Reading “Thoughts on contemporary African Literary criticism”

What follows is a series of largely unfair and not entirely serious responses to this article by Prof Tony E. Afejuku, published in The Guardian on the 17th of February, 2017.

 

(1) “A complete, thorough knowledge of African writers is compulsory for anyone interested in contemporary African literature.”

We should all be interested in African literature. But we don’t all have the time to be completists. The task itself (the containment of all African writing in one human mind) is impossible. If he or she is lucky, a diligent scholar may, after a lifetime of study, digest all notable works written in a single language over a half-century. To expect more is unreasonable. And to demand the same degree of commitment from the harried executive who picks up a copy of Half of a Yellow Sun on his way to work is to place unnecessary obstacles in the reader’s path.

(2) “Whether the African writer is liked or not liked is of no value, of no importance, of no relevance, but he or she must be read and evaluated dispassionately.”

A fine sentiment, but, as Prof Afejuku knows, it’s difficult to dispassionately review a writer one does not like, and impossible to fairly judge an artist one detests. Professional critics, like the rest us, are adept at justifying their prejudices. They convince themselves they dislike a writer’s prose when they really dislike his politics, the size of his advance, or the shape of his nose.

(3) “Today, in Africa, we seem to have far more writers than critics.”

Has it not always been so, at all times and in all places? Is this not desirable? I assume, of course, that by critic Prof Afejuku means one who engages in criticism as a rigorous intellectual activity, as opposed to one who has a casual opinion he is willing to share.

(4) “Ernest Emenyonu’s chastisement of Bernth Lindfors for his jaundiced criticism of Cyprian Ekwensi’s fictional art is too well known to be re-visited here in full.”

Well known perhaps to readers of the Journal of the African Literature Association, but not, I dare say, to readers of The Guardian.

(5) “Critics of conscience are giving way to critics of ethnic value, critics who encourage and father commercialism.”

Hear, hear.

(6) “Many years ago, when my sense of criticism was just above its fledgling state, as a young bird fledging to fly . . . .”

Here we witness a rare manouver: the exhumation of a dead metaphor. Compare: “A few years ago, when the first green shoots of economic recovery began to appear, like tender shoots breaking through the earth . . . .”

Or, “He wore an expression of steely resolve, like a bar of steel that cannot be broken.”

(7) “He was not induced against me by the malaria of racial malice or the ‘jaundice’ of racial prejudice.”

Alternatively, and sticking with the alliterative theme: He was not induced against me by the malaria of malice, the polio of prejudice, the jaundice of jealousy, or the Ebola of envy. Nor was our relationship blighted by the tuberculosis of tension or the dengue fever of denial. (There are, it turns out, a host of ideological maladies which the immunocompromised acquire, through no fault of their own, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.)

(8) “This is in no way an exercise in self-trumpet-blowing.”

I, unlike Prof Afejuku, have blown a self-trumpet. It is an overrated experience.

That which we are, we are.

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.

– “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson