Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa 0870233955

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Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa
 0870233955

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Manichean Aesthetics

''A fine, pioneering critical work ... it is a real contribution to the understand-

ing and criticism of literature about Africa and African literature"— Peter

Nazareth, University of Iowa.

In this ground-breaking study, Abdul R. JanMohamed examines the relation-

ship between colonial society and the literature arising from it, as revealed in the writings of six novelists of the colo-

experience in Africa. The authors discussed three Europeans and three Africans were chosen for geographinial

— —

cal as well as literary reasons: Joyce

Cary and Chinua Achebe from West Africa; Isak Dinesen and Ngugi wa Thiong'o from East Africa; and Nadine Gordimer and Alex La Guma from South Africa.

Drawing on the work of Frantz Fanon and others, JanMohamed defines the contradictory nature of colonial society and shows how each author's different experience of colonial society affects the shape and substance of her or his writing.

Although each transforms

personal experience into different literary forms, all authors are obliged to

come

to

terms with the manichean

structure of colonial society. JanMohamed also demonstrates that a fundamental ideological function of African literature is to reclaim African

cultures from colonialism by negating the prior European negation of Africa.

"The underlying thesis— that the

cul-

ture of colonialism defines a radically

manichean' world, in which novelists are almost inescapably either colonial or

Manichean Aesthetics

Digitized by the Internet Archive in

2016 with funding from

Kahle/Austin Foundation

https://archive.org/details/manicheanaesthetOOjanm

Manichean The

Aesthetics

Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa

Abdul

R.

The University

JanMohamed

of Massachusetts Press

Amherst, 1983

Copyright

The University

© 1983 by

of Massachusetts Press

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America LC 83-5808

ISBN 0-87023-395-5

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

appear on the

A

portion of the chapter on Alex La

The

Literary

boundary as

last printed

and

Political

Guma

page of the book. first

appeared as "Alex La

Guma:

Function of Marginality in the Colonial Situation/' in

2 11, no. 1 (1983).

The chapter on Chinua Achebe

originally appeared

"Chinua Achebe: Colonial Situation and the Generation of Realism/' Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature 18-19 (1980-81).

in

for

Donna

Contents

6

Acknowledgment 1

Introduction

ix

i

Joyce Cary The Generation of Racial

2

:

Isak Dinesen:

4

The Generation

of

15

Mythic Consciousness

49

Nadine Gordimer: The Degeneration of the Great South African Lie

5

Romance

79

Chinua Achebe: The Generation of Realism

151

Ngugi wa Thiong'o: The Problems of

Communal Regeneration

18^

Alex La Guma: The Generation of Marginal Fiction 8

Conclusion

Notes

A

265

285

Selected Bibliography

Index

309

301

225

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w

1

I

I

I

I

1

j

f

1

I

I I

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i

Acknowledgment

It IS A great pleasure to acknowledge colleagues, and friends

whose

my

debts to the teachers,

direct influence has culminated in the

present study. Without the sympathy, encouragement, and tolerance of Daniel Stempel during

would not have been critical project.

my

undergraduate and graduate studies

I

embark on this or any other Allen Grossman's unwavering intellectual and emoin a position to

tional support, Philip Fisher's astute criticism,

sympathetic blessing were

all

and Edouard Bustin's

essential during the early stages of this

Michael McKeon's patient and thorough readings of the manuscript in its various stages allowed me to improve it, while his invaluable moral support during a difficult and demoralizing time helped me to complete it. H. Bruce Franklin read a late version of the manuscript and made many useful suggestions, for which I am most grateful. Finally, I would like to thank Fredric Jameson, whose critical theory has inspired a major portion of my analysis, for his encouragement of and incisive comment on my work. I would also like to thank Leone Stein, whose tireless commitment study.

to this

book has made

its

publication possible, the

Wien

Interna-

which allowed me to commence this study, and Boston University, which generously financed the last stages of this book. I am grateful to Boundary 2 and Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature for permission to include here, in different forms, my articles on Alex La Guma and Chinua Achebe which appeared in these journals. Finally, I would like to acknowledge my most important debts. My moral, intellectual, and finanparents' long-term capital investment tional Fellowship (Brandeis University),

cial

— made possible my

To them



present existence (as a "corporate entity").

major dividend on their investment. My wife, Donna Przybylowicz, helped at every stage in the production of this book. Without her moral and critical support I I

offer this study as the first

would have written

a lesser

book.

My debt

to

her

is

incalculable.

Manichean Aesthetics

1

Introduction

In the past ten years, colonial and African literatures written in English have begun to attract critical attention. Thus far, however, both general surveys and critical studies of single colonial and African authors have examined such texts in a socio-political vacuum, assuming either that politics are irrelevant to a study of literature or

Even critical studies, such as Sociologie du Roman Africain and Fiction and the Colonial Experience, which promise a specific analysis of colonial social experience are in this respect rather disappointing.^ M. M. Mahood's The Colonial Encounter: A Reading of Six Novels aptly illustrates that life in the colonies resembles life elsewhere.

the peculiar hesitancy,

come

to

if

not a veiled refusal, of literary

terms with the colonial situation. Having chosen

critics to

six

novels

'^which are concerned with the experience of colonial rule and

aftermath," Ms.

Mahood

intends to define

"ways

in

which

its

historical

thinking on imperialism and on the relinquishing of empire, as dis-

from the mere chronicling of imperial rule, might shed light on the traditional and central concern of literary criticism: the work of art as the figment of a particular sensibility." However, this intention is entirely subverted by her selection of three "colonial" writers (Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, and Graham Greene) whom she feels tinct

"are as innocent of emotional exploitation of the colonial scene as

and economic exploitation." Similarly, the Third World writers she chooses (Chinua Achebe, R. K. Narayan, and V. S. Naipaul) are "quite as distanced from the dominated side they are

critical of its political

in the colonial

encounter as the best expatriate writers are distanced

dominating compatriots."^ Thus, even though Mahood has thoroughly documented the historical background of the six novels, her assumption of a "distance" between the writers and the colonial ambiance leads to a complete circumvention of the motives, prejudices, conflicts, bitterness, and resentments that define the essential

from

their

2

Introduction

between the dominators and the dominated. By thus avoiding the essence of the colonial dilemma, Mahood is able to do ample justice to her other intention to establish, through an

colonial relationship



"'affectionate scrutiny" of writers she particularly admires, a "parity"

between the English and the Third World novels. The successful realization of this intention makes The Colonial Encounter a very useful and illuminating comparison. But it is not a study of the colonial encounter. It

seems

to

me

we cannot adequately understand

that

the nature of colonial literature until

we study them

and the

rise of the

or appreciate

African novel

within their generative ambiance. This

several specific reasons. Because the colonial writer

volved in articulating the various theories his civilizing mission,

and so forth

whole imperial endeavor,

is

so for

was often

in-

— the white man's burden,

— which sought

to rationalize the

be replete with ideological valorizations of his colonial experience. Similarly, because the origin of the African novel lies in the transformation of indigenous oral cultures into literate ones and because this transformation is mediated by colonial occupation, the traumatic experience of that period is naturally reflected in the thematic preoccupations as well as in the styles and structures of the first generation of African novels. Finally, the uniqueness of the colonial situation, due both to the trauma and confusion of its rapid social and cultural transformation and to the richness and complexity of its political and ideological his literature tends to

contradictions, provides a fertile field for the study of socio-literary

Because an understanding of colonial experience is crucial to a study of its literature, it is best, before defining the scope and

"TeTations.

nature of this study, to begin with a description of the generic colonial situation,

which

will

be specifically elaborated

in the

following

chapters.

Though

it is

quite true that social relations are largely determined

by economic motives,

economic imperatives behind imperialism lead to the rise of colonialism, and that the metropole-colony relationship is essentially the same as that between capital and labor, it is the socio-political aspects of the relation between colonizer and colonized that are, from a J^iterary point of view, more significant. Because it is extremely difficult, in a study of this kind, to analyze the entire process whereby economic, motives are transformed into social relations which in turn manifest themselves in literature, I shall focus only on the socio-political aspects of colonialism. What needs to be stressed from this point of view is that the drastic measures of imperial domination population transfers, the policies of that the



Introduction

5

gerrymandering, and of forced production, the negation of indigenous legal systems and religions, and, ultimately, the denial of the validity of indigenous cultures render colonialism at times ^^an act of social surgery/'^ Furthermore, the changes are so swift that the dominated people ^'scarcely [have] time in which to devise

(^"'reserve/' of



methods of readjustment or of balancing the various conflicting interests/'^ The social disruption produced by such rapid and drastic changes and the profoundly antagonistic relations between the colonizers and the colonized cause colonial societies to exist in a state of latent crisis: "they are involved to some extent in a kind of social pathology."^

The social pathology is produced by the facts of domination and race. The colonizers' efforts toward absolute/^political, economic, and spiritual domination create in them a feudal spirit, supported by a series of familiar rationalizations:

the superiority of white races,

their mission to civilize the rest of the world, the inability of natives

govern themselves and to develop their own natural resources, the blacks' tendency toward despotism, their ease in reverting to atavistic .barbarism, their lack of intelligence, their hyperemotional and uncontrollable personalities, and so forth. Such claims, designed to rationalize and perpetuate the colonizer's dominant position, are not to

I

accurate appraisals of reality but rather projections of the settler's

and negative self-image^: "Whatever a white man experiences as bad in himself whatever is forbidden and horrifying in human nature, may be designated as black and projected ^onto a man whose dark skin and oppressed past fit him to receive the symbol."® These projections are self-contained fantasies that are \ entirely indifferent to reality; they can be projected on an individual African as well as on tWe whole African continent onto the "heart of darkness." Conrad ^stematically uses this Western notion of Africa as an evil place, bereft of social order, where the darker side of human nature could be played out. But whereas Conrad consciously and ironically uses Africa metaphorically in order to explore the destructive capacity of unchecked libidinal desires, European colonizers, less aware of their own psychic tendencies, see Africa as

own

^anxieties

.

.

.



a literal repository of evil:

The

colonial world

is

a

Manichean world.

settler to delimit physically, that is to say

and the police

It

is

not enough for the

with the help of the army

force, the place of the native.

As

if

to

show

the totali-

tarian character of colonial exploitation the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. sible to ethics;

.

.

.

The

native

is

declared insen-

he represents not only the absence of values, but also

4 the negation of values.

and

in this sense

he

is

He

Introduction

is, let

us dare admit, the

the absolute

The absolute negation

enemy

of values,

evil.’^

of the very being of the colonized people

breeds a counter negation: "'On the logical plane, the Manicheism of the settler produces a Manicheism of the native. To the theory of the "absolute evil of the native" the theory of the "absolute evil of the settler' replies."®

The manichean organization

of colonial society has

apogee in the "Republic" of South Africa, where the perpetuation and elaboration of "apartheid," the policy of racial segregation and exploitation, have become the major concern of government and where the abusive term for African, "kaffir," literally means infidel. As we shall see in my fourth chapter, "Nadine Gorreached

its

dimer," D. T. Moodie has traced the theological origin of apartheid ideology back to the Calvinistic notions of predestination, original

and

sin,

its

highly polarized views of salvation and damnation. Given

the theological sources of this ideology, Fanon's definition of colonial

manichean organization is by no means exaggerated. In fact, the colonial mentality is dominated by a manichean allegory of white and black, good and evil, salvation and damnation, civilization and savagery, superiority and inferiority, intelligence and emotion, self and other, subject and object. The colonial society, then, embodies a rejection of the colonizer by the colonized and vice versa. This opposition, however, is accompanied by an equally profound dependency, particularly on the part

society as a

of the colonialist. For while he sees the native as the quintessence of evil

he

and therefore avoids

contact because he fears contamination,

same time absolutely dependent upon the colonized peonot only for his privileged social and material status but also for

is

ple

all

at the

moral superiority and, therefore, ultimately for his very identity.^ Thus, as Sartre says, the colonial system simultaneously wills the annihilation and the multiplication of the natives.^® On the other hand, the colonized person too is simultaneously attracted and repelled by the colonialist. The ambivalence of the native is the result of his genuine admiration of European technology and his hatred for the system that subjugates and insults him. This major colonial contradiction, caused by rejection and dependency on the part of the colonizer and by attraction and hatred on the part of the colonized, generates a host of secondary contradictions that engulf the his sense of

colonial society.

For the European settler and administrator, colonial difficulty of reconciling the notions of political

life raises

the

freedom cherished by

Introduction his

home country with

5

the actual political suppression and disfran-

chisement of the colonized people. He resolves this dilemma by developing a theory of the white man's burden. But this creates another contradiction for him:

if

he genuinely pursues his manifest destiny

undermines his own position of social privilege; if the democracy from his home country is extended to the dominated country, then the colonizer can no longer retain his superior status. These contradictions are an inherent part of the colonial condition and can be eliminated only by an eradication of colo-

and

"civilizes" the native, then he

nialism

itself.

For the indigenous person, the colonial situation also

dilemma from which he cannot easily disentangle himself. The superiority complex of the European creates a corresponding sense of inferiority in the native, who attempts to overcome this feeling by espousing Western values and social customs only to discover in the end that although the colonial system offers the European as a model for emulation it also effectively blocks the means to education, assimilation, and equality.^' Even the very option to emulate the European puts the native in a double bind: if he chooses conservatively and remains loyal to his indigenous culture, then he opts to stay in a calcified society whose developmental momentum has been checked by colonization. If, however, the colonized person chooses assimilation, then he is trapped in a form of historical catalepsy because colonial education severs him from his own past and replaces it with the study of the colonizer's past. Thus deprived of his own culture and prevented from participating in that of the colonizer, the native loses his sense of historical direction and soon his initiative as well. The limited choice of either petrification or catalepsy is imposed on the African by the colonial situation; his subjugation and lack of political power prevent him from constructively combining these two cultures and leave him more vulnerable to furcreates a

ther subjugation.

If

he chooses

to

be faithful

to

the indigenous

from the colonialist's viewpoint, a "savage," and the need to "civilize" him perpetuates colonialism. If, however, he attempts to espouse Western values, then he is seen as a vacant imitator without a culture of his own. Thus colonialist ideology is designed to confine the native in a confused and subservient position. Because these social contradictions and the severance from his own

values, he remains,

cultural history seriously affect the native intellectual, the develop-

ment

of the African novel cannot be adequately appreciated unless

one takes into account the nature of colonial experience. In this study, then, I shall take up six authors who have substantially experienced the pains and pleasures of colonial society and

6

whose books

Introduction

are thoroughly influenced

by the opportunities and

re-

have chosen three Europeans, Joyce Cary, Isak Dinesen, and Nadine Gordimer, and three Africans, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong'o (formerly 'James Ngugi), and Alex La Guma. Although they have lived in different parts of Africa and at different times, they have all thoroughly experienced the strictions of their

ambiance.

I

generic aspects of colonial society.

Where

their relations to society

and unique I have provided the relevant details in their proper places. However, where the same social background has informed the works of two authors I have chosen not to repeat the have been

specific

sociological information.^Thus

I

should stress at this stage that the

Gordimer" is also applicable to the discussion of Alex La Guma's fiction in the seventh chapter and that the picture of colonial society in "Ngugi wa description of apartheid society in ^'Nadine

Thiong'o" is equally applicable to Dinesen's context, although she had left Kenya quite some time before the Mau Mau war. Throughout this study I shall be concerned with several major topics, the most important of which is the nature of the influence of colonial