The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora

The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora

The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora

The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora

Synopsis

This collection of essays by one of Africa's leading scholars examines African literary traditions in the broad sense, and places the work of individual authors in context. Here F. Abiola Irele presents probing critical readings of the works of Chinua Achebe, Kamau Brathwaite, Amadou Hapae Ba, and Amadou Kourouma, among others. In addition to discussing texts central to the evolving canon of African literature, The African Imagination addresses both the growing presence of African writing in the global literary marketplace and the relationship between African intellectuals and the West.

Excerpt

During my undergraduate days in the late 1950s at University College, Ibadan (as it was then known), a major annual event on campus was the performance of a musical work in the Western repertoire, in a production that was undertaken as a collaborative effort by students, faculty, and other amateur musicians recruited from the city, the latter often providing a crucial component of the cast. Indeed, the choice of Mozart's The Magic Flute for 1958 was determined by the happy fact that the wife of an English officer in the military garrison stationed at Ibadan during that year—Nigeria was still a colony of Britain at the time—was a trained soprano with the vocal capability to take on the demanding role of Queen of the Night. As it happened, I was assigned the role of Monostatos, the lascivious Moor in her service who torments the hapless heroine, Pamina, until he is finally cast off with his evil mistress into the night by Sarastro, the high priest of Osiris.

It appears that, from comments by friends and other observers who saw the production over the three nights that it ran, I played Monostatos with considerable relish. It certainly did not occur to me at the time to approach the role with any kind of circumspection, for it was not until years afterward that I came to be fully aware of the stereotyped and demeaning image of the black man that the role represented. So essential is this image to the Western imagination as it informs the simple moralism of the libretto for which Mozart supplied the music—a feature that also subserves in a curious way what we must now recognize as a fascist . . .

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