Pragma-Criticism: An Afrieurocentric Reaction to the Bolekaja Agenda on the African Novel

Article excerpt

We must approach African literature with an insight into, and a feeling for, those aspects of African life which stand beyond the work itself, its extension into the African experience, and its foundation into the very substance of African existence....This approach, in its fullest and widest meaning, implies that our criticism should take into account everything that has gone into the work, and specifically for our literature; everything within our society which has informed the work....

--Abiola Irele

Introduction

Abiola Irele's pronouncement used epigrammatically as a scaffold for this essay is a reminiscence of the influence of the Afrocentric movement on the African literature. Afrocentric reasoning has led to various attempts to dislodge the literature from the canonical influences of the Western literary tradition and criticism. This has indubitably divided the critics of African literature into two broad camps. While some--Izevbaye (1969), Palmer (1981) and Oyegoke (2003) for instance--advance the argument that any conscious attempt to break African literature away from the theoretical postulates of Western criticisms will amount to a suicidal dismemberment from the unified body of literary activities, others like Ngara, Iyasere, Nnolim, Achebe et cetera strongly defend the need to discourage the pseudo-universalist's critical approximations of African literature by the damaging encrustations of the imperialists. These opposing dispositions have resulted into a palpable gulf between the critics of African literature to whom we refer (like the Bolekaja) as either "Eurocentric" or "Afrocentric" critics. The Eurocentric critics of African literature are those who exhibit Western literary attitude in their approach to the literature. Their critical practice places African literature in a literary realm where its aesthetics is evaluated with the postulates of the Western critical theories. The Afrocentic African critics are, however, those who advocate literary/critical autonomy for the African literature. These critics, most of whom are radical African intellectuals, often seek to rescue African literature from the dominance of Western literary theories.

The genesis of a critical African perspective in the criticism of the African literature dates back to the desire among the African elites to liberate the literature from the poly-dialectic criticisms of Western aesthetics. Afrocentric African critics, therefore, seem to recommend the 'Africanized' tools for African literature. This is, perhaps, as a result of the bid to puncture the inflated dominance of the Eurocentrically governed prejudices which have viewed African literature as an appendage of its Western counterpart.

Anadolu-Okur however tells us that Afrocentricity had developed as "a paradigm which recognizes the centrality of African ideals in African phenomenon since 1960's in the Black American literary foundations" (1993:88). This no doubt takes the foundations beyond the Bolekaja critics who employed the term to "grind axes" with the like of Soyinka and Izevbaye. In a broader term, the African perspective "calls for a redefinition or elimination of certain terms that connote racism and prejudice" (Anadolu-Okur, 1993:98). There is no doubt that the Bolekaja critics themselves are mere apostles of the ideology. The Bolekaja's radical dimension to an African centered perspective revolutionized the criticism of African literature and it has since become apparent that the ideological gulf between the African centered and Euro-centered has come to stay.

The aligning tendency with the African centered as may be exhibited here does not suggest a total repudiation of Western literary theories. Hence we do not intend to adopt the brutish techniques of absolutists like the 'Troika' (who rained "pettifogging abuses" on almost all the African apologists of the Western critical dogma) here. Even as we say that the trio of Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike are quite useful in the Afrocentric renaissance, their radical suggestions on African novel as having its matrix in the pre-novelistic African verbal form will not be wholly acceptable. …