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Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 6.2 (2006) 195-208

African Literature and the Woman
The Imagined Reality as a Strategy of Dissidence
Chimalum Nwankwo

Whenever transformation becomes necessary in human society, it must begin with some kind of alteration or fixing of an internal cartography, or what David Punter calls "violent geographics" (2000, 29) in Postcolonial Imaginings. African woman's literature reveals attempts at such reparations and reconciliations through its reimaginations of reality, deployed via dissident rhetorical strategies. The old platonic dualism has been boosted by corresponding neo-platonisms in numerous non-Western cultures to the extent that we can affirm that many of the problems in the world today are related to our readings of the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical, the concrete environment and the ethereal environment, the world of a palpable humanity and the intangible and perplexing Great Imaginary that we associate with God and deities.

The gender crises in Africa could be read in terms of a conflict reterritorialized into a double jeopardy in which women must "fight" against God and the deities and men—either simultaneously or one after the other. This dilemma extends beyond the notion of double colonization characterized by Kirsten Holst Petersen and Anna Rutherford in the preface of their anthology of essays A Double Colonization: Colonial and Postcolonial Women'sWriting (1986). If the choice for African women is to fight patriarchal culture alone, it would be akin to the old cliché of trying to fell a tree by cutting down the branches. It seems to me that the more potent human combat is in the interior, in the Great Imaginary where we situate God and deities. There is still a lot of wisdom in what Sir Francis Bacon suggested hundreds of years ago [End Page 195] in terms of the beginning of philosophy residing in our doubts about the existence of God. It is still about the reconstruction of the imaginary. This is the task of the African woman writer.

In my opinion, the creativity of African women writers remains conservative and at best rudimentarily tentative about such bold strokes toward the imaginary; however, the works of Flora Nwapa, Efuru, Idu, and The Lake Goddess, serve as worthy pathfinders toward the new landscape. Her best male counterparts are in Wole Soyinka and his violent Ogun-ism, which ignores the imaginary of the West, and in Ngugi wa Thiong'o and his radical simultaneous appropriation and subversion of Christianity. But these are men, fighting from patriarchal vantage points. African women, with the exception of Nawal el Saadawi, are still largely conservative regarding this aspect of liberationism. In el Sadaawi's recent essay in Obioma Nnaemeka and Ngozi Ezeilo's Engendering Human Rights (2005), the impulses and actuations, the various political drivers of all her writings, gel and harden into a hard battering ram against the gates of patriarchy. I am not making these statements to either mollify or be provocative. A dispassionate look at African literature written either by men or by women for social justice compels one to conclude that better imaginaries are needed in the African scene to either contend with patriarchal structures or with the great interior imaginary that controls our lives, whether we believe in such or not. It is not without good reason that Nawal el Saadawi writes the following:

First encounters often inspire imagination. When I first heard His name, Allah, it was an experience, a revelation. Every word of His in the Holy Koran was a discovery. Each story fired my imagination . . . each story reflected God's magic and creative powers, but years have gone by. The divine magic has faded away; beauty has been transfigured into daily drudgery and injustice. Up to the present, I am in some ways still a prisoner of His political, economic, cultural and sexual codes.

(el Saadawi 2005, 29)

This is experience, and this is also the perspicacity from experience identifying and defining the problem and its source. Here can be found the beginning of...


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