Textual Dynamics in Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile and No Longer at Ease

By Munro, Ian H. | International Fiction Review, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Textual Dynamics in Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile and No Longer at Ease


Munro, Ian H., International Fiction Review


In this paper, I use Chinua Achebe's nonfiction work Home and Exile (2000) and his novel No Longer at Ease (1960) as reference points for arguing that the application of intertextual theory to postcolonial literature in such groundbreaking studies as Wolfgang Klooss's collection Across the Lines (1998) (1) and Monika Reif-Hulser's Borderlands (1999) (2) runs the risk of suppressing the critical multidimensionality of some postcolonial texts. I will call these additional dimensions "intratextual" and "extratextual," borrowing the latter term from Robert Scholes, who defines it as situating a text "in relation to culture, society, the world," (3) to which I would add: in relation to the life experience of the writer. I will argue that in Achebe's work the inter-, intra-, and extratextual dimensions exist in a dynamic relationship, producing a mutually deconstructive tension that permits authority to no single textual dimension, creating instead a textual dynamic which continually challenges and subverts critical efforts to "fix" its position as a literary text.

Simon Gikandi, in Reading Chinua Achebe, makes a similar point in observing that Achebe's narrative strategies are intended to stress a "multiplicity of meanings and indeterminate zones of representation." Gikandi's acute analysis of Achebe's intratextual narrative strategies, however, is premised on what I would call an extratextual assumption: that the author's project is to resist the "fetishization" within which Africa has been fixed by "the discourse of the Western world." (4) Gikandi's position therefore illustrates the risk I am positing of assigning primacy to a single textual dimension from which further critical comment is to be generated.

Clearly there is no way to prove that an extratextual dimension, whether biographical, ideological, or political, is determinative. The postcolonial critic, however, may have an agenda that includes assigning to the subject work a high degree of moral or political intentionality. Achebe's most consistent theme, Gikandi argues, is the idea of affirming a "national community," and his pessimism is "an expression of his anxieties about the transference of his discourse on an African destiny from the imaginative realm, the mythical space, to the practices of everyday life." (5) By assigning primacy to the extratextual, and to one facet of the extratextual at that, namely, the historical/political, Gikandi must continually slight the textual wrestling match that I am advancing here as the most productive way of viewing the Achebean narrative environment, or "mediatope"--a term I am borrowing from Bernd Schulte (6)--and, I would argue, that of some other postcolonial writers such as Nuruddin Farah, whose work has also been subject to incisive treatment by Gikandi.

Gikandi's treatment of Farah's use of modernism is similarly predicated on extratextual claims about Farah's intention of providing "a critique of the idea of the Somali nation and the traditions associated with it." (7) In short, Farah's narrative is elucidated by Gikandi in the same terms as Achebe's, illustrating a pitfall of assigning primacy to historical/political intentionalities: postcolonial writers come to be viewed through a similar lens, except for an apostate few, like V. S. Naipaul, whose work cannot be fitted within the extratextual parameters the critic has drawn. While Robert Scholes does not regard "extratextuality" as a form of narrative textuality, it is clear that his situating a text "in relation to culture, society, the world," and to the author's construction of his personal experience articulates a creative act occurring within a narrative teleology of some kind, such as "empowerment," "liberation," "decolonization," or even "tragedy."

The critique I am offering here of postcolonial criticism based on extratextual assumptions can also be made of criticism based on intertextual premises. Intertextuality--premised, in Julia Kristeva's definition, on the assumption that "every text builds upon itself as a mosaic of quotations . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Textual Dynamics in Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile and No Longer at Ease
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.