrinally and socio-politically, a Mediterranean Christian conception of sublittoral Africa as primarily savage and diabolical. Yet throughout these later centuries there survived some conception of a ‘worthy’ or near-paradisal Ethiopia somewhere deep in Africa and near the headwaters of the Nile, identified variously with Meroitic Nubia, and later, with Christian Aksum in what would become Abyssinia. Strong rumours and some contact maintained the requisite power and enigmatic symbolism to challenge repeatedly the growing derogatory image of Africa and Africans that a Mediterranean-orientated discourse increasingly encouraged. Chapter 12 briefly reviews the early history, and the iconic status in Mediterranean minds, of Aksumite or Abyssinian Ethiopa. Throughout these chapters, I try to show that images of Africa and Africans have not always been cultural absolutes, prejudices without foundation, but were dialectically established, negotiated and interrogated along lines suggested by the trope of ‘two Ethiopias’: ‘worthy’ and ‘noble’ or ‘other’ and ‘savage’, with many surprises in between. 

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