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European-language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Abstract

The first major comparative study of African writing in western languages, <i>European-language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa, </i>edited by Albert S. Gérard, falls into four wide-ranging sections: an overview of early contacts and colonial developments “Under Western Eyes”; chapters on “Black Consciousness” manifest in the debates over Panafricanism and Negritude; a group of essays on mental decolonization expressed in “Black Power” texts at the time of independence struggles; and finally “Comparative Vistas,” sketching directions that future comparative study might explore. An introductory essay stresses the millennia of writing in Africa, side by side with a richly eloquent and artistic set of vernacular oral traditions; written and oral traditions have become interwoven in adaptations of imported forms and linguistic innovations that challenge traditional “high” literary norms. Gérard uses the mathematical concept of “fuzzy sets” to explain why the focus on “Black Africa” has led him to set aside for future analysis the literatures produced in North Africa, which fall under the influence of Muslim civilization, as well as the diasporic literatures of the New World. Over sixty scholars from twenty-two countries contribute specialized studies of creative writing by leading authors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as Achebe, Mphahlele, Ngugi, Senghor, Soyinka, and Tutuola. Critical analyses are organized primarily around regions, reflecting different colonial languages imposed through schools and other social institutions. Some authors trace the adaptation of western genres, others identify syncretism with folktales or myths. The volumes are attentive to the heterogeneity of national literatures addressed to polyethnic and multilingual populations, and they note the instrumental politics of language in newly independent states. A closing chapter, “Tasks Ahead,” identifies areas for future scholars to explore.

Subjects: Comparative literature & literary studies

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