Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

African Literature Still in the Dock: A Deconstructive Strategy for Eurocentric Hegemony

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

African Literature Still in the Dock: A Deconstructive Strategy for Eurocentric Hegemony

Article excerpt


Some academic circles still harbor the view that European literature remains the best that is written, with all subaltern literary work patronizingly assumed to be awkward, mediocre, or inferior. In particular, Eurocentric charges are levelled against African literature on the grounds that it is oral, mono-thematic, mono-structural, hybrid, and mimetic. This paper provides a vital awareness of the debilitating effects of this kind of Eurocentric hegemonic discourse, thus decolonizing African literature and counteracting European attacks on African literary norms and values. To this effect, the paper argues that a key way for African writers to correct the perpetual lopsided and distorted view of their work is to deconstruct the Western hegemonic discourse and reject the biased criteria, norms, and standards of the so-called great tradition.

Key words: African literature; Euro-centrism; Hegemony; Hybridity; Deconstruction


It is generally agreed upon by mainstream critics that African literature has been and continues to be subjected to severe censure and marginalization at the hands of Eurocentric critics. These Eurocentric attacks are predicated on a belief that Africa represents the other for the West and is still the continent of the awkward, the illiterate, the uncivilized and the inferior. As Akoété Amouzou (2007) observes, Eurocentric critics have long held a "lopsided view of African literature and consider it primitive, because they have been using Western standards to evaluate it" (p.300). Hence, Africans are unworthy of recognition among the elite literati of the world and are unable to create aesthetic works of art. Accordingly, whenever these critics encounter an African literary masterpiece, they marginalize it, assuming it is patterned on some European literary model, thus bolstering their own sense of superiority. To spread their colonial idea that they are God's chosen people to civilize the "brutes" of Africa, these critics' main concern is to persuade Africans that they are inferior and to impede their struggle for creativity and independence. As Gayatri Spivak (1988) stated:

The clearest available example of such epistemic violence is the remotely orchestrated far-flung, and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject as Other. This project is also the asymmetrical obliteration of the trace of that Other in its precarious subjectivity. (pp.24-25)

African literature, indeed, has often been perceived by Eurocentric critics as the literature of those who do not have literature. Mainstream Western thinking views literature as something written; by implication, verbal art expanded orally is unauthentic. Hence a traditional tendency to associate African literature with orature (a term coined in the early seventies by the Ugandan scholar Pio Zirimu) and to see this oral medium as awkward by comparison with the written one.

Eurocentric critics also maintain that orature is associated with improvisation, i.e., that it lacks contemplation and thinking in its literary processing. As Hunter succinctly nails it (2001):

Because our entire system of literary value in England privileges the written as a fixed object, a printed text that remains stable, many people think of oral texts as naive and even childlike, and of oral techniques as simple-minded. There is also a tendency to think that the people who use oral skills are not as sophisticated as those skilled in the written word. (p.34)

Hence, their attacks concentrate on "the domains of the themes developed, the techniques of writing, the concepts, and the general philosophy of literary theory" (Amouzou, 2007, p.300). Among influential Eurocentric critics, Charles Larson points out that African novels in general, and Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drunkard (1993) in particular, lack logic, rationality, and consistency, and that Tutuola's African novel "appears to be an inconsistency," adding that "if the trip to the dead's town takes ten years, why is barely more than a year involved for the return? …

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