The Crisis of Revolutionary Ideology in African Aesthetics

Article excerpt

But while both humanization and dehumunization are real alternatives, only the first is man's vocation. This vocation is constantly negated. It is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity. (1)

Attempts have been made by African artists to evolve a revolutionary ideology that will negate the evils of colonialism. neocolonialism, racism, imperialism and capitalism Vacillations and apathy typify the search for such an ideology of development. African artists have not really salvaged modem man from "a profound feeling of powerlessness," to use the words of Eric Fromm. This raises a big issue in modern African literature, since contemporary African arts have a maximum opportunity to develop ideologies. This article examines the strategic weaponry of ideology in imaginative creativity. Concepts such as "Dysfunctionality," "Conscientization" and "Violence" serve as operational terms.

Historical contradictions create the process of dysfunctionality. Chalmers Johnson gives a catalogue of the various sources of social dysfunction. The discovery of new territories. global diffusion of industrial culture, imperialism, elaboration of metaphysical beliefs, technical and scientific discoveries can produce adverse effects on the system. Africa has been besieged by these sources of social dysfunction. Colonialism through the process of acculturation creates "a new mental universe in Africa." The crisis is visible in the area of "psycho-affective equilibrium" and "dependency syndrome," to use the words of Franz Fanon.

The third world countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America are embroiled in this cataclysmic force of history. The erection of conservative, feudalistic and totalitarian hegemonic structures in fascist prototypes like, South Africa, and colonial and neo-colonial capitalist settings, makes inevitable a manifestation of cynical Machiavellianism. Capitalism seeks refuge in reactionary violence and the aesthetic culture of subjugation. Comparing the nature of censorship practised in South Africa to that of Soviet Russia and French Enlightenment, T.T. Moyana concludes that "censorship had not yet been developed into such a viciously meticulous science with a well trained permanent bureaucratic cops to enforce it" (3)

In post-colonial African states and other third world countries, progressive Governments are heavily policed and disorganized by the strong intelligence networks of Western powers. The ruling class in many African countries cannot be exonerated from acts of aggression and repression. The revolutionary forces, especially the intellectuals, face the risk of arduous torture or even extermination at the order of the ruling class. Prison memoirs such as The Man Died and Detained expose such administrative nihilism of the African political establishments.

Capitalist oriented cultures breed all forms of alienation. A study o f the imperialist economic ideology is significant for an idealogical examination of African literature whether in the colonial or neo-colonial phase. Angus Calder in a letter to Pio Zirimu assesses such ideological relevance:

   Economics as an ideology, not a science, and development
   (as aid giving countries define 5) form an integral part of an
   ideology of exploitation and alienation. This ideology,
   unchecked, will destroy the world much like it has already
   destroyed the comfort of most of its inhabitants. The artist, if
   he merely wishes to survive, physically into middle age
   cannot exempt himself from political action. He must
   commit himself to the destruction of a system which
   destroys humanity. (4)

To him, "this implies an aesthetic which defines itself as primarily antibourgeois." He advocates that "the artist must wrest control from the bourgeois aesthetic propagated in films and pulp fiction where ever Pan-Am makes the going great for capitalism. …