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Shaken Wisdom

Irony and Meaning in Postcolonial African Fiction

Gloria Nne Onyeoziri

Publication Year: 2011

In her focus on irony and meaning in postcolonial African fiction, Gloria Nne Onyeoziri refers to an internal subversion of the discourse of the wise and the powerful, a practice that has played multiple roles in the circulation of knowledge, authority, and opinion within African communities; in the interpretation of colonial and postcolonial experience; and in the ongoing resistance to tyrannies in African societies. But irony is always reversible and may be used to question the oppressed as well as the oppressor, shaking all presumptions of wisdom. Although the author cites numerous African writers, she selects six works by Chinua Achebe, Ahmadou Kourouma, and Calixthe Beyala for her primary analysis.

Modern Language Initiative

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-22

Irony can be a response to an oppressor convinced of his superior wisdom. It can suggest that its user’s wisdom is superior. Irony can also hold the line on traditional wisdom shaken by disruptive events. Wisdom itself can be ironic, therefore shaken from the inside. Wisdom displayed as absolute...

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Chapter One: From Rhetoric to Semantics

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pp. 23-46

Under what circumstances does a literary discourse need to be ironic? Since written texts and representations of orality are often interdependent in the context of African fiction, irony helps interlocutors express two apparently contradictory facts: their sense of community and their...

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Chapter Two: Interpreting Irony

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pp. 47-64

A translator undertaking an English version of Calixthe Beyala’s Amours sauvages might hesitate in translating the name that the narrator-protagonist Ève-Marie gives to the young woman whose strangled body is found on the doorstep of her apartment: Should “Mlle Personne” be translated...

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Chapter Three: Pragmatics and Ahmadou Kourouma’s (Post)colonial State

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pp. 65-85

Ahmadou Kourouma is perhaps the ideal author to consider as we turn toward pragmatics. Though his first novel, Les soleils des indépendances (1970), radically undermined the assumptions of stylistic heterodoxy in the use of the French language by African writers,1 his life and career...

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Chapter Four: Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and the Pragmatics of Proverbial Irony

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pp. 86-113

Chinua Achebe published his first and now universally canonized novel Things Fall Apart in 1958, a sequel, No Longer at Ease, in 1960, and Arrow of God in 1964. Dan Izevbaye sees as what is perhaps Achebe’s most important influence “his contribution to the advancement of a...

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Chapter Five: Calixthe Beyala: New Conceptions of the Ironic Voice

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pp. 114-142

Given the fact, well documented in Irène d’Almeida’s Francophone African Women Writers: Destroying the Emptiness of Silence, that women writers arrived relatively late on the scene of African literature and that many representations of what constituted African literary discourse as...

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Conclusion: When the Handshake Has Become Another Thing

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pp. 143-150

I have emphasized linguistic and pragmatic approaches to irony, not because I expected to invent a new method of analysis, but because I was and still am convinced that in addition to being an artistic medium, African literary discourse is a particular form of pragmatic communication...


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pp. 151-162


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pp. 163-170


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pp. 171-178

E-ISBN-13: 9780813932002
E-ISBN-10: 0813932009
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813931869
Print-ISBN-10: 081393186X

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 785943037
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Shaken Wisdom

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rulfo, Juan -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • African literature (English) -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • African literature (French) -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Beyala, Calixthe -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Achebe, Chinua -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Kourouma, Ahmadou -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Meaning (Philosophy) in literature.
  • Postcolonialism in literature.
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