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MELODY ANTHONY ABIA

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  • Name: THE NOVELIST AS HISTORIAN: EXPLORING THE SOCIAL COMMENTARY, ACTIVISM AND POLITICALITY OF POST-COLONIAL AFRICAN LITERATURE
  • Type: PDF and MS Word (DOC)
  • Size: [950 KB]
  • Length: [72] Pages

 

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.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE
LET’S TELL THIS STORY PROPERLY ………………………………………………………………………………….. 9
CHAPTER TWO
THE AFRICAN WRITER IS… ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 13
2.1 On Being: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 13
2.2 On Identity: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 19
CHAPTER THREE
THE AFRICAN WRITER IS A VOICE …………………………………………………………………………………… 24
3.1 Through Language: …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 24
3.2 Through the Language of Contemporary Africa: ………………………………………………………… 30
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CHAPTER FOUR
THE AFRICAN WRITER IS A HISTORIAN …………………………………………………………………………… 35
4.1 To the Past: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 35
4.2 To the Future: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 39
CHAPTER FIVE
THE AFRICAN WRITER IS A MOVEMENT …………………………………………………………………………. 46
5.1 For Self-representation: …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 46
5.2 For the Revolution: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 50
5.3 For Feminism: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 52
5.4 For Justice: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 56
5.5 For a New Africa: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 58
CHAPTER SIX
THE STORY IS OUR ESCORT ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 61

 

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
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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
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on that text a stop clause, furnished it with a final signification, closed the writing?” (“The Death of the Author”)
Achebe’s claim that the African writer exists not for expressive art, but to fulfil a function geared towards building and consolidating the African identity after centuries of Western intrusion, serves only to relegate the place of storytelling. To draw upon Achebe’s own metaphor, the work of art is like a masquerade dancing in the market square. Granted, traditionally, the spectacle serves to summon the spirits who then pronounce judgements or blessings, yet all viewers see what they can and take from the experience whatever they choose. Like the masquerade that attracts crowds with its striking music and all of its exquisite paraphernalia, the weapon of African writers is not their protest or activism; rather, it is their art, their ability to craft and deliver stories.
Can one be defined as a writer simply because one has composed what one thinks is relevant about socio-political issues, simply because one’s supposed great book is built on the basis of a great theme? In order for the art to survive, we must hence redefine the role of the African writer. We must first of all recognize that art is autonomous and politics or sociology must rely on the art for conveyance and relevance, and not the other way round. Michel Foucault says that we must view the author as a function, and that function as transcending the author’s work. So, whatever role we attribute to the African writer must exceed the writer as a being, and institute instead, the writer as a continuing function of the writer who came before and who will come after. We must determine that the sensibilities of writers as members of society and their art forms are conditioned by the happenings of the politics around them. In fact, we must view the African writer as one who speaks about the culture, social structure and politics of the society, including its customs, conflicts, changes and transformations. We must not only view literature as discourse, but examine this discourse in accordance with its modes of existence. We must accept that African
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literature is an adequate and exhaustive representation of the fluctuations and moods of African societies. Ultimately, the relevance of African writers must be located within the writers’ understanding of the interplay of social forces as contained by their reality, and how they harness their art in reaction to these forces. This research, in attributing the African writer as historian, therefore accepts that the African writer is defined not by the writer’s relation to a text of literature, but by the satisfaction of the writer’s socially and culturally defined role in relation to that text. Here, the African writer through their art, is a chronicler of political history, and advocate of radical social change.
Art has always had purpose. Given the attitudes of Africa’s pre-colonial orature, art is social, it is political, and it is economic. Art is, and should always be, a reflection of the sum of living. Therefore, the African writer is historian not at the detriment of the writer’s art, but because it is only the writer who can temper Africa’s societies with words. For Achebe, it is not what the writer expects from society, but what society expects from the writer and it is this mindfulness that makes the writer conscious of the need to use art in shifting the frames of reference for society. It is important to think of the African writer as historian because in many ways, in depicting and preserving Africa’s precarious history, it is only the African writer who has then been equipped to predict its future.

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