restricted access Masked Discourse: Dramatic Representation and Generic Transformation in Wole Soyinka's A Dance of the Forests
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Masked Discourse: Dramatic Representation and Generic Transfonnation in Wole Soyinka's A Dance ofthe ForestsI HARRY GARUBA I. The criticism of African drama began as an imported discourse? As such, it lacked an adequate vocabulary of descriptive, analytical, and conceptual tools to account for the traditional plays and performances that serve as the primary generic base for contemporary drama in Africa and, in some instances, the African diaspora. From the very beginning, therefore, African dramatic criticism has depended on a hodgepodge of concepts from European models and other concepts and analytical tools from the disciplines of (colonial) anthropology and (early post-independence) sociology, which more often than not missed the point because they ignored the dramatic conventions and structural forms of the indigenous dramatic genres of theatre practice, The anthropological models focllssed upon the customs and practices oftraditional communities, and drama was seen as providing an index of these and of local lore. The sociological models, on the other hand, examined African plays within the schematic paradigm of tradition versus modernity. Within this conceptual paradigm. drama was seen as representing one avenue through which African artists conducted the complex negotiations between traditional compulsions and the imperatives ofmodemity. These approaches to dramatic criticism were anchored in the theoretical and methodological concerns of the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. Functionalism and structuralism were then in vogue, and the concern with structures and functions in that narrowly anthropological sense was translated into dramatic criticism, thinly veiled with literary terminology. Modernity and modernization theories provided the theoretical and conceptual apparatus for studies of Africa, African subjects, and African societies in the humanities and social sciences, and aspects of these theories were converted into rough-and-ready tools for dramatic criticism. Criticism thus became beholden to the academic fashions of Modern Drama, 45:3 (Fall 2002) 378 Genre and Soyinka's A Dallee ofthe Forests 379 disciplinary fonnations other than those concemed with narrative and performance . The problem with dealing with narrative and perfonnance art in this manner is that there arises a "missing link," so to speak, between art and the tools with which it is evaluated. There can be no doubting the benefits of anthropological and sociological insights from whatever other sources to the study of dramatic art, but when these provide the primary framework and tools for its study, then a basic conceptual and methodological problem arises. African drama, like the art fonns of other societies and cultures, employs a complex semiosis of signs, symbols, and structures that depend upon specific coding conventions to generate meaning. One of the most important of these is what is usually referred to as "genre," Genres are not just classificatory systems for works of art; they actively constitute the ways in which we experience and evaluate works of art. According to Alistair Fowler in Kinds ofLiterature: All Introduction to the Theory ofGenres and Modes, "In literary communication, genres are functional: they actively form the experience of each work of literature . If we see The Jew of Malta as a savage farce, our response will not be the same as if we saw it as tragedy" (38). Fowler's point about the importance of literary genres is directly relevant to the argument of this article: we must establish a particular way of seeing before we can understand what we see, especially because the manner in which we constitute the text detennines how we see it. In the postmodem climate within the academy today and the celebration of transgressivity, hybridity, and pastiche, this argument may sound purist and obsolete. But this can only be so if my point is read as asking for a retum to generic purity and authenticity. What I propose in this article, however, is the very opposite: a historicization of genre in such a way that we can map its mutations and transfonnations and thereby refine our theoretical and conceptual approaches. And, indeed, the conception of genre I employ here is one that begins with the premise that genres are always already hybridized; that the process of genre fonnation is a heterogeneous complex that denies it a unitary , stable self-identity; that the unity and stability of genres are illusions fostered by literary-critical...


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