restricted access The Dynamics of Spatiality in African Fiction
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The Dynamics of Spatiality in African Fiction

. . . from the standpoint of poetics, all theories of space are equally metaphoric, equally fictive.

—W. J. T. Mitchell, "Spatial Form in Literature" 275

. . . pour bien des auteurs d'aujourd'hui l'espace est d'abord un parti pris dans le double sens à la fois résigné et passionné du terme.1

—Gerard Genette, "Espace et langage" 102

Without delving into the rationalizations of the poetics of space in which, to take an example at random, most of our signifiers are meaningful only when they are referred to "spatial" signified, we can say that space in any work of art is hardly a frill. Our physical world is that of real space with its extent and substance (Leclerc 211) that historical phenomena could turn into an "espace-refuge" and in its worst manifestations [End Page 409] into an "espace-vertige" (Genette 101-102) such as all blacks experienced during the Arab-Islamic and European-Christian imperialisms. There is no fiction without an imaginary setting, which is itself a projection of the physical world. But beyond the imaginary setting or space there is the "espace connoté, manifesté plutôt que désigné, parlant plutôte que parlé, qui se trahit dans la métaphore comme l'inconscient se livre dans un réve ou dans un lapsus" (Genette 103).2

As different as these three levels are, they are complementary. This essay is concerned mainly with "espace connoté." The black continent that novelists write about is space, but space continually perturbed by time in the form of the historical dialectics of slave-trade, colonialism, and neocolonialism. Novels have therefore reflected or refracted socioeconomic, political, and cultural tensions that imperialist assaults have brought to bear on Africa. Geographical balkanization, sociopolitical schism, psychic divisiveness and derailment, economic chaos, and cultural hybridization regretfully bring to our minds an erstwhile existential spatiality of connectedness, a word which Ayi Kwei Armah repeats many times in Two Thousand Seasons.

My intention in this paper is to show how African novelists recreate these spatial tensions. The idea of the dynamism of spatiality might appear pleonastic because spatiality per se is dynamic, being continually stirred by temporality, its siamese sister. Thus, we can talk of "mobilized immobility" in a time-space fusion. But then, what this article seeks to show goes beyond philosophical speculations on the concept of space. I want to show how metaphoric space is equally partial and equally dynamic in novelistic creativity. In drama and poetry it is spontaneous and immediate; in fiction, which is my concern here, it is linear and as gradual as the movement of time.

Because no writer writes without using "space"—even the physical spatiality of the novel or its pages is an example of space—I shall limit my choice of authors to the most representative. My theoretical approach will be based on categorizations and evaluations of the metaphoric essence of literary spatiality. The rationale for categorizations will be determined by the themes of the novels under study because, as I have said above, space is metaphor. It is a carrier of message, it serves "as an explanatory device and experiential phenomenon . . ." (Mitchell 272). I shall, therefore, talk of epiphanic spatiality, metonymic spatiality, cosmic, existential spatiality, and mystic spatiality. In my analysis, the notion of time will not be left out because what moves or is dynamic is not really space itself but time that it embodies. In other words, space is the body [End Page 410] of time; time is its soul. We do not see time; our opsis cannot inscape it; it is space, its medium, that we see. It is in space that we orchestrate the manifestations of time. O, how tragically has Africa (space) recorded those historical phenomena of slave-trade, colonialism, and neocolonialism!

I. Epiphanic Spatiality

There are many African novels that are built along this spatial form. It is the spatial trajectory of the biblical prodigal son and can be geometrically represented as >: the tapering point coincides with the moment of epiphany and the point at which the protagonist is staging a homecoming. This spatial aesthetic in African fiction flourishes at the eve of...