Academic journal article International Fiction Review

Textual Dynamics in Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile and No Longer at Ease

Academic journal article International Fiction Review

Textual Dynamics in Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile and No Longer at Ease

Article excerpt

In this paper, I use Chinua Achebe's nonfiction work Home and Exile (2000) and his novel No Longer at Ease (1960) as reference points for arguing that the application of intertextual theory to postcolonial literature in such groundbreaking studies as Wolfgang Klooss's collection Across the Lines (1998) (1) and Monika Reif-Hulser's Borderlands (1999) (2) runs the risk of suppressing the critical multidimensionality of some postcolonial texts. I will call these additional dimensions "intratextual" and "extratextual," borrowing the latter term from Robert Scholes, who defines it as situating a text "in relation to culture, society, the world," (3) to which I would add: in relation to the life experience of the writer. I will argue that in Achebe's work the inter-, intra-, and extratextual dimensions exist in a dynamic relationship, producing a mutually deconstructive tension that permits authority to no single textual dimension, creating instead a textual dynamic which continually challenges and subverts critical efforts to "fix" its position as a literary text.

Simon Gikandi, in Reading Chinua Achebe, makes a similar point in observing that Achebe's narrative strategies are intended to stress a "multiplicity of meanings and indeterminate zones of representation." Gikandi's acute analysis of Achebe's intratextual narrative strategies, however, is premised on what I would call an extratextual assumption: that the author's project is to resist the "fetishization" within which Africa has been fixed by "the discourse of the Western world." (4) Gikandi's position therefore illustrates the risk I am positing of assigning primacy to a single textual dimension from which further critical comment is to be generated.

Clearly there is no way to prove that an extratextual dimension, whether biographical, ideological, or political, is determinative. The postcolonial critic, however, may have an agenda that includes assigning to the subject work a high degree of moral or political intentionality. Achebe's most consistent theme, Gikandi argues, is the idea of affirming a "national community," and his pessimism is "an expression of his anxieties about the transference of his discourse on an African destiny from the imaginative realm, the mythical space, to the practices of everyday life." (5) By assigning primacy to the extratextual, and to one facet of the extratextual at that, namely, the historical/political, Gikandi must continually slight the textual wrestling match that I am advancing here as the most productive way of viewing the Achebean narrative environment, or "mediatope"--a term I am borrowing from Bernd Schulte (6)--and, I would argue, that of some other postcolonial writers such as Nuruddin Farah, whose work has also been subject to incisive treatment by Gikandi.

Gikandi's treatment of Farah's use of modernism is similarly predicated on extratextual claims about Farah's intention of providing "a critique of the idea of the Somali nation and the traditions associated with it." (7) In short, Farah's narrative is elucidated by Gikandi in the same terms as Achebe's, illustrating a pitfall of assigning primacy to historical/political intentionalities: postcolonial writers come to be viewed through a similar lens, except for an apostate few, like V. S. Naipaul, whose work cannot be fitted within the extratextual parameters the critic has drawn. While Robert Scholes does not regard "extratextuality" as a form of narrative textuality, it is clear that his situating a text "in relation to culture, society, the world," and to the author's construction of his personal experience articulates a creative act occurring within a narrative teleology of some kind, such as "empowerment," "liberation," "decolonization," or even "tragedy."

The critique I am offering here of postcolonial criticism based on extratextual assumptions can also be made of criticism based on intertextual premises. Intertextuality--premised, in Julia Kristeva's definition, on the assumption that "every text builds upon itself as a mosaic of quotations . …

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