Post-Colonial Reading Strategies and the Problem of Cultural Meaning in African/Black (1) Literary Discourse

Article excerpt

One of the greatest intellectual bugs in African Studies since the 1950s has been the nationalist search for African cultural, literary, social and political emancipation anchored on the quest for universal acceptance and recognition. There has been an artificial and human created perplexing cultural identity problem which has not only challenged intra-African studies but has also misunderstood the transformational cultural and semiotic codes that govern the production of African cultural continuities in the Diaspora. Arguably, the 1980s qualify as the golden age of African discourse emancipation when the decade is weighed on the balance of an ambiguous cultural appropriation and resistance to Euro-American models of literary interpretation (2). However, the 1990s till date has witnessed attempts at discourse cultural revivalism and redefinitions that are distilled from "the voiced and unvoiced stories and interpretations of African conditions before, during and after colonialism" (Parker and Starker, 1995:11).

The consciousness to create a code for African cultural interpretation informed the first International Congress of Negro Writers and Artists held in Paris in 1956 with focus on the "The Crisis in Negro Culture". Subsequent conferences and congresses of African-American writers and critics have examined the negative impact of writing or book-culture (literary theory and interpretation) on the drive for a black critical aesthetics (Fashina, 1997:11). Several cultural genetic factors foreground this sense of nationalism and pan-Africanist conciousness. Among them was the need to create a theory of Africanism and Blackness, which is distilled from the homogeneous pattern of emotive and mythical interpretations of values in contrast to the European induced images and conceptions of our universe. This is what Abiola Irele (1990:54) describes as "the organic aspect of African imagination" and what Fashina 1994:73) indicates as "the symbiotic aspect of African collective consciousness".

Quite against this strive for African nationalist consciousness in culture and literary studies is the European standard interpretation of African studies as mere mental construct than a researchable reality. A renowned French Sociologist, Professor Jean Copans, in a lecture entitled " African Studies on the Eve of the 21st century" (3) delivered at the Drappers Auditorium, Centre for African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria on April 12, 1999, reechoed the same old colonialist view about Africa, African cultural studies and the indigenization of cultural theories. He argues that:

... there is no such thing as an African society understood as a continental one. And, for Africans, the study of their own societies land culture has nothing specifically African to it. We do not call the study of French sociology French studies! But there is a French tradition of African Studies. And I have to recall it for it is quite different from the Anglo- American one. The multi-disciplinary tradition in itself is an interesting feature and it spells out a kind of hierarchy of social sciences. To conclude this review of traditions, we should ask ourselves if there is such a domain as African Studies (MS, p.1).

This critical onslaught on the domain of African Studies is, ironically, significant in many respects. First, the venue of the lecture was the Institute of African Studies in a benchmark African University. Professor Copan's submission is invariably tantamount to a plea for the closure of that renowned center for African studies and, perhaps, the immediate dismissal altogether, of the Professors and researchers of African Studies at the center. For Professor Copans, " there is no such thing as an African society understood as a continental one", and there is nothing that is African-specific in Africans' study of their own societies. He bases his argument partly on the dependence on Western theories and analytical models in Anthropology, Sociology, political Science, economics, Literature and other cultural studies. …