Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Cultural Criticism and Feminist Literary Activism in the Works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Cultural Criticism and Feminist Literary Activism in the Works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Article excerpt

Introduction: African literature and cultural criticism

In two essays, "The Role of the Writer in a New Nation" (1964) and "The Novelist as Teacher" (1975), Chinua Achebe, arguably Africa's most influential novelist to date, argues famously that African writers have a duty to use their works to contribute actively to the reshaping of their respective societies and cultures. Speaking specifically about the lingering legacies of colonial rule on Africa's then newly independent nations, Achebe proposed that his writing was meant "to help [his] society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and selfabasement" (Achebe, 1975: 7172). This overt didacticism and socio-political commitment has indeed been one of the key features of African and postcolonial literatures since their evolution through periods of anti-colonial and nationalist activism especially following the end of the Second World War.

As early as 1956 when the African novel and indeed African literature as a distinctive discipline was very much in its infancy, Leopold Senghor, Senegalese statesman and frontline Negritude poet, declared that "African literature is politically motivated" (qtd. in Nwoga, 1978: 3). Such views underscore the growing practice whereby literatures from Africa (both fiction and non-fiction) are often deployed within scholarly and intellectual forums as veritable sociological knowledge in spite of the fact that such literatures are often non-empirical. This is why Anindyo Roy (2011: 5) argues that one of the "central impulse[s] of African postcolonial fiction" is the exploration of the perceived links between public conditions and private lives, a view that resonates with Frederic Jameson's (1986) problematical claim that 'Third World' literatures are to be considered, necessarily, as "national allegories".

African literatures, especially in the form of fiction, is therefore a fecund site for exploring the relationship between the social imagination of writers and material cultural, economic, and political realities. Achille Mbembe testifies to this in the preface to the most recent edition of his influential On the Postcolony (2015). Recalling W. E. Du Bois' observation that "Life is not simply fact", Mbembe demonstrates how creative cultural expression (in the form of music and fiction in particular) provides a productive point of entry into the philosophical investigation of the psychic and political conditions of late postcoloniality. Mbembe highlights how, from "the late 1980s onwards, the best of the African novel was already celebrating the demise of the nationalist project" and how it exposed the failure of the continent's post-independence rulership (2015: xiv). He identifies the novels of the Congolese writer Sony Labou Tansi, Nigeria's Amos Tutuola and Burkina Faso's Yambo Ouologuem as imaginative works through which "[Unexpected bridges were built between abstraction and concreteness, reason, emotion and affect, the conscious, the unconscious and the oneiric. Art and thought were made to come alive and to resonate with one another" (xiv).

Resonances between the imaginative and the factual in those novels, whose writers creatively deploy history, allegory, ideology, language and a range of realist narratological and representational strategies, account for the influence of some of these writers not only in the recuperation of the hidden histories of formerly colonised societies, but also in the re-shaping of social imagination. In regard to novelistic rehistoricisation for example, Roy (2011) has noted the differences in the approach to realism adopted by older writers and those of the current generation of which Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a key member. According to Roy, while the older writers tended towards monolithic "historical synopticism," recent writing increasingly identifies, among others, "an uneven terrain that makes visible the interface of varying conditions of narrative authority that include location of narrative voice . …

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