The Eagle in Ascendance: more papers from the Chinua Achebe International Symposium 1990, with new papers added, edited by Damian U. Opata. Ibadan: Heinemann, 2005. xiv +174 pp. ISBN 978129 666 6. £17.95
Damian Opata, no doubt, fitly stepped into the big shoes vacated by Edith Ihekweazu in creditably heading the editorial team for the production of this rewarding follow-up to the famous Eagle On Iroko: Selected Papers from the Chinua Achebe international Symposium 1990.
Chinua Achebe needs little introduction both to literary and non-literary scholars on Africa. The writer of the classic Things Fall Apart (1958), to mention just one of his most acclaimed works, has not only towered so high, like the full grown Iroko Tree, but has also soared, like the mature eagle, higher than other birds and can only perch atop the Iroko, the tallest of trees.
The Eagle in Ascendance is of course treading the path of the motif already established in Eagle on Iroko. For those who are not very familiar with the cultural philosophy of the Igbo, in which Chinua Achebe was grounded, the Eagle symbolism is taken from the conceptual imagery of an eagle, the handsome giant king of the birds, on an Iroko tree, the equally magnificent giant king of all trees. Hence the perplexed observer looks from the Eagle to the lroko and is at a loss as to which is more magnificent and evocative - the Eagle or the lroko. So one can only fully appreciate the aptness of the Eagle-On-Iroko appellation on Achebe if one keenly reflects on the true personality of the man: the finest intellect residing in the finest gentleman.
Chima Anyadike also made reference to the popular Achebeic lgbo imagery of a beautiful and revered masquerade dancing in the square which no one can exhaustively view "from one stand point". If that is not enough we can still liken Achebe to that mythical elephantine figure encountered by some blind men, who went to town thereafter describing the mysterious being in the light of which aspect of him each was able to touch. That I think helps to deal with Professor V.E. Chinwendu's apparent doubt, in the foreword to this book, whether any critic can still write with any fresh insight on Achebe. That to me is the essence of this critical anthology - to exhibit what fresh and not-sofresh insights scholars keep having on Achebe.
After the very insightful "Foreword", by Professor Chinwendu, and a "Preface" and "Introduction" by Damian U. Opata, the well-selected papers of variegated thematic approaches, from both Nigerian and non-Nigerian scholars within and outside the country, literally flowed. The book is in two parts, based largely on the thematic relevance of each essay. Part one, with five papers, deals with the views of Western European and American critics on Achebe's works; Achebe's subtleness (in comparison with Ngugi wa Thiong'o) in demanding a fair deal from the neo-colonial imperialist establishments in Africa; and a survey of the "shifting" narrative technique (in point of view) adopted by Achebe in A Man of the People. This first part begins with B.S.C. Nwaozuzu's "Achebe's First Novel and Eurocentric criticism", where the writer, reflecting Benedetto Groce's intentionistic critical theory, traces the early European critics' "prejudice, parochialism... and dogmatism" towards African writers' works which was due to their "misconception of the writers' (cultural) circumstances and thematic intentions". It also contains Christopher Nwodo's "Achebe versus the Universal Theory of Literature" in which he expresses not only his special aversion to the European critics use of the "universality theory" but also Achebe's total disgust with the word "universal", which he, Achebe, would like to see "banned altogether from the discussion of African literature" because of its inherent "double standard". …