Kenneth W. Harrow, distinguished professor of English at Michigan State University pays homage to Professor Pius Adesanmi’s muse – and delivers a rigorous examination of Binyavanga Wainaina’s book, One Day I Will Write About This Place. He may be reached at email@example.com.
About a year ago Biodun Jeyifo told me of a conversation he had with one of his Ph.D. students. She had come to his office in a panic, informing him that her advisor had told her that retaining postcolonialism in her project would only hinder her job search, and that it ought not to play a significant role in her dissertation. We were in the throes of asking where the profession was going, how global studies have now become sine qua non for those seeking to teach non-Western literatures. The fragile place of African literary studies was once again called into question: what would it belong to now? And for those wishing to study and teach it, where would it figure in a job application? BJ straightened out the student and her advisor, but we remain confronted with the issue as “World Literature” has become widely adopted as the rubric under which the students of non-Western literatures are asked to become “expert.”
The study of African literature within the academy has moved from an original Areas Studies approach to a contemporary World Literature approach. We should begin by asserting that both approaches are so seriously flawed as to call into question the very inclusion of African literature in the curriculum, if that is the only way it is to be taught.
For Area Studies, the risk lies in imposing a vision of Africa created by an underlying anthropology of the early 20th century. It called for understandings generated by experts in indigenous cultures and languages, and which identified native values which informed cultural texts and gave them meaning. This is the true curse not only of Orientalism in African dress, but of authenticity detectives who prescribe the attributes of what is essentially frozen cultural truths for people viewed as natives, that is, objects for experts, rather than as subjects with subjectivity.
For Global Studies, the notion is equally pernicious. World Literature flattens out all cultures in the quest to find universal patterns of thought and creativity, and even more, to accept as representative texts those whose self-reflexive, postmodern postcolonial markers are highlighted within the stylistics of the current Creative Writing University Curriculum.
The former approach dignifies its knowledge under that heading of Objectivity as the quality that provides it with its claims to truth. The latter dignifies its value under the heading of Subjectivity as the value that enhances its aesthetic claims to universal worth. The former can be said to sell the value of education; the latter to sell books and movies. Both ultimately displace a global south perspective by privileging the dominant flows of global north ethnoscapes and financescapes.
Figures that give us access to the issues involved in moving toward our contemporary situation might be seen in the cell phone of Pius Adesanmi’s palm winner tapper. In Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir it is his use of the term kimay and a disk of benga music.
Wainaina ends his recent, hot memoir, One Day I Will Write about This Place (2011) by referring to the creation of a new Anglo-Kenyan culture, and to a noteworthy CD and documentary on benga music. He evokes how it corresponds to what he calls the sounds of languages without the languages; how it relates to a new world context for Kenyans of today, one without the past.
World literature and world music are now manifestations of Jameson’s definition of postmodernism as a cultural moment so fixated on the present as to erase any grounding in the past, occluding history from our readings, and resulting in what he calls pastiche. It is a view of culture as reduced to the bits and tracks of a video and cd.
Wainaina speaks English, and sees Anglo-Kenyan as the new identity being created at independence. He also speaks Swahili, and thus fits with the audiences of the two Kenyan radio stations he had when growing up. General Service is anglicized, like the Muslim singer Abdul Kadir Mohammed who changes his name to Kelly Brown and sings world pop. The other station, at the bottom of the dial, is National Service which is reserved for local languages. English is the official language of Kenya. Swahili is the national language, the less prestigious one. Wainaina speaks both these, but not his father’s language, Gikuyu, nor his mother’s Bufumbira. He doesn’t speak any ethnic language, any local language—only a world language and a world pop language.
Wainaina has a term for incomprehensible Kenyan languages, languages the sound of which hurt his head when he was young, and that is kimay. Now that he has become a world literature author, teaching at Bard, he returns to the term kimay at the end of the book to find in it something new: a language that subtends all Kenyan languages. He calls it “people talking without words, exact languages, the guitar sounds of all Kenya speaking Kenya’s languages” (253).
Adesanmi has a figure that subtends all Nigerian communication as well, and it is the cell phone, the one his palm-wine tapper uses to call him from his tree, early in the morning. Like kimay the cell phone speaks to all Nigerians, and in fact, reaches across the bush to the village to the worldweary author whose English has brought him to Carleton University in Canada where he is a professor. He is also winner of the Penguin Prize for African Writing in non-fiction.
Wainaina, too, occupies a privileged position as director of the Chinua Achebe Center for Writers and Artists at Bard College and has won the Caine Prize for African Writing. Both are writers whose works occupy the spaces of World Literature, and whose points of subjective reference are often local, that is, with local music, local languages.
This takes us to the global, whose relationship to the local has now supplanted the earlier area studies grounding in the regional, in the “area” to be studied. Studying an area implied learning the language and customs of the people, staying there long enough to become expert in the culture, and returning to write the book about them. This remains the dominant form of scholarship still today.
The rule of experts, as Timothy Mitchell termed it, produced orientalism and area studies forms of knowledge. The rule of the global airwaves, of Appadurai’s technoscapes and ethnoscapes is now inseparable from capital’s financescapes, with the result being not simply a global culture, but more especially global pop cultures.
The global pop has two sides to it: the close and the distant. I will characterize the former as marked by global pop subjectivity and the latter by global pop objectivity. For the global pop subject, it is necessary to bring the reader close to the intimate spaces of the writer. For Wainaina this is not as easy as it would seem since his home languages are English and Swahili. He has termed the current pop scene Anglo-Kenyan, and identifies the music on General Service radio as “ageless and ours” (247), the “ours” referring to the Anglo-Kenyan scene. National Service radio, with “all those songs in so many languages that suggest some other pungent reality,” is marked by the two defining characteristics of the personal and subjective in his book, “mess and history” (247). He distinguishes the two types of music by their look, stating that the “Anglo-Kenyan garden does not look like that music [National Service music] sounds” (sic 248).
Thus the General Service example of the pop global singer whom he cites is Kelly Brown, aka Abdul Kadir Mohammed. If Michael Jackson could change his nose and his look, as a global pop icon, Kelly Brown could change his ethnic and religious name, as well as his home language from Mombasan Swahili to global English, with lyrics that go, “Me and my baby to-nite-ah, we hold each other tite-ah,” with the appropriate global spellings “nite” and “tite,” punctuated with ah.
We are at the objective distance needed for the pop song to be played on the world market labels now, far from the young Wainaina’s libidinal, intimate spaces. When his writing is on a roll, he jump-cuts from the recollection of those earlier times, to his present memories, where the earlier inhibitions that would have kept his masturbations secret have now yielded to the exigencies of Caine Prize writing. We are treated to the close confidences that focus on his “hard-on” and need to “LOOK AWAY from all breasts” (248), before he returns his to his reminiscences on National Service music, which he identified as having “kimay sounds” that he tried his best to avoid.
This binary replicates the familiar global paradigm of global/local that is replicated throughout the academy. And it is oriented completely from the perspective of the global north. Pop means different things in the global north and south; ethnic and local have totally different meanings. For instance, when the U.S. State Department presents its annual report on human rights in all countries around the world, among the topics the desk officers have to address is Anti-Semitism. Even for countries that have no Jews. The agenda crafted in the economies of the global north are for a global village constructed in an imaginary that utilizes a certain notion of diversity, constructing global slots for universalscapes that make no sense in a world where one is raised on National Radio music, speaking any of the local languages. Appiah’s cosmopolitan and Wainaina’s Anglo-Kenyan don’t speak of being divided, say between a mother tongue and a fatherland, but rather of joining them in hybrid fashion. Where does Anglo squeeze into the local paradigms of benga music? The global will find a way.
So Wainaina posits a third human being—one that exists in some sense beyond the scope of the radio station perspectives. He identifies that third type with people who exist in “books,” by which he means, those whom we identify with through written words instead of visual images. He says they don’t have an actual voice, and that “you cannot see them” (249), but they “move around your head” (249)
No sooner has he given us those figures of imaginary substance than he evokes his youthful vision that someday the dungeons will be open and the truth will emerge. That truth he could only sense as they played Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” brimming “in compassion for his sensitivity”– the beautiful Michael Jackson, he calls him,” where “the nose has not yet fallen.” His world was inhabited by viewings of Dallas, Dynasty, and Fallen Crest, a postmodern world with “a perpetual present tense: no lineage, no history” (249). In that world, one that simultaneously gives us “shoulder pad dreams” and prisoners whose “testicles are crushed,” we are given to understand that the Anglo-Kenyan subject is formed– emergent into the eruption of late modernity that is marked by the global writer as having occurred yesterday in his memoir.
Wainaina is the other to those whose call their “father’s house” home, Appiah’s notion being something Wainaina and his sister Ciru never knew. In referring to pop lyrics in the song calling out to the people of Taita, he writes, “These short lyrics are a call home that I don’t know, that Ciru does not know. We do not know how to be from two nations: home home (home squared, we call it, your clan, your home, the nation of your origin), and the home away from home—the home of the future, a not yet place called Kenya. We are Milimani kids [from a well-to-do neighborhood], speaking English and Swahili” (51).
Everything comes into focus when considering this dual temporal track of then and now. Global pop objectivity is crafted by the writer who situates us alongside him in a room in Red Hook where he writes his memoir. We learn all we need to know when he evokes his tears in recounting his experience at a reading at Williams College. We know, too; we were there. Bard, Williams, where are we now– Philadelphia or is it New Haven? Tomorrow it will be Amherst or maybe Berkeley. The New Kenya of today that he describes belongs to all of us now, especially as we have access to his emotions when he observes voting for a new constitution in a Kenya that is “suddenly all soft and gooey. People smiling, looking you in the eye and saying mushy things like ‘as a Kenyan …’ or ‘in this New Kenya’” (251). We move with complete ease between the objective world of that New Age Globe and the writer’s evocation of his own years of “soft-focus trash” (251) when he tells us that he has learned he will need an operation to correct his vagueness!
The trope on which this figure of the global will coalesce is, ironically, world music. Here it is called benga, a music he can now access, like a music video, on CD, and whose meaning he can grasp with the documents that accompany the disk. Benga, the original, authentic, World Music tape of what had once been pre-colonial Kenyan nyatiti and orutu music, uses stringed musical instruments that Wainaina, our guide now, identifies as having “a wooden bow and string rubbing a fiddle made from a gourd” (251). It was in the absence of those instruments that Kenyan soldiers during World War II fashioned a substitute with the use of a Spanish acoustic guitar.
He tells us the guitar recreated the sounds of home, but did so by subordinating the music to the language, and most of all by ignoring the original qualities of the instrument, using it “with impunity,” so as to express, in poor simulation, the “noble nyatiti and the noble orutu” (252). Using these new, reterritorialized global sounds, Olima Anditi and John Ogara created “a whole new idea” (253).[i]
Tracking the musical instrument back to the nyatiti and orutu would be the work of the area specialist. Transforming it into the final and central trope of this memoir is to refigure the instrument in World Literary terms. It is to situate kimay and Michael Jackson in the same breath as figurations of a global subjectivity that is marked by its contemporary worlding. There is no more ethnicity in its language; it is Youssou Ndour singing in English; Fela recreated on Broadway; Soyinka and Achebe monumentalized before their passing to the point that Things Fall Apart and Death and the King’s Horseman have become so completely integrated into the current curriculum that their original language, which we might as well call African, has become reinscribed into that most powerful marker of the economy in culture, World Literature. That is now a language without native speakers: it is called a global language, and its speakers reproduce the sounds of all languages in its form.
Wainaina calls that language kimay, that is, people talking without words or exact languages, “the guitar sounds of all of Kenya speaking Kenya’s languages” (253). His memoir speaks the language of all world languages, situated as it is in the context of the global, and it functions exactly as he sees the function of kimay as inserting its speakers into a globalized world. “For kimay was part of a project to make people like us certain of our place in the world, to make us unable to see the past and our place in it. To make us a sort of Anglo-Kenyan” (253). [ii]
This is where we have come from the original explorers who discovered the Dark Continent, who gave us its mysteries, and whose authentic language of expression Ngugi tried to protect with his famous injunction to write in African languages. The only problem now is how to locate that language when everything has become kimay.[iii]
* * *
Pius Adesanmi’s hot new essay is called “Face Me, I Book You: Writing Africa’s Agency in the Age of the Netizen.” Pius speaks English, Nigeria’s official and national language; he also speaks pidgin, its world pop language. In his essays he often utilizes Yoruba terms and sayings, and grounds his approach in Yorubaness, as in the local. He says, “we say this,” and cites a Yoruba term and concept.
In order to evoke his sense of the global world order within which we now live, he evokes, in hilarious terms, the figure of his palm-wine tapper with a cell phone. Not wishing to overdo the immodesty of proclaiming his relationship with the palm-wine tapper in too proprietary a fashion, he informs us that it is actually his father’s palm-wine tapper, but that with the passing of his father the tapper has continued his family relationship by providing the son with the bubbly brew.
One early morning before dawn Pius is awakened by the sound of his cell phone ringing. In a semi-awakened fog he imagines it is some friend from Stateside or Canada who has lost track of the time difference, and has inadvertently disturbed his sleep. To his great surprise, it is his palm-wine tapper who is calling to inform him that someone had gotten to the tree before him and tapped out the desired brew. He is called Akowe, book man, by the tapper, whose call is described thus:
That was my palmwine tapper phoning me – wait for this – from the bush! As I later found out when he returned from that morning’s sortie, he was calling me from the neck of one of his trees. He wanted to let me know that delivery would be delayed that morning and I may not get my regular quantity of “the usual”. Funny things had happened to his gourds. I understood. In the village, strange spirits disguised as villagers sometimes climbed trees to help themselves to the fruit of another man’s labour. It was all part of the territory. I told him not to worry. I would accept whatever he was able to supply.
From there we go into the bush of Pius’s imagination. Tongue in cheek, crossing the postmodern image with the Tutuolan imaginary, we arrive someplace close to the now eternalized television-handed ghost of My Life in the Bush of Ghost fame where the television has become the cell phone:
Then it hit me like a thunderbolt! The familiar and the strange. The uncanny. Try to imagine an elderly palm wine tapper atop a palm tree in the village, reaching for his pocket to fish out his blackberry in order to discuss the laws of supply and demand with a customer whose father he had also served decades earlier under a totally different economy of meanings and you will understand why that event, in the summer of 2008, marked a turning point in my attempts to fashion new ways of listening to so many new things Africa seems to be saying about her historical quest for agency – a quest that has lasted the better part of the last five centuries.
The fitful leap of the “irruption into modernity” that Glissant famously described as marking the Caribbean’s entry into the Twentieth Century is reconfigured by Pius as he rewrites Benjamin’s equivalently famous phrasing describing his own continent’s entry into an age of modern technology:
The Age of Mechanical Reproduction? That’s so dinosaur now! Perhaps you will agree with me that until a blackberry joined the arsenal of tools and implements that my palm wine tapper took atop his trees every morning in Isanlu, he belonged in a habitus of tradition governed by those mytho-ritualisms of existence which has led to tensions in the arena of historical discourses and counter-discourses about Africa’s agency.
From there we are to go to the unimaginable digital age where the tapper, now able to represent himself perfectly well with a click of his Blackberry might simply turn the phone around and take a picture of himself atop the tree, at the moment his young client receives the call informing him his favored consumer commodity is not in stock; the proof would be that he has the photos to show this. The unhinged imagination of Tutuola now grafts itself onto Pius’s rambling cogitations where he wanders over colonial and anti-colonial notions of agency, the inadequacies of formulations about “speaking for” that have run dry in this new coeval age of blackberry self-representation. Even before the slaughter of the cock at dawn, Pius’s disturbed sleep turns nightmarish:
From the top of his palm tree, my palmwine tapper was articulating his own agency and self-representing in ways that are miles ahead of the imaginaries which underwrite my work as a writer and critic. That, I posit, is the problem of African art in the current age of social media and MAC, my acronym for mutually assured communication. The fact that he phoned me from the top of a tree in the bush rattled and unsettled me. What if, God forbid, my Baba Elemu had also recorded videos of himself at work and posted it on youtube as these new possibilities of agency now afford him? What if he tweets his conversation with me from the top of that tree? What if he makes a photo of himself at work the cover of a Facebook page dedicated to tapping? What if… questions, questions, questions.
Here Pius has definitively entered into Wainaina’s madness of kimay, first with the child’s bewilderment at the cacophony of incomprehensible tongues, to the later gestures toward an agency defined outside the scope of national languages. The global tongue of the tweet, the youtube video, the digitally altered image, bring together the repackaged world of benga with the viral possibilities of a Kony 2012 video.
It is almost impossible to write now about world literature and globalized flows of communication without lapsing into the parody of texting—a babble that communicates not a fatigue with the familiar tropes of theory, half-forgotten with each passing year, but the technology of half-lives burning out quickly as the dissertation advisers seek desperately to keep up with their latest apps. There is no reason whatsoever for this emergent modernist age, clearly one where the threshold of post-globalization has been reached, not to deploy that same set of tropes as we might encounter in any ordinary manga or anime. The spray cans are out, graffiti has supplanted classical art in the latest doctoral research, and there is the newest apple has appropriated the old garden.
The postcolonial? Oh, yes, I remember it.
So, in answer to the question, do we still have postcolonialism in an age of post-globalization, I turn to Pius’s latest essay, one he wrote about the division between the worlds of humor in the west and in Africa. Appropriately enough, the essay is titled “Ode to the Bottle—For Ken Harrow Who Laughed”
As in his other blog-site essays Pius begins with an anecdote. This one concerns pissing. Here he provides a recap of the joke:
A policeman arrests a guy for urinating in a place displaying the commonplace “Do Not Urinate Here” sign in Nigeria. The cop fines the offender five hundred naira. The guy brings out one thousand naira and asks for his change. Says the policeman to the offender: “urinate again. I no get change.” I wrote “The ABC of a Nigerian Joke” to explore the postcolonial cultural locatedness of this and other jokes. I made the case that humour is the most difficult thing to translate; it’s very untranslatability making it one of the most reliable ways of gauging cultural integration in immigrant and diasporic communities.
But as Pius enters into the convoluted spaces that separate the postcolonial world, and its inimitable powers to laugh at the powers that devastate it, he finds himself moving to the edges of that spatialized division, wondering how a figure like Ken Harrow, a stand-in for the author of this essay, might have not understood the humor of a world he purported to have occupied since ages dating back to the period of antiquity in its national liberationist époque:
Something would be seriously wrong, I thought further, if Ken Harrow, a vieux routier of Africa, encountered an African proverb and didn’t find it funny. After all, he got to Africa before me and has never really left. I thought he had forgotten his own African insiderhood, earned over decades of meticulous and thorough scholarly labour in the cultural vineyards of the continent. Ken, it should be obvious to you why you laughed, why you found that joke funny, I thought, as I made a mental note of waiting for an inspired moment to pen a follow-up essay – this essay – in his honour.
To consecrate the dedication of the essay, Pius sought the precise location of difference that would enable the crossing of one gene of humor to another to be enabled. However, like Eshu, he discovered that his center was precisely neither here nor there, there being, perhaps, nothing to enable an objective global consciousness to deploy a gps signal. Instead, global subjectivity, placed within the local simultaneously with the macroworld of indefinite space, came to inform his discovery, one as old as Walcott. Pius’s bedbug, the little critter that bites the ass of power, where humor can be located:
Beyond the earned cultural insiderhood which would open up Nigerian, nay African humour to an Africanist vieux routier like Ken, making him laugh at the joke about a Nigerian policeman and the politics of “change collection” in the postcolonial atmospherics of the checkpoint, there are contact zones and meeting points of the collectively human which, in hindsight, my initial essay, focused on cultural particulars, does not adequately address. As culturally hermetic as humour is, such sites, zones, and spaces of the universally human offer many opportunities for her to cross borders without passport and visa requirements.
And it is there, in that space above the ground, in the palm tree where the tapper is working in early dawn, at the crossroads where Soyinka finds the traveler, like the cock, impaled; at the conjuncture of cellphone and palmwine that the figure appears to our essayist. For Walcott it was the bedbug, of course, fitting for the satires of Martial, Juvenal, and Pope, whom he invokes in his “The Spoiler’s Return.” Pius’s bedbug, the little critter that bites the ass of power, is the bottle. Spirits of inebriation spurt forth as every conceivable trope of the bottle is invoked, from Tom Paxton (Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine/ When you gonna let me get sober), to Kollington Ayinla:
A f’owo mu oti ki ku s’ode
Gere gere, ng o dele mi o
(He who pays for his own booze
Is not condemned to the outdoors
Somehow, I’ll stagger drunkenly all the way home).
Walcott’s impersonation of the postcolonial critique is grounded in the eloquence of humor that laughs at what Mbembe would call the autocrat and his minions, the ones with dark glasses and shark fin suits. The poet clears his ground, proclaiming his high post as ruling wit: “So crown and mitre me Bedbug the First—/ the gift of mockery with which I’m cursed/ is just an insect biting Fame behind,/ a vermin swimming in a glass of wine,/ that, dipped out with a finger, bound to bite/ its saving host, ungrateful parasite…”
The answer to the question of the location of the postcolonial, somewhere between the poor slob caught urinating by the policeman, and the buttcrack of power where the bug chooses to bite at power’s pretensions, can only be in these far-ranging discourses of Wainaina and Adesanmi for whom there are no more stringent contingencies of agency or authenticity. If we can use their figures of kimay and the bottle, we can say that postcolonialism has been preloaded into the insider/outsider spaces of African postglobal writing. It permits itself to range, like the bottle, over all the registers from which humor can be heard—at least if one permits oneself a glass or two. Here is how Pius ends his satire, citing Elizabeth Renzetti who writes of drunkenness in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper:
On a given night, you might be bladdered, legless, paralytic or rotten with drink…I thought I’d heard them all until British Home Secretary Theresa May used the phrase “preloaded” on Friday to announce her government’s war on binge drinking. Preloading refers to the act of getting hammered before you go out to get hammered – that is stocking up on cheap booze from the grocery store in order to be good and wobbly by the time you hit the bars.”
Pius then returns to his intermediary spaces rented to global postcolonial inhabitants:
Now, why am I in stitches reading Renzetti’s description of the English? The Canadian is making this Nigerian laugh by describing the English in registers that are brokered by the universal signifyin’ of the bottle. If she makes me laugh, I am sure she is immensely capable of making Ken Harrow, the American, laugh with precisely the same registers. American, Canadian, French, English, Nigerian: the bottle speaks only one language but we can all understand it in our respective languages. The bottle is not Babel. She is Pentecost. We all hear her speak in our respective languages.
Of course I would let Wainaina give us the last word on that host of postcolonial global languages: not Babel or Pentecost, but kimay, the one Wainaina identifies with a phantom limb.
[i] In his initial evocation of nyatiti music, as a child he played on the rhyming between “nyatiti” and “titties.” The child’s distance and asberger-like reactions to stress or nervous overload is reflected in his hyper-wordplay and association of indigenous terms and sounds as painful. Kimay and nyatiti exemplify this: When the radio announces, “A nyatiti is a traditional Luo instrument,” the children respond with “Matiti. Ciru giggles. I giggle. Titi Titties” (24).
[ii] As we can see, when we compare his use of the term at the outset of the memoir, it is associated with the chaotic, almost autistic, subject he identifies as his earlier self.
When he has arrived to his successful state as writer, this attitude toward national cultures has changed:
When the national day of mourning Kenyatta comes, he learns to riff on kimay:
In school we were taught that all music comes from eight sounds: do, re, mi, fa sol, la ti do—but what those people are singing and playing cannot fit those sounds. Gibberish. Kenyatta is dead. Those red blowtorch eyes in the dining room pulling together all those fathered harambee sounds of people in the many costumes of Kenya, singing and dancing in no choir, many unrelated sounds and languages and styles and costumes, and facial expressions.
They have nothing to do with each other.
This is my new word, my secret. Ki-may.Ki. Maay. I let my jaw fall slack, with the second syllable, like a cartoon man with a cash register jaw. Ki-maaay….” 25).
… Kimay is the talking jazz trumpet: sneering, skewing sounds, squeaks and strains, heavy sweat, and giant puffed up cheeks, hot and sweating; bursting to say something, and then not saying anything at all; the hemming and hawing clarinet. Kimay is yodeling Gikuyu women, …
…Ki-may is any language that I cannot speak, but I hear every day in Nakuru…” (25)
[iii] In another riff on kimay and Kenyan identity, Wainaina writes:
“Urban Kenya is a split personality: authority, trajectory, international citizen in English; national brother in Kiswahili; and content villager or nostalgic urbanite in our mother tongues. It seems so clear to me here and now, after South Africa, which is so different. There, there is a political battle to resolve embattled selves. Every language fights for space in all politics. In this part of town, all three Kenyas live: city people who work in English making their way home; the village and its produce and languages on the streets; and the crowds and crowds of people being gentle to each other in Kiswahili. Kiswahili is where we meet each other with brotherhood.
It is an aspect of Kenya I am always acutely aware of—and crave, because I don’t have it all. My third language, Gikuyu, is nearly non-existent; I can’t speak it. It is a phantom limb, kimay…” (125)
7 thoughts on “[Guest Blog Post – Ken Harrow] For Pius Adesanmi: Do We Still Have Postcolonialism?”
Crucial and engaging essay, yes, especially so for me because Harrow dares to use very new material from newish African authors in gauging the extent of present movement within an old discourse frame. Globalist and trans-boundary/border discourses and their champions do a major job of plumbing the exchanges and privileging the unities which for them codify increasing commonality in human experience. Exiled or otherwise uprooted theorists have that great capacity for imagining the world as one, or hoping that it will be, and so tend to (if we can say so) feel betrayed by other voices and actual experiences which deny or defy that unity they presumed or predict or long for, instead choosing to read the world from what these champions of globalism would consider blinkered nationalist perspectives. Edward Said once had occasion, in Humanism and Democratic Criticism (2004), to express frustration at what he considered excessive nation-consciousness in the African writing and perspective of especially Soyinka. Whether it is framed as cosmopolitanism, or hybridity, or multiculturalism, or transnationalism, this oneworld sense of a coming together of all human kinds or types and places, or a uniform subscription to their melting pot unities, only tells half the story of our continuing history. Yes, there is that kind of borrowing and common, even melting pot, usage of human facilities. The human surely has that sense of unity in a cultural whole with others to be identified with, imitated and agreed with in order to make progress, but perhaps even more significant for our accurate reading of history the sense too of self in that needful belonging – the ‘I’ and ‘my’ and ‘me’ and ‘mine’ by which it identifies not with but against the others of the whole, competing rather than combining, activating so many continuing and still strongly indicated familial, tribal, national, racial and other own group identities all based on that sense of self in historical competition and inevitable confrontation with other selves. Globalists may long for the disappearance of nation-consciousness, but people groups never give up entirely on the people they are even after conquest and a subsequent history of dedicated transformational programmes intending assimilation to a dominant culture for such subject peoples. A culture may be operationally silent when all its representatives die but its representation of otherness lives anthropologically, connecting with evidence of otherness elsewhere to affirm difference in human experience. Individuals exposed in a sustained way to the centred trends of a globalist culture (mostly made up of iconic trends and memes from imperial cultures) do self-willingly identify increasingly as one with the combined whole. This seems to agree with globalist discourses until you look closer at that famed unity and find developing differences identifying with ‘own kinds’ or ‘same likes’ in competition with other kinds and likes within the supposedly global. We may all now subscribe to a ‘world literature’, ‘world language (English for example)’ or ‘world music’ but in a matter of time it usually devolves into vernacular versions of the English we commonly use and national variants of the jazz or afrobeat music we all claim as part of our global inheritance. You do have reversals in the global project, situations in which a nation or race or other people group asserts its ideological otherness or difference against a developed global practice and returns, beginning sometimes by decree, to what it considers its ‘own’ aboriginal or autochthonous national practice. It is that residual instinct for survival or self-preservation at play, engaging unity, conformity or uniformity ostensibly as a passion play but ultimately only owning it as a power play involving identifiable and potentially competing others. Yes, there is one increasingly common world out there but it is a world that allows for (is ordinarily incapable of denying) experiential otherness, multiplicity, pluralism and difference. This is because that supposedly global world is omni-possible at heart, always open to all, open to change, open at any historical moment to both progress and reversal, unity and variety. As humans we go together but also go as individuals. Thanks for posting this to Ederi, Ikhide.
@Afam Akeh, please break your paragraph into paragraphs in future. It is off putting in one long jumbo assemble. Thanks!
@ suzZie… I never quite got over the thought I was just dashing off a short response and so wasn’t paying much attention to structure as the response grew. I apologise. Do something for me too, will you? Sign off with your full name next time. It can be off putting having a conversation with someone behind a veil.
My thanks and best wishes
Oh my God. What erudition! – I mean as displayed by Afam Akeh.
For those of us in African and Postcolonial Studies, the big elephant in the room is the fact that the majority of funding still goes to anthropological studies. The assumption – without anyone willing to admit this is the way they think – is that Africans are anthropological subjects still not in the modern age .
This is especially the case in Europe. A region in a time-warp when it comes to Africa – and that period is 1913 not 2013. Attitude in academia – among the the so-called progressives – is very hard to change. Binyanvanga Wainaina’s seminal article “How to Write About Africa” is very much relevant to African Studies.
Reblogged this on visionvoiceandviews and commented:
African literary studies – changing times, challenges and emergent forms!
Reblogged this on shafiqah1 and commented:
If you are interested in Post-colonialism, check this essay out, a good read for sure! 🙂