Academic journal article ARIEL

Bernth Lindfors: The Archive and the Question of Truth (1)

Academic journal article ARIEL

Bernth Lindfors: The Archive and the Question of Truth (1)

Article excerpt

"this way truth lies"
Bernth Lindfors

In his 1978 lecture in Ibadan on "The Future of African Literary Studies," Bernth Lindfors argues for the necessity to create an archive for literary studies, pleading for the heritage of the larger Nigerian community. He calls for a Nigerian repository, inquiring why there is none, and what is being done about it: "Please forgive my monotonous aggressiveness. I'm only asking the questions that your posterity will ask of you." Finally he brings forth the basis on which his passionate pleas rest, and on which his own scholarship turns as well--the core of the kola: "You may wonder why I am so obsessed with the preservation of literary documents. The reason is that I believe that this way truth lies" (167).

This is the truth of his work: a truth that has been at the centre of Research in African Literatures for all the years of his editorship (2), and of his research and teaching for this long career of scholarship and discipline-shaping. This is the truth of literary studies as understood by the academy:

    I believe that future generations of scholars will be less cavalier
    than we have been in handling facts if we leave them reliable tools
    to work with. I believe that some literary truths are virtually
    impossible to establish in the absence of trustworthy records. And I
    believe we have an obligation not only to seek the truth ourselves
    but also to help others seek it. The future of African literary
    studies will be glorious only if we strive now to make it so. (167)

This is the statement of Bernth Lindfors's literary legacy.

For me, the questions posed by claims of truth must begin with the notion that truth does not exist in the abstract, and is always a truth for, not truth per se. A truth for whom, one might ask, when searching the truth for the future. A truth, but presented by whom? And if it is to be a collected truth, a published truth, an established, authoritative truth, then the question is, a truth in whose interest? Authorized by whom? It is not a blithe question of cultural relativism, not a question of Nigerian truth versus American truth, but rather the recognition that truth is not an independent concept. It is bound up with the same forces and interests that contrive to produce a culture, that is, forces with their own interests, and that are articulated in the clothing provided by truth. Lies might be seen as the coverings of those who would wish their truths to prevail over those of others. Research and publication are never uncomplicated, never pure, but are always clothed. In my following comments I will explore attempts to present approaches to truth in the work of Peter Gay and Charles Hanly, who consider scientific understandings of the issues, and then of the structuralist Roger Abrahams, whose limitations provide me with the basis for a critique of the work of Lindfors.

Lindfors and I had a brief exchange over our difference of opinion about how to view truth, but before presenting it I would like to frame the issue along similar lines raised by the psychoanalyst Charles Hanly and by the historian Peter Gay. In the preface to Hanly's The Problem of Truth in Applied Psychoanalysis (1992), Gay approaches the question of truth by posing the question, "what is the meaning of Rousseau's Contrat social" (viii)? He presents five different hermeneutic models, two of which might be construed as diametrically opposed. In the first, the Contrat is interpreted as an "intervention" in Genevan politics and in the second, part of a continuum of philosophical debate over issues involving social structures dating back to Plato. Their "incompatibility" is based on assumptions about context and intention, both also foundations for Lindfors's. In the first reading, the relevant context is supplied by contemporary Genevan politics, and Rousseau's intention is read as an attempt to influence those local affairs in which he had long taken a strong interest. …

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