Cheeky Fictions: Laughter and the Postcolonial

By Susanne Reichl; Mark Stein | Go to book overview

ANNIE GAGIANO


Using a comic vision to contend with tragedy
Three unusual African English novels

The Black Insider (1990) by Dambudzo Marechera of Zimbabwe, Striving for the Wind (1990) by Meja Mwangi of Kenya, and Secrets (1998) by Nuruddin Farah of Somalia are not titles likely to leap to mind when the idea of comic writing (by African authors) is broached. In this essay it will nevertheless be my argument that each of these texts requires us to adapt established conceptions of comic writing as (for instance) rambunctiously amusing, liberatory and exhilarating, or aligned with fertility rites (such as the Dionysian festivals in Ancient Greece or British preElizabethan May revels)1 – or as confined to the category of African forms of magical realism.2 Yet my title does not express ‘the conventional wisdom of the twentieth century […] that the comic is a defence against pain and suffering’ (Simon: 209) either, for I am not suggesting (nor are these three writers, in the abovementioned texts) that the kind of comic perspective discussed here protects or insulates writer, characters, or readers from facing (up to) horrendous, excruciating or profoundly sorrowful realities. Hence the idea of ‘contending with’ tragedy by means of the comic vision.

Whilst acknowledging that ‘comedy […] seems to mock those who attempt to isolate and to define it,’ William Gruber avers that ‘the concept of genre […] makes sense particularly when one talks about comedy’ (Gruber 1981: 208, 207). The same writer nevertheless concedes that comedy is a

1 See Cornford and Barber.

2 On African magic realism see, e.g., Cooper 1998 and 1992.

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