THE NOVELIST AS HISTORIAN: EXPLORING THE SOCIAL COMMENTARY, ACTIVISM AND POLITICALITY OF POST-COLONIAL AFRICAN LITERATURE

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ABSTRACT

This dissertation focuses on the role of the African writer in the politics and societies of Africa, especially how this role has been reflected in the work of the African writer. Drawing on the premise set by Chinua Achebe’s 1965 essay “The Novelist as Teacher,” this research establishes the African writer as a continuous function, allowing this description to embrace the dynamic hybridity of African writers from the past, present and future generations. It is remarkable how the role and focus of the African writer has evolved through the years. This research aims to show that in redefining the African writer as a function, the reader is now equipped to view the turmoil in African writers and their literary works as representative of the turmoil in Africa’s politics and politics of identity.

CONTENTS

DEDICATION…………………………………………………………………………. Error! Bookmark not defined.

ACKNOWLEDMENTS…………………………………………………………….. Error! Bookmark not defined.

ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 4

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY……………………………………………………………………………………… 7

CHAPTER ONE

LET’S TELL THIS STORY PROPERLY…………………………………………………………………………. 9

CHAPTER TWO

THE AFRICAN WRITER IS………………………………………………………………………………………… 13

CHAPTER THREE

THE AFRICAN WRITER IS A VOICE………………………………………………………………………….. 24

CHAPTER FOUR

THE AFRICAN WRITER IS A HISTORIAN………………………………………………………………….. 35

CHAPTER FIVE

THE AFRICAN WRITER IS A MOVEMENT…………………………………………………………………. 46

CHAPTER SIX

THE STORY IS OUR ESCORT……………………………………………………………………………………… 61

BIBLIOGRAPHY…………………………………………………………………….. Error! Bookmark not defined.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

              Statement of the Problem:

This research attempts to tackle the question of the definition of the African writer by establishing the writer as a function. Rejecting prior definitions which have so far been unable to capture the variabilities of the African writer, the thesis of this research is concerned with a redefinition of the African writer – one which embraces the complexities, abstractions, and futurisms of new generations of African writers while retaining their art as an important tool for intervention and social reformation. Drawing upon the premise of Chinua Achebe’s designation of the African writer as teacher, while that essay has set the precedence for the role of the African writer as a function, this research will establish that the African writer is teacher to the detriment of their art, and is historian as a matter of necessity. In describing the writer as a function, this research will focus on the role of the African writer and the African writer’s art in the politics and societies of Africa. Because this research proposes that the function of the African writer in African societies is directly tied to articulating the varying perceptions of identity, the concept of African identities forms the foundation of eventual evaluations and conclusions.

              Scope of Research:

For accuracy, this research has focused primarily on what the African writer has had to say about their function; examining the reasons for the acceptance or rejection of this role as the case may be. Secondary data has also been drawn from African literary works, for analysis of the underlying philosophies of the works themselves as reflections of the stance of the African writer.

Careful attention was paid to ensure that a cross-section of the literatures examined, adequately represented the varied societies of Africa. For this reason, literary works were drawn from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Kenya, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, and Algeria. There is an abundance of materials from Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o because they, more than any other writer, have devoted time to philosophizing about the role of writing in African societies. Nevertheless, considerable attention was also paid to younger, lesser known writers.

              Method:

This research utilizes the critical approach of New Historicism in evaluating the role of the African writer as a function in post-colonial African literature. To this end, historical analysis has been undertaken to excavate materials from the 1960s to date. Because this research focuses on the African writer in post-colonial African literature, archival data from that period retains its relevance in evaluating the changes that have occurred in the place that the African writer has occupied in African societies, and how these changes are reflections of the political and social changes in African societies themselves.

CHAPTER ONE

LET’S TELL THIS STORY PROPERLY

Through the years, African literature has been characterized by a singular, unifying factor: colonialism. This should not be surprising given that Africa’s history is in itself characterized by colonialism and officially begins only when the West is already in Africa, expunging and exploiting. However, Africa’s history, in the real sense of the word, surpasses its history of slavery and/or colonialism. This research was started in part, as proof that African societies especially as depicted through African literatures, have, and continue to thrive – and by this I really mean survive in some way – outside of their colonial history. Unfortunately, this research also falls into the age-old trap of reminding its readers that Africa is the way it is today; that African literature and by extension its writers, are also shaped by its colonial past. While the ‘blame-game’ might seem tiring, I would like to remind the reader that colonialism did happen, and that Africa for a time, even until now, has been culturally displaced given the erosion of its history. Therefore, to understand African literature as it explicates African societies, and the role that the African writer plays in this regard, is to understand all of the prevailing factors that have led us to where we are now, and what we are. We must in other words, tell this story properly.

If there is anything that is obvious from Africa’s historical timeline, it is that the role of the African writer is continually evolving, adapting to the circumstances of its society. The pre- colonial form of literature in Africa which has drawn the most attention, is oral literature. I belief strongly that anthropological excavations of Africa’s ancient scripts will reveal a new dimension of literature in Africa pre-colonialism. Nevertheless, Africa’s traditions of orature reveal a societies of inherent spirituality and devotion to familial and communal expansion. But the point

that must be proven is this: that the messages of the griot even in those times were always intentional, always political in a way. Orature was always engaged in communal history, always engaged in the initiation of the younger generations into the shared cultures and beliefs of their society, always engaged in teaching. This research attempts to reevaluate the post-colonial, contemporary African writer as a continuation of this function of intentional art.

The first time in modern, post-colonial history that we are asked to think of the African writer as a function, is in 1965. Chinua Achebe’s penned essay “The Novelist as Teacher” will go on to set the precedence for how African novels will be perceived by their Western audiences, and then, how African novels will be written for Africans by newer African writers. Achebe puts to words, the one thing which the writers of his generation were striving to do, and defines it extensively. Most of all, he presents the African writer as something other than a being; a function, and one whose role it was to teach the continent. This essay is the premise upon which this research is based.

In Achebe’s time, to appoint the writer as teacher was to place the African writer as a central figure to Africa’s history and culture, a task that was as daunting even then as we might imagine it to be today. Achebe’s teacher-writer is not merely a teacher, but a radical anthropologist, one who has had to rise up to help the African society regain belief in itself after the years of denigration and self-abasement. But the work of the writer is primarily the writer’s art; therefore, to appoint the African writer as teacher is to commit the writer’s art, and to commit the writer’s art is to perhaps make the literature less enjoyable and potentially less enduring. While there will be literatures such as Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which on the surface discredits this preset, still, the problem with the novelist as teacher, is that the reader must be learner. Furthermore, if we have designated the reader as learner, have we not – to interpret the words of Roland Barthes – “imposed

on that text a stop clause, furnished it with a final signification, closed the writing?” (“The Death of the Author”)