Review: Postcolonial Criticism in an African(ist) Frame Author(s): Gaurav Desai Reviewed work(s): Literary Theory and African

Literature by Josef Gugler ; Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink ; Jürgen Martin "Return" in Post-Colonial Writing: A Cultural Labyrinth by Vera Mihailovich-Dickman The Ballastic Bard: Postcolonial Fictions by Judie Newman Postcolonial Discourse and Changing Cultural Contexts: Theory and Criticism by Gita R ... Source: Research in African Literatures, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), pp. 211-218 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 01/12/2008 00:03
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y invoking a reading of Postcolonial criticism in an African(ist) frame. 173 pp. Hamburg:BeitragezurAfrikaforschung. Judie Newman. and most particularly of its investment in British literature and culture.Postcolonial Criticism in an African(ist) Frame Gaurav Desai BOOKS DISCUSSED Josef Gugler. 1994. 172 pp Jiirgen Martin. East African. Greenwood. 1995. Amsterdam: Rodopi. I hope to remind ourselves of the efforts of NgugTwa Thiong'o and his allies at the University of Nairobi who. this time with the recognition that the texts in question are critical as opposed to literary and with the added stipulation that their origins are not exclusively metropolitan. 202 pp. African perspective that the authors of the proposal advocated? It is with a similar methodological imperative that I approach the texts that are present. Cross/Cultures12. in "Return" Post-ColonialWriting:A Cultural Labyrinth. Gita Rajan Discourseand ChangingCulturalContexts: Postcolonial Theoryand Criticism. Would the likes of Conrad and Naipaul-both writers whom we love to hate-be a part of this newly configured syllabus? Or would they. 323 pp.eds. Westport: and RadhikaMohanram. In that call for the "Abolition of the English Department. eds. Whatever it was later made out to be by other observers.Vera Mihailovich-Dickman. but rather a critical accounting of the relevance of the institution of literature in the context of the newly independent nation. Indeed. ed. 1994. London: Arnold. Hans-Jirgen Lusebrink and Literary Theory and African Literature. attempted a rethinking of the humanities curriculum. suggested that the postcolonial African university must first establish a counter-curriculum of African languages and literatures and then return to a study of European (not just British) and other world literatures from an African perspective (see Ngigi)." NgugT. The Ballastic Bard: PostcolonialFictions. to use a metaphor now commonplace in cultural studies. What do these texts of modern postcolonial criticism written by those whose interests vary from South Asia to Canada and Sub-Saharan Africa to Australia have to say to those of us who fashion ourselves as African(ists)? How well. in the late sixties. one could argue that herein lay a potential test of canonicity in which a literary work could be measured not by the supposed "test of time" but rather by its spatial traversibility. this was not an uncritical nativism obsessed with a racial or cultural purity. instead.1995. along with Henry OwuorAnyumba and Taban Lo Liyong. do these texts travel?To the writers of the various essays collected in these four books I must say: forgive me for the . have little of relevance to offer to the Kenyan.

I offer the term "African(ist). it is not to erase the historically hierarchical nature of this relationship. not so much as an escape from this ultimately false opposition between the "African"who knows through sheer "experience" and the "bookish""Africanist" who learns by reading. the only response forthcoming from nativists. For in resolutely reading your offerings from within this African(ist) perspective and with a particular bent on "symptomatic" readings. Jeyifo attributes it equally to what he labels "strong nativism" among African(ist) critics themselves. Notice first that the invocation of the term "African(ist)" to designate "us"-the readers and writers of a journal like Research in African Literatures-is bound to annoy those for whom Africa and African is the purer space of which Africanist and Africanism is the corruption. and conversely. or indeed to the necessity of forging this community between the African and the (non-African) Africanist. volunteer work ) had no effect on their scholarly choices? To ask such questions is to find oneself in the company of a number of scholars associated with the colloquium on "Theoretical Approaches to African Literature" held in Bayreuth in June 1990. but rather as a register of this tension which is experienced in our community. however mediated and however problematic they might seem (research trips. even when it tends to be masked by what Biodun Jeyifo would call a "culturalist"appeal to community. not being. safaris. We need to be reminded continually of this systemic inequality. I can only hope that other readings from other spaces will do greater justice to some of these aspects of your texts. suggestsJeyifo. is . then. The papers from the conference collected in the volume Literary Theoryand African Literature include an important piece by Biodun Jeyifo who suggests that "the contemporary understanding of theory not only renders it as an exclusively Western phenomenon of a very specialized activity but also implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) inscribes the view that theory does not exist. I have on occasion had to foreground those points that you would not yourselves have foregrounded. a "misrecognition" of the nature of our activities. and to ignore those points (sometimes entire articles) that did not seem to invite much dialogue from within this context.212 Research in African Literatures necessary violence that such a project entails. cannot exist outside of this High Canonical Western orbit" (18)." then. If I appeal. But to equate a systemic inequality for an epistemological difference on essentialist grounds seems to me. Lest we think that such an understanding is only associated with an ethnocentrism of a dominant West. is either acceptance of such an exclusion or a weak culturalist defense of alterity.Neither. again inJeyifo's terms. argues Jeyifo. For which African among us can truly claim that (s)he was never provoked to a scholarly response by a written treatise or a film on Africa. and it is precisely the need for such foregrounding that recently resulted in the formation of a Black Scholars Caucus at the African Studies Association. how many (non-African) Africanists can truly claim that their "experiential" relationships with Africa. to this common ground. Thus while anthologies of literary theory in the metropoles "contain exclusively Western entries. Western theorists and theoretical movements and schools" (18).

by my account at least. Barber shows instead how the multiple layers of meaning in an oriki poem often invite a reading of them as modes of resistance as well. Barber constructs a theory of the cultural production of Yoruba oriki. is always a shifting "I"and thus "there is no overall design. 26) it seems that it may not be too long before Jeyifo may well find his own theoretical offeringsin anthologies of contemporary theory despite himself-canonized produced in the "Center. A proper theorization of the global flows of theory. While "theories and theorists implicitly carry the seeds of their own transmutations" (23) and thus have the potential to pave the way for a newly relevant moment. it finds an equally worthy companion in Karin Barber's piece on Yoruba oral poetry. With the rise of "postcolonial theory" (a movement that ironically Jeyifo forgets to include in his rather long list of the paradigms of the "Center. their radicalism (the term Jeyifo uses is "decolonization") is nevertheless "too vague" and "too ambiguously positioned" (23) in relation to the central moment of this epoch-decolonization."see p. would pay attention to such mistravels of theory and in so doing unmask the "different trajectories" and "different agendas" (28) that separate metropolitan theories from "decolonized" ones.1 [1990]). one sincerely hopes that a revised version will soon appear perhaps in a collection of the author's essays. oriki statements contain the seeds of their own opposite" (108). For along with his recent pieces on the gendering of Things Fall Apart and the contribution to the special issue on critical theory published by RAL not too long ago (21. The deconstructive moment in Barber's analysis is never actually announced as such and while this leads to a refreshing essay in which one witnesses the careful working out of a theoretical position. Jeyifo seems to suggest. Focusing on the polyvocal and dialogic nature of oriki performances. suggests Barber. Here the move is reversed-moving from the particular to the general. While these are typically read as conservative utterances.Gaurav Desai 213 an appropriate response to this "lopsided and asymmetrical relationship" and he proposes instead a "systemic"critique of center-periphery contradictions based on a model of World Systems theory. IfJeyifo's essay emerges as an important contribution to the political economy of literary theory. it would be a triumphant event indeed. no framework within which the disparate elements are assigned a determinate place. Jeyifo is undoubtedly securing his voice as one to be reckoned with both in the African(ist) academy and in the wider field of postcolonial theory. These features are what keep open the possibility of alternatives. Barber foregrounds the role of such songs in the simultaneous affirmation and critique of the social order. The . While this version of the essay is a little too schematic for a detailed critique (a critique that may well focus on Jeyifo's impatience with "culturalism" and his unquestioned faith in World Systems theory). informed by an ethnographic sensibility as attuned to nuances as a literary one. The "I"of the oriki. by the same token one also witnesses a certain tendency to reinvent the wheel."Were this to happen. no dominant 'authorial voice' in relation to which other voices are calibrated. While affirming 'the way things are'.

If we were to judge by the placement and order of the essays then we might conclude that the original aim was indeed a metacritical one-with Jeyifo's piece following the introduction. we know that many critics including Simon Gikandi and Biodun Jeyifo have decried the undertheorized nature of African literary studies. but rather to indicate that there is often a gap between what a book title such as "Literary Theory and African Literature" promises and what the individual essays offer. Eileen Julien's reciprocal reading of Gide's and is L'Immoraliste Oyono's Houseboy again a very fine reading and indeed but besides being this. Mveng andJ. But if such a move speaks to the conceptual interests of the editors. as a comprehensive tradition with shared characteristics). it is unclear as to what it has to say about the reciprocal exchanges between Literary Theory and African Literatures. and "interpretation" (of a biographical. important claim that European writings too must be read contextually. at times exemplary as in the case of Barber and Julien. "critique" (of a humanistic or ethical kind). which remains one of the strongest contributions to the collection. sociopolitical kind). To be sure. but there seems to be little attempt made to establish any links with these pre-existing discourses. at others not. followed by a piece entitled "Theory and Moral Commitment in the Study of African Literature" by Richard Bjornson (which presents an unfortunately stereotypical misreading of the politics of deconstructive critique). We know from this introduction that Gugler believes that one can appropriately speak of African literature in the singular (that is. we also know that Gugler likes to differentiate between "explanation" ("the effort to enhance the reader's appreciation of the text" (4)). Thus. . we know that there has been a debate over the relation of "theory" to African literature and particularly over the issue of Eurocentric versus Afrocentric theories. what Barber does with these issues in the context of oriki is original and exciting. followed in turn by a strong piece in French by Georges Ngal on the critical work of E. what the objective of the seminar in theory that Gugler andJiirgen Martini co-taught was. But more than this we do not know. The result is an essay that has more to say to scholars interested in oriki as a performance genre than to scholars interested in the paradigmatic forms of African(ist) theory per se. for instance. These metacritical essays are then followed by more specific readings of literary and cultural texts.-P. We do not know. for instance. and besides advancing the pedagogically exemplary. Makouta-Mboukou. To ask such a question is tantamount to asking what it is that the collection sees itself as doing and unfortunately the editorial introduction by Josef Gugler does not adequately provide the answers.214 Research in African Literatures issues of textual ambiguity and authorial intentionality as well as the politics of shifting identities are of course within the terrain of existing literary and cultural theory. nor do we know the rationale behind such a collection as this. it is left to inference and the overwhelming sense at the end of a reading of this book is one of having walked amidst some impressive trees without quite getting a feel for the forest. I raise this not to fault the essay itself.

As an example of a postcolonial literary criticism and an invitation to its pedagogical articulations one would not find fault with Judie Newman's TheBallasticBard:Postcolonial Fictions. It reclaims territory. .' it negotiates turning points and perpetuates reversals. and Wole Soyinka. The "polylogue" that the editor intends has much in common with the genre of the literaryjournal. "challenge patterns of 'conditioned' reading and call for a multilayered polylogue with reality. biographical and otherwise. textual or 'real. the "essays. But such research has always been our strength and is not necessarily a break with our critical past. Vera Mihailovich-Dickman's "Return" Post-Colonial in A Writing: CulturalLabyrinth is a global production both in its subject matter as well as in its cadre of contributors. invokes revenants." And yet others may be drawn to the literary criticism that comprises a fair amount of the volume. make available a significant amount of important material to the larger scholarly community. As someone interested in the trajectory of African(ist) criticism. draws from cultural memory. even though I doubt that there is anything here that is for everyone. but because experience has taught me that reading a critical reading of a text that one isn't currently working on can often prove to be a terribly boring enterprise.Jean D'Costa. a returnto thematic criticism or whether instead we have never really left it behind." Readers intending to pick up a copy of the book should know that the collection reads more like a special issue of a literary journal (such as say KenyonReviewor Massachusetts Review) than like a typical work of literary criticism.When I first received this book with a request for a review. Markham's poem "A Little Bit of Our Past.digs up forgotten history. not because I knew anything about the book or the author. for instance. Edward Kamau Braithwaite. and read in this spirit."' By focusing on writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo. the occasional missing of the beat will not affect the reader's experience of the larger melody. Some may be drawn to the narratives of Tim Baker or Frank Moorehouse's story "The Drover's Wife. Derek Walcott. Read selectively." one wonders whether we are witnessing. Or again. the collection is bound to present a satisfactory reading experience. This is not to be disparaging of the efforts of a good many scholars who. Just as it creates a dialogue with the past. I was hesitant.. The bookjacket announces that the notion of"return" ". when one sees titles such as "'Return' in Australian Fiction" and "Reversaland Return in Fiction by Bessie Head and Ama Ata Aidoo." Those interested in the genre of the literary essay may wish to tackle Wilson Harris's "LivingAbsences and Presences." Poetry enthusiasts may well appreciate E. as Werner Sollors has suggested. Bessie Head. tradition and language in its yearning for 'home. A.stories and poetry in this collection. Salman Rushdie. in the more interpretive mode. Whatever the status of close readings in the academy. quests for roots. few critics (Henry Louis Gates and Sara Suleri come to mind) . I am not really sure that the collection really goes beyond the "conditioned" readings of which it is so critical. Matsemela Manaka. through meticulous research. Patrick White. Es'kia Mphahlele. There is probably something for everyone here." claims the blurb.Gaurav Desai 215 If the Bayreuth collection is interested in African (ist) issues per se.

I thought that they would prove more distracting than engaging. but that it also had the effect of encouraging me to rethink my teaching of postcolonial literatures. This thesis has to do with the Gothic tradition and it is most forcefully articulated in the opening of the chapter on Ruth PrawerJhabvala: "It will not have escaped the reader that. even from very different locations" (69). Furthermore. it seems odd that Newman does not ever notice that the majority of her examples are women (Naipaul and Coetzee are the only male writers studied). in some sense. In this particular case. Such cross-textual attention means that the thematics that one might conventionally ascribe to any given text are always susceptible to slippage. If the price to be paid for this achievement is the tendency in the book to sometimes overstate the case. In particular I was taken by the reader-centered model of reading that Newman proposes in which the traditional chronology of literary history is their postcolonial disrupted and prior texts are read afterrather than before rewritings. Gothic motifs are exceptionally prevalent in postcolonial fiction. with the exception of Buchi Emecheta whose Rape of Shavi can be considered Gothic only by a long stretch of the imagination. we need look no further for a text useful as a tool in our war against reluctant curriculum committees that may express doubts about the "worthiness"of such texts. writes Newman."This.216 Research in African Literatures can really pull off the act with elegant. But that is not to say that such is the case with all the readings. but even highly desirable"(6). I am pleased to say that Newman's work here was not only consistently a pleasure to read. And after all. with this particular novel. I. was personally intrigued by Newman's attempt to read Buchi Emecheta's Rapeof Shaviin the context of the feminist and socialist work of George Bernard Shaw. since the very notions of the aesthetic and the literary (at least in the West) are so heavily invested in issues such as multiplicity of meaneven the ings. Thus. and as a frame for Jane Eyre. for instance." reader most unsympathetic to the literary "value"of postcolonial literatures will have to accept defeat. of course. well-written analyses that speak to even those readers who may not be interested in or intimately familiar with the particular texts. albeit problematically. "a reading of WideSargassoSea first. With Newman's book. a great majority of the women writers presented here are. interesting."and of course the workings of "irony. But while many of the comparisons and allusions that Newman presents were persuasive. coded by their societies as "white. While this by no means is offered as a complete claim for a postcolonial aesthetic. The pedagogical imperative presented here is derived not by some purely whimsical fancy but rather by a carefully worked out and persuasively demonstrated theory of an "achronological and anachronistic" intertextuality. then this is a price we must be willing to pay. is not a "problem" (after all male critics have for long ignored women writers . all the texts considered up to this point have been horror stories of one sort or another. The chapters on Coetzee and Rhys may well make excellent required reading in other undergraduate not only possible. metaphors of "depth. One last thing that remains to be noted more as a curiosity than as a criticism is a secondary thematic and thesis that develops in the book. I ultimately chose notto foreground them for my undergraduate session on the novel this semester.

conversely. Again. If they see in this essay what I see. and nationhood. It is not surprising that this book received the greatest number of marginal notes and comments on my part since every essay in it is provocative. inspiring. . the truth of the matter is that such exchanges are already taking place and there seems no way of stopping them. But while this is an institutional context that we must soon learn to negotiate. African(ist)s will find Marcia Landy's essay on Sembene Ousmane's Le Campde Thiaroye be one of the most nuanced essays on the to filmmaker. Postcolonial Discourseand Changing Cultural Contexts undoubtedly an is collection for African(ist)s even when the specific essays do not important address texts from Africa per se. African (ist) Criticism in an International Frame. And Christopher Wise's essay on Negritude with its vindictive tone towards Christopher Miller and respectful citation of Amiri Baraka is certainly bound to please some and irk others. I think it would be fair to say that the greatest returns I received were from the collection Postcolonial Discourse and edited by Gita Rajan and Changing Cultural Contexts:Theoryand Criticism. While I cannot dojustice here to the entire collection. hybrid identities. The essays and interviews collected here well and I would even go so far as to say that on occasion the sheer "travel" of suggestion offered here exceeds that of collections that are specifpower ically African (ist). Radhika Mohanram's essay on the films of Hanif Kureishi may prove essential reading to those of us who are interested not only in Black British Cultural Studies but also in rethinking the implications of heteronormative sexuality in colonial and postcolonial discourse. The Fanonians among us will gladly add Patrick Taylor's critical reading of Fanon and his implications for Barbadian historiography to the rich critical literature that continues to emerge on this seminal thinker. but also. they will agree that in the conjunction of an African aesthetic and historically Eurocentric theory one need not be reduced to the other.Gaurav Desai 217 or included one or two in their work as tokens). challenging. They also provide a concise map of what is to come in the collection in the individual essays-a genre of writing in its own right and one often difficult to master. I would note that the editors do an excellentjob in their introduction."What effect might such a choice of writers have on an attempt to postulate a theory of the "postcolonial" or indeed of the "postcolonial Gothic"? In writing this review. and often irritating in its own way. Radhika Mohanram. it may also be important to retain our multiple skills of reading not only (International) Postcolonial Criticism in an African(ist) Frame. To say this of course is to invoke a whole range of issues on the propriety of the "postcolonial"as a category and the possibilities and limitations of exchanges within such contexts. but it should have received at least some attention as an "issue. discussing such important postcolonial experiences as exile. Indeed the choice between an area studies focus such as "African" studies or "Asian"studies and a spatiotemporal one such as "postcolonial" studies seems to be becoming an increasingly redundant one. But whatever position one ultimately takes on those issues.

218 Research in AfricanLiteratures WORK CITED Ngiug wa Thiong'o. "On the Abolition of the English Department. 145-50. . Westport: Lawrence Hill. 1973." Homecoming.

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