This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Kenneth W. Harrow
he nation-state in Africa today is in crisis. Misrule and corruption have danced across the land, provoking widespread skepticism towards the mechanisms of government and a sense of resignation over the inevitable indifference of the wealthy and powerful to the enormous social problems at hand. Globalization and AIDS have spread their pandemic effects; war and anomy have gained the terrain, so that walking downtown or driving at night have become risky undertakings in many areas; one has merely to mention the words southern Sudan or eastern Congo to elicit a shrug of despair. Where is the place of literature in this portrait, when it was the printed work, according to Benedict Anderson, that accounted for the creation of the national consciousness? And where does literature intersect with the nation when the idea of the nation-state in Africa is often, mistakenly, regarded as a maladroit consequence of colonialism, better discarded than reformed? The purely geometrical borders established through the negotiations among European participants in the Berlin Conference had nothing to do with actual ethnic boundaries—so the commonplace goes—thus resulting in the division of “natural” states. Former kingdoms or empires were conquered and incorporated into colonial states with no respect for their “natural” borders. Of course, all this is predicated on the notion of a precolonial Africa in which the geographical topography somehow corresponded to a “naturally” distributed group of populations, as if conquest and movements of populations had not affected and shifted people about prior to colonial conquest—as if no one had previously occupied the land settled through the movements of the Bantu migrations; as if the mfecane had not redistributed the realities of Southern Africa after shaking them up like a tornado; as if the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century jihads of West Africa were plotted to accommodate fixed ethnic or state lines. In fact, what recent scholarship has taught us is that the San people did not occupy the Kalahari desert, living as hunter-gatherers since time immemorial, but had had to abandon lands and herds in the face of greater force, and to survive moved onto lands where only hunting-gathering was possible. Cultural contacts, conquest, influences though borrowing, imitating, and expropriating marked peoples everywhere in Africa. Cultural isolation or frozen ethnic boundaries never existed. Where did the nation come into existence in all this? State formation could be traced back to the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali in the first millennium and the start of the second, to take the Sudanic region alone. In all the territories where the terrain was favorable to settlement, trade, and population growth, states both large and small developed. By the time Bakongo rulers met Portuguese emissaries in the Vol. 32, No. 3, Fall 2001
or abusively exploit the African subjects living under his jurisdiction. however authoritarian. who successfully challenges and stymies the colonial officers who opposed him. colonial powers salvaged a widespread and timehonored practice. the conquest states did not exhaust the experience in state formation. only to generalize them. and the other was through internal differentiation. European incursions and conquest were deferred till the late nineteenth century in part due to the strength of organized states in proximity to the coastlines. Everywhere from Cape Verde to the Cape of Good Hope. and unreachable as . they were on equal footing. while the possibilities of revolt or resistance were gradually reduced. but freed that power of restraint. producing what he terms decentralized despotism. His thesis is that colonialism generalized a range of “unfreedoms” typified in nineteenth-century conquest states: [P]recolonial Africa comprised neither just pristine stateless communities nor only tyranny-ridden conquest states. colonialism crystallized. The latter and not the former experience is the more fruitful ground for recapitulating custom and tradition. grew to be more distant. formalized. or else cognizant of such entities in the form of neighboring states. External conquest was one route to state formation. Even in the nineteenth century. There was no appeal to abuse. Thus they laid the basis for a decentralized despotism. but also judicial ones. If a subaltern chief. in the meanwhile. (48) Mamdani views the forms of despotism that mark much of the contemporary Africa scene as the inheritance of colonial patterns. or go on strike. of peers or people. installed in power or authorized to rule by a European administration. one of a decentralized exercise of power. colonialism established the principle of rule without opposition. without appeal. as he would be authorized to exercise not only executive functions. Mostly the despotisms of colonialism were stoically endured. How many Wangrins could turn the colonial system of justice against the colonial administration itself? How many more were driven to march. unassailable. were typically governed by rulers or ruling classes whose powers were hedged by other forces in society. Europeans did not export state formation to Africa. and built on the range of unfreedoms unleashed in nineteenth-century conquest states. without limit. only confirms the rule because of the exceptional role he played. there would be little to stop him. We will see that although it abolished formal slavery. or turn to the street. they imposed an administration upon populations already accustomed to being ruled by some state entity. like the market women of Aba in 1929 or the railroad workers of the Dakar-Bamako line? But those great events were also exceptional. were to impose a penalty. for the most part—only revolt or resignation. The state. From African tradition.34 Research in African Literatures fifteenth century. Eventually Europeans had to resort to indirect rule using Africans as their administrators in a system defined by Mahmood Mamdani in Citizen and Subject as local or state despotism. Whereas precolonial societies. The example of Hampaté Bâ’s Wangrin.
an infrastructure of roads or water. it must feel as if mere anarchy has descended on the world. One could add to the above nations. is one of individual rulers. survivors. Aside from the immediate Congolese forces and their local allies in East Congo. The fantastical history Ouologuem gives us. the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie. of any real state. like griots’ renditions of the Songhai Epic of Askia Mohammad. along with a third opposition group. into a Rwandan supported faction and a Ugandan supported faction. they are now split into an opposition whose movements repeatedly asserts their intention to reunite while fighting battles over the terrain. after having hunted down Mayi-Mayi fighters in 1998. as has the armed opposition. having initially joined in the battles for and against the Kabila government. one that is now functioning precisely in the absence of the nation. During his reign Laurent Kabila named Mayi-Mayi leaders as officers in his army. previously engaged by Kabila. no one could say that such a term has any meaning for a vast region of the DRC today. To the local people. not so much over the establishment of the Kabila regime in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. and now (at the time of this writing in September of 2000) opposing the Banyamulengi and their Rwandan allies. . forces from the Sudan. stolen the resources. Burundian forces allied with the Rwandan. None of this can begin to convey the destructive effects the competing military units have had on the local people in eastern Congo: each side has abused the women. are known for their fierce opposition to foreign troops in the eastern Congo. have withered away. and subsequently in opposing Kabila’s government. or even a system of taxation and central rule. and have repeatedly changed their positions. or administrators. If one could have pretended to call Zaire a nation-state under Mobutu. and Zimbabwean troops engaged in a struggle. And although Rwanda and Uganda joined forces in toppling Mobutu. but over the diamond and mineral wealth. there are Rwandan. whose allegiances might shift rapidly. and. The Mayi-Mayi of North Kivu province have a reputation for believing in magical protective substances. the killings in Sierra Leone or eastern Congo are the work of a multitude of mixed forces competing for power and control over resources. the genocide in Rwanda. like a postal service. rulers.Kenneth W. thousands of people having fled to the forests where the death rate has rapidly risen. and made the towns and villages battlegrounds for their differences. imposed a rule of terror and arbitrary force. they include heavily armed irregular forces. Ugandan. They have been divided. just refugees. On the other hand. There are no citizens or subjects. often augmented by child-soldiers. and the dead. the Mouvement pour la libération du Congo. Harrow 35 its bureaucratic institutions replaced the individual faces of the original conquerors. It is that life has been reduced to a construct struggle against marauding forces whose arrogance of power without check—Rwandan soldiers are reportedly known to have spit into the mouths of Congolese women so as to demonstrate their scorn for them by exposing them to the risk of AIDS—has given despotism a new and more terrifying face. with hundreds of thousands of lives lost. It is not simply that the attributes of statal instruments. to a lesser extent.
that the state turned battlefield will once again come under peaceful governance. and though it would seem inevitable that it will return. yesterday’s dystopia. La petite vendeuse de Soleil (1999). or to the economic situation in Botswana with its successful management of its resources. One could have just as well begun with the portrait of Ghana or Tanzania whose universities would seem to have turned a corner and might soon contemplate the possibility of reversing the brain drain that has destroyed so much of the higher education system in places like Nigeria or Senegal. central rule is marked by the abuse of a power that cannot be checked. if necessarily encountered. Mobutu. And even amidst the current nightmare of eastern Congo. Endurance. is viewed as temporary. and something to cheer for. captures the spirit of Labou Tansi’s refusal to submit: a little girl with crutches embodies it. means the return of the modern state. the palm-wine gourd in one hand. as well as with its idea of the past.36 Research in African Literatures The center has not held. or at best avoided. that the “warlords” of Somalia will have to bow to the inevitable return of presidential rule. Malawi. as do the artist. any more than could cancer terminate the brilliant screen work of Djibril Diop Mambety. Cameroon. Burkina Faso. there is the state-to-be. The state becomes little more than the dominion of the wealthy and powerful who are never to be confronted. And normalcy. Of course this is not the whole picture of the state. The great corpus of Sony Labou Tansi’s work is marked by a powerful. life struggling towards a return to normalcy after the years of anomy. The hardships of Africa’s current crisis provide a terrain in which new images of courage. it also seems inevitable to the people of Kenya. and elsewhere that even in the absence of armed conflict. It is with that goal in mind that much contemporary African literature sets its sights. Ben Okri’s starts are visible because of the new curfew. the election of the opposition candidate Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal. the struggle of villes mortes is to move towards a state of permanence whose most enduring trait is felt to be its inevitability. to be importuned. as the Somalians have demonstrated with their welcome of the newly designated president. in short. There is endurance. even in the lines of chaos. is interpellated by it continually in the media and in its encounter with the Other. For Ouologuem nothing came after the Saifs. and. the midget. But after Abacha. His last testament. Nigeria. one that can equip its citizens with a passport and a football team— something to belong to. cities like Bukavu and Kisangani continue to provide shelter and sustenance for a population that has not altogether abandoned it. and especially admirable humane values can emerge. undaunted spirit of the refusal to yield. the marginal and impoverished in his earlier films. For Soyinka this face of violent force is that of Ogun. One could point to the upturn of Mozambique. making much of the widespread global culture appear trivial in comparison. the iron blade in the other. Even death by AIDS did not seem capable of silencing his voice. and Africa lies continually within the ideology of that state-to-be. or Kabila. . extraordinary strength. There is the story that Djibril Diop would periodically take his crew and go out to the streets of Dakar to share the pavement with the homeless for the night.
and in Achebe’s subsequent essays. Bengali appropriation of the literature. and historically significant project: to fashion a “modern” national culture that is nevertheless not Western. is kept out of the “inner” domain of national culture. can clearly be seen to have its African counterparts. Just so did the early novels of Tutuola and the chapbooks of market literature signal the refusal to copy mechanically the imported standard of the King’s English. for instance. for its own purposes. At least in the case of Things Fall Apart (1958). In fact. through which the new language. a distinction was made between the critical discourse imported from the English and the creative use of language: “In the case of the new literary genres and aesthetic conventions. The dynamics of this historical project is completely missed in conventional histories in which the story of nationalism begins with the contest for political power. We cannot begin to understand any formulations of African differences as formulated directly by Chatterjee. The burden of this special issue is to chronicle that insistence upon difference even within the frame of a political structure thought to have derived its “modern” character from the former European colonizers. modern and standardized. The problem with his formulation lies in its binary division of soul and matter. the nation is already sovereign. Partha Chatterjee suggests that the nation-state can be separated into its outer material form and its inner spiritual substance. that while the colonial despotism and its degenerate heirs can continue to mutilate the bodily incarnations of the people. then this is where it is brought into being. in other words. The Bengali sense of protectiveness towards their newly formed language (“The bilingual intelligentsia came to think of its own language as belonging to that inner domain of cultural identity. a purely Cartesian division . its true and essential domain. here nationalism launches its most powerful. In this. but it is not as though this so-called spiritual domain is left unchanged. Harrow 37 How are we to reconcile this carnivalesque celebration of these creative spirits with the carnivoresque rampage of the Sierra Leonean amputators and of the corruptors of children who turn them into mercenary. is given shape” (7). creative. according to Chatterjee. especially in literature and film. we can find a close parallel to the situation in the Bengal where.Kenneth W. even when the state is in the hands of the colonial power. it was also widely believed that European conventions were inappropriate and misleading in judging literary productions in modern Bengali” (7). whereas European influences undoubtedly shaped explicit critical discourse. from which the colonial intruder had to be kept out” ) translated into a newly minted and printed language of literacy. (6) Chatterjee goes on to demonstrate how the “print-capitalism” that Britain exported to India was created “outside the purview of the state and the European missionaries. In brief. heartless killers. the language and culture of the noncolonized spirit will continue to be manifest in the people: The colonial state. while the oral culture continued to serve as a bedrock for traditional Bengali culture. If the nation is an imagined community. and even the European novel.
struggle. and especially for African literature in European languages. This is Glissant’s best insight in his treatise on “antillanité”: “I define national literature as the urge for each group to assert itself: that is. and against dictatorial rule. The function of such a literature. victories. the need not to disappear from the world scene and on the contrary to share in its diversification” (99). It is not simply multiple and diffuse. what is formal.38 Research in African Literatures leaving us with all the problems of such a metaphysics. Thus the problematics of nationalism and African literature will be diversely posed. in the past. absolute love. aggressiveness. Thus. Where does soul begin and matter end. in fact. and the Republic of South Africa. what European matter? The denial of creolization in African literature is tantamount to the denial of the shape of the African state. in the drier climate. but bears the characteristics of its landscape.” Glissant provides the tagline for this body of postcolonial literatures: “This is what I call our irruption into modernity” (100). unitary concept of nation cannot be meaningfully applied. for Glissant. “they must include all at once. water. contours of the landscape. We will see its emergence in the . The Democratic Republic of the Congo. so too do we see a similar model for much of Africa. a birth of form through consciousness and its struggles: “We say that a national literature emerges when a community whose collective existence is called into question tries to put together the reasons for its existence” (104). and the consciousnesses that express the struggles also are giving birth to national identities in all their diversity. Mangrove literature. baobab literature. especially when bringing under its umbrella such diverse entities as Somalia. but not infinite in their patience: Shell has its pipelines to lay through the swamp and in the plateaux that lie between Chad and the Cameroonian coast. its scars. The Gambia. its beliefs. Rather what is needed is the more flexible model of what Milan Kundera evokes for the Caribbean in defining “median contexts” for states that occupy a “middle course between a nation and the world” (57). belonging. but an act of willful entelechy. at times with biting humor. that modernity is not an inheritance. is demythification or demystification—a function we have seen repeatedly enacted in the struggle against colonialism. with love. in this period of “les soleils des independences. with anguish. In the fragility that marks the stages of Africa’s recent historical changes. the formative gesture towards nationhood: “It also has a hallowed purpose of reuniting the community around its myths. distrust of self. That homeland is struggling along many axes. The mangrove and baobab are large. Similarly. nor a creation. and confrontations. Or. air. its imagination or its ideology” (100). lucidity. its people and their times. but above ground. whose rush to consciousness cannot afford to wait for the long-term and gentle elaboration of class-consciousness. Where is the stability of the concept of statehood or nationhood. groping for light. in quest for its homeland. what substance? What African soul. not only deep and solid. in Africa we have a literature whose cultural roots are multiple and diffuse. It is a literature in a hurry.” The second function refers to the burgeoning of a people’s consciousness. one in which a simple. As Edouard Glissant defines such a literature for Martinique. emptiness of the cities.
it is being reformulated under the aegis of the dominant national political party. At times.” and. especially in their abilities to destroy. states that dominate their regions and provide the motor for political and economic development. and the formal national state. just as the issue of patriarchy remains for women an essential aspect to the development of new national identity. Buchi Emecheta. B. as in Somalia. Le Guide Providentiel. These constituents of the “imagined” community complicate the unified notion of nationhood. citing such Congolese authors as Henri Lopes or Sony Labou Tansi. and have been manipulated to serve immediate political ends. African literary narratives are at the same crossroads as the nations themselves. just as others have done. Ama Ata Aidoo. . Africa as a continent has had to grapple with the question of how to manage its “colonial borders. and especially in the aftermath of the Biafran war. “the unifying entity of the nation does not essentially preclude differences. with leaders whom Emmanuel Yewah refers to variously as Tonton. In South Africa. after the farces of the bantustans. The space for “Nation” is sketched by the ethnic group. Shifting boundaries. these differences may become acute. the national culture. and that mark. Both are large. one immediately encounters the heterogeneity of their populations. through analyses that are both personal and conscious of the community’s voice. Joseph sees the concept of nation developing—not despite its differences. by extension. and Messie-Koï. contested ideas of the nation. with race. in both countries long-standing conflict. but because of them. so too do concerns over patriarchal governments remain. most interminable seeming and intractable in South Africa. she claims. ethnic group. the African National Congress. composite political figures” who are larger than life. Indeed.” Within the matrix of Nigerian history. For Yewah. Tuboum. the national state collapses. modular forms when viewed in Western terms.Kenneth W. Harrow 39 essays that form this issue. via negritude. the nation of the Kikuyu or Ibo. However. When the question of nationalism is posed in the study of their literatures. It is the notion of impermeability between the putative borderlines that she is challenging: for Africa. the nation of the religious community. demarcated by questionable boundaries and marked by the political structures with dictators more interested in self-aggrandizement than concerns for their subjects—“grotesque. and fragility of the national identity lead the reader back to the people who provide the basis of the culture. or the diaspora represent. in matter and form the ways in which the larger question of the nation returns. as it has also done for most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. its ethnic differences. Various and conflicting claims to nation-state. the umma. powerful. she shows how Marlene Nourbese Philip. most violent in Nigerian. it is precisely in these paradoxes and “fluid cultural demarcations” that Clara A. The political strikes deeply into the personal. the body of believers. Similarly. relatively wealthy states. and others have reached across ethnic or diasporic lines of difference to form a new nation-concept associated with Africa itself. ubuesque. Most of the essays included in this issue focus on Nigeria and South Africa.
for its most famous author. if not for his style of writing.” seems most apropos. Marissa Moorman has undertaken a study of the relationship between cinema and nation through a postcolonial optic. She traces the formation of Angola’s flourishing and politically . However. and the movie theaters. Things Fall Apart (1958).” Should not Katsina’s work bear the same imprimatur as being quintessentially Nigerian. and Hausa. beyond the particularities of the novel’s postmodernist positioning. Somalia’s borders do not correspond with the lines on the “maps. For Francis Ngaboh-Smart. in a permanent state of transition?” Here the debate between Ngugi and Achebe over the necessity to write in an African language so as to remain faithful to the culture of the people has proven to be an essential one. Farah’s name would appear first on a list of African postmodernists. “probably to avoid what Appiah would call the ‘alternate genealogizing’ that Western ‘modern theories of the nation in the Herderian conception of the Sprachgeist’ forced on the colonized. at least for his sensibilities. and not merely regional authors. not an Igbo novel written in English? Anderson goes on to compare A Man of the People (1966) with Sulaiman Katsina’s Turmin Danya (1982) in order to test the rule about “taking the whole nation for its province. the larger reach of the author provides an understanding of the disaster faced by the protagonists in African terms. Igbo. politics. if one judges its qualities on the same basis as Achebe’s works? Sullivan concludes that “only the combined literatures of Nigeria’s disparate citizens. Achebe’s choice to express himself in English can be seen in contrast with the decision of many authors who write in Yoruba.” Though Maps (1986) may be shown to be grounded in Somali culture. Farah refuses to privilege either nation or ethnicity. Nuruddin Farah. Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community” poses problems for a multiethnic state like Nigeria where Homi Bhabha’s notion of the nation as an ambivalent metaphor. As Joseph argues above. and beliefs. “Can Nigeria have a national literature if the nation itself remains in limbo. Sullivan asks. This leads her to the inevitable question concerning national literature.”. are now all closed (at the time of this writing in late 2000). can ultimately reflect the national character. The question turns on Achebe’s assertion that “a national literature is one which takes the whole nation for its province. NgabohSmart argues that the structures of the past cannot sustain a narrow nationalist strategy.” By that standard. taken as a whole.40 Research in African Literatures For Joanna Sullivan. race. or class— than can be represented. No film has been produced in Angola for the past thirteen years. is the “paradigmatic” Nigerian novel. Another nation in crisis has been Angola where the destruction of its infrastructure and economy has resulted in the interruption of a significant cinema industry. and yet view themselves as Nigerian. which used to be filled. “more hybrid in the articulation of cultural differences and identification—gender. that the novel’s subtext subverts the authenticity of nationalist rhetoric.” Somalia has often been cited as the best African example of a nationstate where the common use of one language corresponds to the ethnic and linguistic identity of its people. long an expatriate critic of its leadership and its phallocratic patriarchy. and not just Hausa.
the term nation is almost instinctively problematized given the differences that are so marked. inhabited by the war’s displaced. cinema seems to be the most direct means for the encoding and transmission of nationalist ideologies. Senegal with Sembène Ousmane’s Guelwaar. In another. and the Henriques brothers created an important body of works in the late 1970s and early 1980s. is such a country. The last region of interest to our contributors is South Africa. with separate “nations” justifying a policy of separateness. constituting the reference points and experiences of the filmmakers’ societies.” since they lack a fundamental identity. Jochen Petzold cites Robert Thornton who claims that “most African countries today are countries. was Sambizanga (1972). are ironic symbols of the contemporary state of the nation in Angola. as well as to those outside the struggle. and a protracted revolutionary struggle produced a vibrant cultural ambiance for the reception of indigenous cinematic productions. Cinema journals. and an unnamed Sahelian country with the Burkinabe Pierre Yameogo’s Silmandé Tourbillon. ” a mark signaling the crisis “at the hyphen between nation and state. In response. Ultimately Moorman concludes that film. or ethnic groups. Cultural nationalism.” in the words of Arjun Appadurai.Kenneth W. broader approach to the question of nationalism and cinema. frames the discourse of nation. and that especially in the case of Lusophonic African film. Ole. Burundi with Leonce Ngabo’s L’ingrat. Her first-hand account of the present moment is chilling: “Luanda’s dilapidated cinemas. one oriented towards local audiences in terms of language and theme. Nigeria with Saddiq Balewa’s Kasarmu Ce. in cinema no less than in literature. A hybrid classic of African cinema. cine-clubs. As we have seen with Nigeria. Akudinobi demonstrates how the question of nationalism emerges in the perspectives brought to bear on the issues dramatized in the films. not nations. like literature. Harrow 41 committed cinema from the 1950s on. and its overlap with political identities. Petzold analyzes Robert Kirby’s The Secret Letters of Jan van Riebeeck (1992) so as to determine the relationship between that “Rainbow Nation” and the figure who stands as a “founding father and bringer of Christian light. Indeed. and the parameters of culture within the nation. produced early in the years of the struggle.” according to Kirby’s . In each case. Akudinobi considers the borders of the political critique on nation. the new South Africa has coined the term “Rainbow Nation” to mark its new aspiration for a positive statehood. Others who have followed produced films that follow Shohat and Stam’s model for postcolonial cinema. states. for Thornton. a work whose relationship to the construction of the national imaginary Moorman finds “complex”—complex in its representation of the struggle to Angolans. The attempts of the Nationalist Party to impose a Bantustan definition of statehood accentuated this tendency. avid in their attendance of movie theaters. “the relationship between film and the nation” is a distinctive feature due to the particularities of Angola’s historical and political conditions. Akudinobi considers films from four difference regions of Africa. Jude G. is instrumental in the formation and expression of a national consciousness. as elsewhere in Africa. Urban audiences were. South Africa. Duarte de Carvalho.
For Pordzik.’” Rita Barnard cites Ernest Renan’s definition of the essence of a nation. and this provides Barnard with the link to the poetry of Jeremy Cronin whose project she describes as a “mediation between prison and the imagined totality of national territory. The most familiar novel of this sort of utopian fictionalizing of the end of apartheid is Gordimer’s July’s People (1981).” It is possible to see in Wilson’s notions of cross-cultural exchange a critique of not only South African utopian fiction. in which he cites a poem dealing with the Sharpeville massacre.” Barnard’s patient and sensitive readings expose Cronin’s performative strategies in which freedom is fabricated. but more generally African fiction. Barnard goes on to show how commonality and forgetting are inextricably linked in a country in which an examination of the past has become central to the act of moving forward as a nation. material form in ways that suggest how language can expressively transcend cultural frames. and the intuitions of the self that can reach to an “half-eclipsed otherness. These constructions of a literary nature will touch on those that enable national constructions to emerge as well.” enabling one to build “arcs or bridges of history. He concludes that the challenge facing the nationbuilding process in South African will be “to replace the old heroes with new ones that can anchor a common history that will not divide but truly unite South Africans into the ‘Rainbow Nation.” again in consideration of the situation in South Africa. Mandela’s political speech recalled his time in prison. This capacity moves us between the received conventions and prejudices of the past.” Pordzik also examines Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K (1983) and Nichol’s This Day and Age (1992). like significance. Nationhood and the language of resistance take on new. situating himself between Orwell’s discouraging assessment of the possibilities of political action against totalitarianism and Wilson Harris’s more optimistic assessment of the “cross-cultural capacity” of fiction. Barnard formulates this notion by demonstrating how Cronin “combines a nationalist impulse with a Brechtian ethics of production. Ralph Pordzik undertakes a study of South African utopian and dystopian fiction written between 1972 and 1992. The poetic project remains. coming to the a conclusion that harmonizes with the other essays in this issue. Beginning with an exploration of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech. “that all individuals must have a lot in common and also that they must all have forgotten a great deal. using the material resources of our bodies and breath.42 Research in African Literatures satirical account. this will permit him to problematize what he calls the “ontological imperative of western utopian discourse” so that new constructions of reality might emerge. namely that the twentieth century has . indeed of national production. but of the genre that spoke most to that ideology. she claims. unfinished. the African farm novel.” She concludes with the question of whether there is a place for a poetics of national pilgrimage. replacing “the concrete promise of a utopian alternative with a sense of the openness of the future. Karel Schoeman’s Promised Land (1987) provides Pordzik with the paradigmatic text in which to focus upon the ironic overturning of not only the end of apartheid.whereas her later A Sport of Nature (1987) reverses that strategy.
in Nigeria. In Ralph’s moving account of her experience accompanying a group of graduate students. The stories they recount in the course of the tour. in this instance. according to Pordzik. for Ralph. but the concepts of the nation and society themselves. “to include an almost unlimited number of discourses and overlappings of incompatible cultures and temporalities. what has to be forgotten is as significant as what is remembered. is to “de/-reconstruct received notions of national and cultural identity. a group of former antiapartheid activists who now have undertaken to lead visitors through the sites in which the battles against apartheid were fought on the Cape Flats.” This might be the space for a hyphen to reach across the deconstructive analyses of postmodernism to the political contextualizing of postcolonialism. It is there. but of silences that bespeak necessary erasures: “In the passage from the personal to the collective. the ‘nation’ where the memory and history of the individual are constructed as the collective memory and public history of a nation. it is altogether appropriate that the contemporary literary discourse in South Africa should blend with political discourse and narrative as well. and the sacrifice of youth. here too the narrative consists not only of memory which speaks. She dramatically evokes a place that has no memorial markers. Heidi Grunebaum-Ralph leads first through an examination of the kinds of narratives that have emerged through the workings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. as Pordzik puts it. so that the literature that is currently produced. However. in the confessional mode. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work becomes a kind of extension of the sites of warfare. Harrow 43 spawned a literature at odds with the national project. as they took the tour. might appear banal in the face of the dramatic struggle of the ANC leadership. who had never been to the townships. at least in terms of the overt project of nation-building. “the individual life story becomes a metonymy for the collective. and shock on which a new beginning must depend. Ralph then proceeds to provide us with her own moving account of a journey with the Western Cape Action Tour Project. in Somalia. here speaking the state into existence. concepts now viewed “in terms of a provisional framework subject to change and transformation rather than as timeless truths.” We are not far from Glissant’s notion of literature served as the expression of the collective conscious. other than the memories and .Kenneth W.” After carefully exploring the theoretical and practical aspects of these newly formed narratives. and the encounters with various individuals involved in the struggle. in South Africa.” This echoes Jameson’s model for “disparate utopias” whose project. betrayal. death.” Given the overlappings of discourses indicated by Pordzik above. could be said to be stretching generic boundaries. what has been problematized is not the relationship between literature and power. a site where. grief. that the reconstituted state seeks to find its foundations for the new nation. As in the case of Nigeria. but they are important and unforgettable moments whose significance for the creation of the new nation cannot be calculated. Ralph’s testimony performs the work we expect to find in the complicated relationship between narration and nation. we encounter the defining moments of testimony.
Kundera. WORKS CITED Appadurai. Modernity at Large. Caribbean Discourse.44 Research in African Literatures accounts of the ordinary people still living in the Flats. matching the spectacular shift from Achebe’s early efforts at historical and social realism to Ben Okri’s latest extrapolations of magical realism. life or death. necessary. Yet none of the other issues can be satisfactorily pursued without accounting for this persistent. Arjun. 1996. Partha. Princeton: Princeton UP. be it of Truth.” A last word. the World Bank. What appears to be most painful. appear to be both immutable facts and dying dinosaurs. or AIDS. like empires of the last century. and perusing the postcolonial literature that bears on the question of nation and literature. “Beau comme une rencontre multiple. Citizen and Subject. Glissant. Nations. 1996.” L’Infini 34 (91): 50-62. Princeton: Princeton UP. Mamdani. seemingly lacking the glitz of globalization. that we seem to be at a crossroads. and finds that their stories “endow the places with memorial significance. Le discours antillais. The imbrications of nationhood in the elaborations of national literatures would seem to be the essential site in which the collective conscious works through its most painful struggles. . 1993. The Nation and Its Fragments. Mahmood. Michael Dash. Trans. in the course of soliciting manuscripts for this issue. and yet it is the one area of postcolonial theorizing that has attracted the least attention of current scholarship. Chatterjee. Mila. inextinguishable fact of the nation—both imagined and imaginary. and extraordinary about our times is the degree to which the political struggle has turned excessive. 1989. I have found. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Reconciliation. both consequence and cause of the African narrative. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P. Edouard.