To know how I am and how I have fared, you must understand why I resist all kinds of domination, including that of being given something.
(Nuruddin Farah, Gifts)
The argument of this chapter is framed within a problematic that relates nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century discourses to the complicated textualities of late twentieth-century ‘African’ writing. In order to investigate the meanings of ‘African identity’ in the present, in order to examine how ‘Africa’ operates as a referent and as a politics in modern ideologies of race, culture and nation, this chapter unpacks the implicit dialogue between dispersed times and places. Revealing the links between a range of disciplines that have constructed ‘Africa’ as a discursive object invested with meanings, I argue that an analysis of how African identities are made meaningful relies on attention to the construction of Africa across and between disciplines. Discourses of Africa are significant in relation to the politics of Black identities and cultures in the African Diaspora, and any theorisation of these constructions and subjectivities needs to recognise, not only the interrelatedness of disciplines in the present, but also the ways in which the present has been constructed by its historical traces. Recognising the multivocal structure of texts and discourses, I argue that an analysis of the connections between times, places and disciplines reveals both how meaning emerges from and accrues to the discursive object, ‘Africa’, and how ‘Africa’ becomes located and defined as object of knowledge.
The chapter frames the reading of twentieth-century texts within and against histories of African knowledge that condition the discursive parameters of modern knowledge. The movement between African and European contexts reveals how Africa and its identities have been crucially informed by the impact of knowledges and interests from outside the continent. The reading of literary texts alongside and against theoretical, political and ethnographic writings is intended to emphasise, not the formal or stylistic interchangeability of genres, but the necessity of approaching literary texts as a nexus for the rearticulation of/culturally and socially mediated/ideological material.