Culture, Society and Politics in Modern African Literature: Texts and Contexts

By Breitinger, Eckhard | African Studies Review, December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Culture, Society and Politics in Modern African Literature: Texts and Contexts


Breitinger, Eckhard, African Studies Review


Tanure Ojaide and Joseph Obi. Culture, Society and Politics in Modern African Literature: Texts and Contexts. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2002. xi + 185 pp. Notes. Index. Price not reported. Paper.

Culture, Society and Politics in Modern Africa is a novelty in the field of African literature. Two scholars from different disciplines, but obviously kindred spirits, have joined hands to present a coherent view of modern African literature from the nationalist struggles to the present and throughout the entire continent. Joseph Obi is a sociologist with a liking for literature, Tanure Ojaide a literary critic and poet with strong political commitments (as his collections Delta Blues and The Fate of the Vultures testify). The book addresses students and teachers of African literature in an survey fashion. The fourteen chapters on individual authors, works, and genres are strategically positioned in a framework that reflects the major theoretical debates. The introduction deals with the sociological approach to literature in general by giving a concise summary of the various theoretical schools, relating "universal" theories to the particular practice of sociology within literary criticism in Africa. The final chapters deal with the never-ending debate on the language issue in African literature. Again, the authors outline the history of this crucial debate from its beginnings in the 1950s, highlighting key events like the 1962 Makerere Conference of African Literature in English Expression and contrasting the views of the pro-African language faction, led by Ngugu wa Thiong'o, with the pragmatic approach of WoIe Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.

Between these framing chapters, the authors present a wide selection of different texts and authors. Inevitably, the discussion opens with Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and a special chapter on how to teach this text to American students from a sociological perspective. Then follow chapters on Soyinka's play Death and the King's Horseman and on his novel Season of Anomy, touching on Nigeria's Civil War and on the communalist social experiments in Ayero within the context of a Marxist Utopian debate about the organization of postcolonial societies. The two Nigerian critics do not limit themselves to their own literature and its "classic" authors, however. With Cheik Hamidou Kane's Ambiguous Adventure and Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter, they expand their reach to Francophone Senegal, thereby illustrating the model role of Senegal for Africa's "triple heritage" of indigenism, Islam, and Christianity, and the particularly radical French policy of acculturation. A chapter on the Egyptian Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz extends the analysis into the "supra-Saharan" literature of North Africa, taking into consideration the linking function of Egypt within the Arab Islamic context (and Mahfouz's specific role therein).

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