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Soyinka and the Canon's Mouth STEPHEN SLEMON Like the other essays brought together in this special issue of Modern Drama, this article originated in the remarkable conference on "Wale Soyinka and Contemporary Theatre" organized by Anthony Adah, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, and Leslie Katz at the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama, University of Toronto, in October 2001. I found the conference exhilarating, but also challenging , and this for two reasons. The first is that the conference brought together a host of distinguished scholars with genuine expertise in Yoruban, or Nigerian. or West African literary and intellectual cultures, and in the perfonnative arts. I, on the other hand, am not a "Soyinka" scholar: I have little familiarity with any of Soyinka's several African, or African-American, or African-diasporic, or theatre-studies constituencies. My disciplinary training is in a field that, at least for the moment, calls itself postcolonial critical studies : scant training, indeed, for the big stage of this conference. The second reason that I found the conference challenging has to do with a point of structural asymmetry. An event of this kind is deeply unusual in my particular area of work. I know of only two explanatory models for the extraordinary act of group fonnation that takes place when readers, spectators, scholars, students, and critics come physically together, many of them from a great distance, under the toponomic rubric of a single literary writer. One explanatory model pertains to those gatherings where participants arrive seasonally at a constantly changing but always agreeable international location - probably a tourist resort - in order to hear entertaining critical speeches, and consume period banquets, and maybe wear character outfits drawn from the specific fictional creations of a beloved literary writer. Colleagues in my home Department at the University of Alberta regularly participate in this kind of gathering - the writer is Jane Austen, and the group calls itself the "Jane-itcs." And every now and then my sister-in-law takes a holiday among that odd collectivity that comes together annually to inhabit the fictive universe of the British writer Modern Drama,45:3 (Fail 2002) 338 Soyinka and the Canon's Mouth 339 Barbara Pym. The discursive contract behind this modality of group formation , obviously, is the commitment to pleasure. The other explanatory model for understanding the phenomenon of physical collectivity around the single authorial figure, of course, is the scholarly conference. The discursive contract behind the scholarly, single-author conference is not pleasure - though the conference may occasionally rise to the level of the Soyinka conference and actually prove to be fun. Rather, the contract is the commitment to canonization . Whatever else it does, a scholarly gathering of this kind cannot do other than confirm the canonical status of a single author function. My topic in this artiele is the asymmetry between the particular act of canonization embedded in the conference that underwrites this special issue of Modern Drama, and the disciplinary pursuit of postcolonial studies in its present configuration. The single question I want to pursue here is this: What is it that the discipline of postcolonial critical studies performs when it canonizes "Wole Soyinka"? I want to begin my answer to that question by stating briefly what I think was being canonized under the name "Soyinka," not by postcolonial studies but by its disavowed disciplinary ancestor: the discipline of Commonwealth literary studies. Commonwealth literary studies was first institutionalized at Leeds University in the early 1960s (see Press; Maes-Jelinek, Petersen, and Rutherford), this because from the mid-1950s onwards a collection of remarkable international writers and scholars - the most dynamic of them being Wole Soyinka himself - had come to Leeds under the Commonwealth Scholarship program. The collective influence on that department of those seemingly powerless undergraduate and graduate students effected the most radical change in disciplinary configuration that English Studies has ever experienced , and by the time that William Walsh, Joseph Jones, Bill New, and Bruce King had published their unifying monographs on the Commonwealth of anglophone literature in the early 1970s, "Soyinka" had risen to the stature of the Commonwealth canon's mouth. By this I mean that both Soyinka as author and the Soyinkan dramatic works as...


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