Mouthpieces and African Popular Fiction

After our conversation about which intentional/unintentional roles Nuruddin Farah found himself taking on during his Open Book talk, and keeping in mind the essays, “The African Novel” and “The Extroverted African Novel,” I’m glad to be engaging with a text that is interested in pushing further questions like who is the audience? In which language should we speak? In which languages should we write? Who controls access and to what end post occupation.  Which terms are functional across cultures and who are the spokespersons?

When we talked about Krog and her choice to juxtapose first person narratives against her scholarly critique without framing the horrors for her reader, I thought that she was making space for the tortured to share their truths and forcing academics to wrestle with their feelings around representation and receipt of texts of primacy. What I found most useful about Krog’s approach is that the voices from inside speak from themselves, rather than through a filter.  Krog’s approach does not create a hierarchy of priority between the first person narratives and the critical texts at the heart of TRC discussions.

Given the complications of viewing a single narrative outside of context, Newell’s decision to introduce the reader in such a way as to contextualize the market differences that determine the definition of the word popular and to arrange the texts by region, by theme (e.g. political and economic, analysis via language and form) in an effort to complicate and clarify some of the dynamics at play temporally and geographically seems wise.  Collecting multiple primary sources from within local cultures, allows Newell to avoid “the way in which postcolonial criticism has sometimes effaced and sometimes genuflected to the presence of discourses in languages other than the metropolitan and local varieties of English” (Furniss 13). Also the ordering provides Anglophone readers a sense of what Africans are saying to one another continentally and of which factors restrict distribution of those “popular” narratives intra- and inter-continentally.  A result is that trans-continental readers must read without the same context as local readers, but may also have opportunity to access “quasi-fictional” narratives straight from the mouths of the African writers of a range of classes.  This all-English African prose isn’t perfect because if erases the forms of expression in the multitude of African languages. Every issue in postcolonial literary theory seems complex.

When I finished reading the introduction, I wondered if and how literacy level educators utilized locally written and distributed creative writing to develop more skilled, non-traditionally educated readers. I found a complicated answer to that question in Furniss’ “Hausa Creative Writing in the 1930s”. The example of the East’s choice to conscript students and faculty to create and disseminate colonial texts with imaginative prose influenced by the “complex relations of cross-referencing, imitation, borrowing, parody, and distancing [that] characterize the construction of genres in Hausa,” leaves me unsettled. I hope we can talk a little bit about the advantages of raising literacy rates and an engendering an engaged, “avid, expanding, reading public,” and the insidious methods of control implied by the infusion of a foreign language which effaces local literary traditions.

In terms of looking at the trajectory of this course, I think that when next I create a syllabus and teach a course, I will begin with identifying the complicating questions of the field, present texts that allow my students and me to get a sense of the breadth of the discourse present and then re-introduce the basic complicating questions. That seems to be the way ouroboroic design of this course. Readings in African Popular Fiction has a wealth of texts, and it seems it could be used in upper-level high school course through graduate level courses.

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