- Beyond Empire and Nation: Postnational Arguments in the Fiction of Nuruddin Farah and B. Kojo Laing
Intelligent and innovative, Beyond Empire and Nation, Francis Ngaboh-Smart's examination of growing antinationalist sentiment in African literature, succeeds in its endeavor to offer an understanding of the literary repercussions caused when the conceptual framework provided by nation and nationalism is contested in its meaning. To this end, Ngaboh-Smart explores questions of "flexible identity, multiple citizenship, transnationality, and the reimagining of nationalist myths and values" through selected works by Somali author Nuruddin Farah and by Ghanaian author B. Kojo Laing (ix). While he does concede that "mobility and cross-cultural contacts have always been part of the African experience," Ngaboh-Smart maintains that one consequence of the current backlash against nationalism has been an overemphasis by contemporary African writers on the importance of "migration, displacement, relocation and the formation of new habits as strategies of positioning and self-definition" (ix). For him, the heart of the problem lies in the on-going critique of the nation and nationalism in which he has identified a "failure to differentiate among various forms of nationalist projects" (xii). Drawing on Timothy Brennan's contention "that an uncritical condemnation of nationalism demonstrates a 'European lapse of memory'" capable of confounding the imperial nationalisms of Europe (specifically those of Italy, Germany, and Japan, characterized by "extreme group loyalties" and "repressive regimes") with the "anti-imperial nationalisms of the Third World," Ngaboh-Smart extends this "lapse" to "African and Third World intellectuals" who challenge "the optimism and euphoria of nationalist discourse," focusing their attention solely on, as Anderson has said, "the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of other, and its affinities with racism" (xiii).
It is from this perspective that Ngaboh-Smart incisively analyzes Farah's and Laing's novels. Contending that "the postnational is a form of politics that is best approached by looking at concrete political and social regimes in which it is embedded and articulated," he thoroughly situates both author and uvre within the relevant socio-economic and political framework (xv). Notable for the depth and breadth of each analysis, this work challenges the status quo and is particularly bold in its treatment of two novels. The first, Secrets, the third novel in Farah's Blood in the Sun trilogy, courageously works through and pushes past the shock of the novel's sexually explicit content and scatological elements, in order to demonstrate the utility and necessity of such material to Farah's message: the questioning of cultural norms and the possibility of redefining nationhood. The second, B. Kojo Laing's Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars, similarly moves beyond the limits of conventional literary analysis to see the coherent, even necessary, role of Laing's unconventional use of language. As Ngaboh-Smart points out, "there is ample evidence to show that the novel's 'linguistic acrobatics' does not only successfully or capably carry the work's message, but that it [End Page 130] is also a genuine attempt to capture the non-naturalistic world of the narrative" (135). Finally, Ngaboh-Smart raises valuable questions about hybridity, drawing out flaws in its rhetoric through his analysis of Calixthe Beyala's novel Your Name Shall Be Tanga. In the end, Ngaboh-Smart does not deny the existence of subjectivities that refuse to be bound by national borders (i.e., refugees, exiles), but he remains unconvinced that their existence heralds the decline of the nation-state and the imminent demise of nationalism. Despite an apparent lack of "closure" in African literature vis-à-vis nationalism and its nations, Ngaboh-Smart foresees a continued disdain for "nationalist solutions," even though, as he reminds us in his conclusion, "whether we like it or not the achievement of nationalism, the nation, is still with us" (154).