The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story

By Barbara Lounsberry; Susan Lohafer et al. | Go to book overview

7
The Place of (and Place in) the Anglophone African Short Story

Roger Berger


I

The little criticism thus far directed toward the African short story-- Anglophone or otherwise--has focused on theme or origin. 1 To provide a more symptomatic reading, I want to examine both the place of and place in the Anglophone African short story. This method reveals how the African short story resists the topographic and ethnographic tendency of many African and post- colonial novels. 2 African short stories in English, I want to argue, tend to assume place, marking it with signifiers of the "African" rather than with lengthy ethnographic or topographic passages; and this assumption heralds a confident, decolonized, truly postcolonial mode of fiction. Yet, even before I can discuss the place of (and place in) the African short story, some problems inherent in my title must be considered.

First, any essay that purports to discuss Anglophone texts must address the question of language. That is, can an authentically African narrative--short or long--be written in English--or even in what seems to be an Africanized Eng lish? On one side, of course, stands Chinua Achebe and in particular the first generation of colonial and postcolonial African writers and scholars. Achebe believes that "the English language [is] able to carry the weight of [his] African experience," although he admits that "it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new AfriAfrican surroundings" ( 1965, 30). On the other side may be found Obi Wali, Chinweizu, and, more recently, Ngugi wa Thiong'o who suggest that the use of English in African texts not only reenacts the epistemic violence of imperialism but also--in Whorf-Sapir terms--inadequately represents an African world (its landscape, its people, and its social life). 3 Such a position is particularly important to invoke in a volume on the short story in English. Does this volume acknowledge the very real literary achievements of the short story in English, or does it inadvertently celebrate centuries of English colonial conquest--with

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