Postmodernism's Pit Stops En Route to Utopia: Language, History and Death in Ben Okri's in Arcadia

By van Niekerk, Leigh | Journal of Literary Studies, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Postmodernism's Pit Stops En Route to Utopia: Language, History and Death in Ben Okri's in Arcadia


van Niekerk, Leigh, Journal of Literary Studies


Summary

From the outset, this article emphasises the notions of language, history and death as indispensible to any reading of Ben Okri's In Arcadia ([2002] 2003). From this, the article explains the relevance of the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin Heidegger to Okri's writing in particular and to postmodern literature in general. Heidegger's concept of being-towards-death as the only way to achieve Dasein (authentic human existence), as well as Gadamer's idea of language and history as the necessary precursors to human understanding (the hermeneutic circle), is elucidated. Postmodernism itself is loosely defined before the author hones in on particular items of evidence--motifs, word usage, plot elements, etc.--from the primary text, in support of the argument that language, history and death are relevant in this context inasmuch as they relate to perception (and its relationship with reality). Further explication of postmodernism, Dasein, being-towards-death, and the hermeneutic circle is interposed with a series of exhibits including, among others, art (film-making, painting and writing) as a sort of language, the inscriptions received by three of the novel's characters, the historicity of the characters' journey in search of Arcadia, and all measures of attempts (through art, grandiosity or any other means), to avert death. All these strands are finally drawn together with the revelation of the fluidity of postmodernism's view of language and history. The closing argument is that the three concepts--philosophical hermeneutics, postmodernism, and In Arcadia as a unified whole--are intertexts, each informing the other in the never-ending hermeneutic circle.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel beklemtoon uit die staanspoor die begrippe van taal, geskiedenis en die dood as onontbeerlik vir die lees van Ben Okri se In Arcadia ([2002] 2003). Daarmee verduidelik die artikel die toepaslikheid van die filosofiese hermeneutiek van Hans-Georg Gadamer en Martin Heidegger vir, in besonder, Okri se skryfwerk, en postmoderne letterkunde in die algemeen. Heidegger se idee van bestaanteenoor-die-dood (Sein-zum-Tode) as die enigste manier om Dasein (outentieke menslike bestaan) te bereik, sowel as Gadamer se idee van taal en geskiedenis as die nodige voorlopers van menslike verstand (die hermeneutiese sirkel) word toegelig. Postmodernisme is losweg gedefinieer voordat die outeur spesifieke items van bewyse--motiewe, taalgebruik, intrige-elemente, ens.--van die primere teks identifiseer ter ondersteuning van die argument dat taal, geskiedenis en die dood in hierdie konteks relevant is vir sover dit betrekking het op persepsie (en persepsie se verhouding met die werklikheid). Verdere uiteensetting van postmodernisme, Dasein, "being-towards-death", en die hermeneutiese sirkel is ingeweef tussen 'n reeks uitstallings insluitende, onder andere, kuns (rolprentvervaardiging, skilder en skryf) as 'n soort taal, waarvan die inskripsies wat deur drie van die roman se karakters ontvang word, die historisiteit van die karakters se reis in hulle soektog na Arcadia, en alle mate van pogings (deur middel van kuns, weelderigheid of enige ander wyse) om die dood te voorkom. Al hierdie aspekte word uiteindelik saamgetrek met die openbaring van die vloeibaarheid van postmodernisme se sien-ing van taal en geskiedenis. Die slotargument is dat die drie beginsels--filosofiese hermeneutiek, postmodernisme en In Arcadia as 'n verenigde geheel--intertekste is wat elk die ander beinvloed in die nimmereindigende hermeneutiese sirkel.

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Ben Okri's postmodern novel, In Arcadia (2002), is as replete with references (both subtle and overt) to language, history and death as to its most ostensible concern, the concept of arcadia. Thus, it seems apposite to critically discuss In Arcadia with a profound awareness o/language, history and death. Furthermore, even for one with as cursory a background in philosophical hermeneutics as myself, these concepts are inextricably linked to two names--Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin Heidegger. …

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