Affiliation, Disavowal, and National Commitment in Third Generation African Literature Madhu Krishnan

ARIEL, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Affiliation, Disavowal, and National Commitment in Third Generation African Literature Madhu Krishnan


According to recent scholarship, the characteristics of third generation African literature, published by writers from Africa and the African diaspora from the 1990s to the present day, include an emphasis on diasporic identity, migration, transnationality, globalization, and a diminished concern with the colonial past. As Pius Adesanmi and Chris Dunton write, the works categorized as third generation, authored by ((emergent writers who had acquired a creative identity markedly different" from their predecessors' ("Nigeria's Third Generation" 7), mark a renaissance of sorts for the African novel in English, following a period of relative paucity in literary production in the 1980s. While Adesanmi and Dunton focus largely on the particularly high-profile writing from Nigeria, their comments nonetheless point towards a larger trend in contemporary studies of African literature. Elsewhere, for instance, Adesanmi, borrowing Abdoutahman Ali Waberi's phrase, writes that the third generation of Francophone African writers, as the "children of the postcolony," author a distinct body of work marked by its preoccupation with themes of "identity and otherness as conditioned by their location in the diasporic and/or exilic space" ("Postcolonial Entanglement" 236). This preoccupation with the diasporic and exilic is echoed in Tanure Ojaide's observation that Irn]igration, globalization, and the related phenomena of exile, transnationality, and multilocality" in the literary output of the third generation of African writers has "generat[ed] diverse perspectives on the evolving nature of African literature and the depiction of the contemporary African condition" ("Migration" 43, 46). Pertinently, the characterization of third generation African writers has lingered on their position as "temporally severed from the colonial event" (Adesanmi and Dunton, "Nigeria's Third Generation" 14) and therefore portrays them as shaped more distinctly by contemporary notions of cosmopolitanism, globalization, nomadism, and liminality than their predecessors. Positioned in this postmodern milieu, third generation writers have been heralded for their questioning of over-determined identity markers and their deconstruction of "totalities such as history, nation, gender, and their representative symbologies" (Adesanmi and Dunton, "Nigeria's Third Generation" 15), mirroring a larger global tendency in the postcolonial and African novel to embrace what has been called the "migration of memory" and "traveling identities" (Nwakanma 13) over a singular application of what Chidi Amuta once referred to as "the national imperative" (86) of post-independence writing.

First and second generation African literature has been largely characterized by its commitment to decolonization, independence, and the nation-state (Ojaide, "Modern African Literature"; Ojaide, "Examining Canonisation"; Okuyade). This vision of nationalism through a literary anti-colonial commitment has been seen as a byproduct of the necessity, for the writer in the era of independence, to "appropriate the national form as well as use it in decolonization efforts ... in opposition to British rule" (Adams 291), exploiting what Benedict Anderson has referred to as "the way in which, quite unconsciously, the nineteenth-century colonial state (and policies that its mindset encouraged) dialectically engendered the grammar of the nationalisms that eventually arose to combat it" (xiv). Whereas these earlier writers have been viewed as embracing the imagined community of the constructed colonial nation-state as a means of resistance, authors of third generation literature, temporally and spatially displaced from the event of colonization and the turmoil of independence, have been described as reflecting a more varied engagement with the nation (Hawley; Adesanmi and Dunton, "Everything Good"; Ojaide, "Examining Canonisation" 16-17; Adeek6). While acknowledging the extent to which third generation writing has moved away from the "vibrant nationalist aspirations that motivated the best known of African Anglophone writing" from 1945 to 1980 (Adeek6 11), scholarship has nonetheless viewed third generation writing as exhibiting a perspective in which the individual is no longer tied singularly to the nation, able to act from a complex and multiply-rooted subjective position without the "odium of betrayal" tainting his or her actions (Adeek6 12). …

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