Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa

Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa

Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa

Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa

Excerpt

IN THE PAST ten years, colonial and African literatures written in English have begun to attract critical attention. Thus far, however, both general surveys and critical studies of single colonial and African authors have examined such texts in a socio-political vacuum, assuming either that politics are irrelevant to a study of literature or that life in the colonies resembles life elsewhere. Even critical studies, such as Sociologie du Roman Africain and Fiction and the Colonial Experience , which promise a specific analysis of colonial social experience are in this respect rather disappointing. M. M. Mahood The Colonial Encounter: A Reading of Six Novels aptly illustrates the peculiar hesitancy, if not a veiled refusal, of literary critics to come to terms with the colonial situation. Having chosen six novels "which are concerned with the experience of colonial rule and its aftermath," Ms. Mahood intends to define "ways in which historical thinking on imperialism and on the relinquishing of empire, as distinct from the mere chronicling of imperial rule, might shed light on the traditional and central concern of literary criticism: the work of art as the figment of a particular sensibility. However, this intention is entirely subverted by her selection of three "colonial" writers (Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, and Graham Greene) whom she feels "are as innocent of emotional exploitation of the colonial scene as they are critical of its political and economic exploitation." Similarly, the Third World writers she chooses (Chinua Achebe, R. K. Narayan, and V. S. Naipaul) are "quite as distanced from the dominated side in the colonial encounter as the best expatriate writers are distanced from their dominating compatriots." Thus, even though Mahood has thoroughly documented the historical background of the six novels, her assumption of a "distance" between the writers and the colonial ambiance leads to a complete circumvention of the motives, prejudices, conflicts, bitterness, and resentments that define the essential . . .

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