what is popular?

“But the popular, as has been suggested, is by character and convention somewhat traditional, or (in modern parlance) conservative: the community – mythic in its imagination – retains its coherent entity.” (143) the amalgamation in Chapman’s piece renders my understanding of the text incongruous with Achebe’s definition of the African novelist as a teacher. The popular is this analysis is “conceived as emanating from the people: vox populi stuff”, which would qualify writers like Achebe as popular authors. Should we, then, revisit/redefine the popular through the lenses of African culture? By mentioning the controversies surrounding Matshoba’s stories, Chapman seems to be cognizant of the nuances between the popular as emanating from the people and popular as relevant to a traditional past and imaginaire.

In opposing Matshoba to Achebe and ngugi, I want to lay emphasis on the meaning of the woman figure in both understanding of the popular: “if the woman is a stock figure – the wise, resilient grandmother of folk tale – she is also the symbol of a necessary attempt to re-establish continuities with a usable past.” (143) the woman figure here is an antipode to her counterparts in Achebe. However, as Chapman underlines, Matshoba is still not the true traditional storyteller. Trying to understand the popular might lead into the tedious task of defining/differentiating the vox populi from the traditional, the oral from the written, the legitimate from the silenced voice. As a side note, I would say that what I conceive of the popular in my childhood had nothing to do with the circulating bestsellers of the time; stories that were considered popular were the folktales from earlier generations that were passed down to us , not the texts that we referred to as canons.

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About sdiouf

Ph.D student in Comparative Literature.
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