“Authentic Africa” and Writing a New Way

Here are my two indicative abstracts for this week.  To be honest, I wasn’t aware that there were even different types of abstracts.  It seems that the informative abstract is reserved for “strictly-structured documents” as the link explains, not at all like the material we’ve covered.

Mala Pandurang-isn’t this a wonderfully fun name to say?-Ma-la-Pan-du-rang.  Ah.  Her essay speaks to the ways in which the African novel has reclaimed or “recovered” the African identity for many, especially those with direct ties to the colonial experience or confrontation.  I was interested in reading this piece because I’m drawn to this idea of the authentic experience, which I’ve debated with a professor or two.  Here’s the deal:  as people, we can translate our experiences into words, dramatic performances, or other art forms, but this does not mean (and can never mean) that the listener or spectator “gets it” or is authentically aligned with you, the subject of the experience (usually one of marginalization, abuse, etc.).  Jordan explained this very well in his post about his subject positioning as a male reading Woman at Point Zero.

Pandurang, Mala.  “Chinua Achebe and the ‘African Experience’:  A Socio-Literary Perspective.”  Things Fall Apart.  Ed. Francis Abiola Irele.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.  343-358.  Print.

The focus of Pandurang’s text is the work of Chinua Achebe, and how it has contributed to a shift in the manner in which postcolonial literature is approached.  As a college student, Achebe read Joyce Cary’s novel Mister Johnson, and felt a great injustice was done by Cary’s “racist-colonialist representation of Africa, and the African.”  Here, Pandurang attributes this experience as inciting Achebe’s writing of Things Fall Apart.  While Achebe is not credited as the first African author to publish in the English language, his works act as records of growth not only for this genre of literature but also for Africa itself.  Achebe argues that Nigeria lacks administration due to a breach between the “post-colonial political elite” and the common people.  Pandurang concludes by asserting that a number of postcolonial writers are victimized for their candid analyses of “authoritarian governments,” and that Achebe is no exception.

I chose this next essay because of this word “invention.”  We don’t really think about literature as something which was invented, right?  Also, we’re always told, “write what you know,” which seems natural enough.  I’ve never read Mister Johnson, and I’ve only just heard of the writer Joyce Cary.  Here’s what I do know:  Mister Johnson is a novel about a young African man written by a white dude.  Yeah, this doesn’t sit well with me.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Gikandi, Simon.  “Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Literature.”  Things Fall Apart.  Ed. Francis Abiola Irele.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 297-303.  Print.

Gikandi also begins by mentioning Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson, which Achebe claimed offered a “superficial picture” of Africa.  When Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in response to this, publishers were concerned about a readership for African literature.  Gikandi argues that Achebe’s success is due to his novel’s echoing the fears and apprehensions of the Nigerian people.  Gikandi also makes the case that Achebe differentiates himself from other African writers in that he is more interested in highlighting Okonkwo’s redeeming, humanistic qualities, rather than glorifying a postcolonial history with smoke and mirrors.  Types of literary awareness are also examined; Achebe’s familial reading was bound up in tradition and respect while the academic canon allowed him to identify as the adventurous white man.  Gikandi concludes by urging us to connect Achebe’s initial impressions of the racism rampant throughout many colonial texts and the very act of becoming a writer, and thus painting a more “authentic” portrait of Africa. 

A young Achebe from 1960.


Have a fantastical week, everyone!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sean Weaver says:

    I also chose Gikanfi’s article. How do you feel about Achebe’s own colonial history? I found this tidbit quite interesting!

  2. lotusgurl says:

    In reference to his exposure and response to the inauthentic portrayal of the African experience? Mmm, I feel like that’s not what you’re referencing.

    That particular tidbit, I feel, was useful (and almost comforting in a way) because it seems that many of us approach our own specific areas of discipline with frustration and even rage (because there is, after all, so much injustice everywhere we look).

    Achebe was pissed enough to write a book. That’s good. Rage is good; it must be channeled in this way though…to produce, to create. I can remember being shushed in high school and even at times as an undergrad for my periodic upsets over gender inequality. It really wasn’t until my time at KU that I understood how to properly use this rage to connect with others, create messages, and find my voice.

    Achebe wasn’t happy with what Cary did, so Achebe did it the right way. He’s credited with inventing African literature not because Achebe was the first African writer (we know he wasn’t!) but because of HOW he composed Things Fall Apart. It’s possible that without Achebe’s appall at Cary’s novel, we wouldn’t have Things Fall Apart today (or the same Things Fall Apart, at least).

  3. Sean says:

    I was actually referencing the fact that Achebe’s own Great-Grandfather introduced missionaries to this own village. Sorry I should have been specific. I agree with you /\

  4. clutzclemens says:

    I still bristle at the idea of African literature, as if there were an authentic “African” identity. Or American for that matter. Good summaries!

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