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Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 213-215

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Book Review

Proverbs, Textuality, and Nativism in African Literature

Proverbs, Textuality, and Nativism in African Literature, by Adélékè Adéèkó. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1998. 154 pages. ISBN 0-8130-1562-6 cloth.

In a provocative formulation reminiscent of the Speech Act Theory, 1 Adélékè Adéèkó's Proverbs, Textuality, and Nativism in African Literature proposes a deconstructive critical paradigm that draws its textual nourishment from African and Yoruba literary works. The originality here lies not only in navigating "sacred" and esoteric theoretical waters in the philosophy of language and social construction but also in offering insights and refreshing legitimacies to the controversies of nativism in African cultural studies and postcolonial literary discourse. Anchoring his premises in Yoruba proverbial aesthetics, the author posits that "nativism is the founding principle of African literary criticism and that nativism's predominant language of difference is necessitated by its theme" (xi). In this bold assertion are embedded the structuring motifs of a complex endeavor: the validation and questioning of literary and critical indigenization. At work here is a duality of preoccupations that departs from NgUgI's "Quest for Relevance" (Decolonising the Mind) and Chinweizu et al.'s contention of Euromodernist "Hopkins Disease" (Toward the Decolonization of African Literature) to a more compelling ménage à trois among the narrative, proverbiality, and interpretation, thus transcending critical conventions in the precolonial, colonial, or postindependence eras. Central to this critical engagement is the author's prodigious knowledge of Yoruba proverbial principles and their figurations in literature. The examination of this metatextual proverbiality in anglophone African literatures craftily extends the criticism beyond the confines of Yoruba literature and criticism.

Structurally, the first two chapters function as a "call and response" approach where the former examines the major philosophical currents of nativist theorizing from Obi Wali to Appiah, and the latter responds with a deconstructive approach using the proverb as a trope. The remaining four chapters serve as practical analysis of metatextual proverbiality in the works of Oladejo Okediji, Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, NgUgI's wa Thiong'o, and Femi Osofisan. Moving from a theoretical formulation to cultural and radical textualities may not be coincidental in the book design, for Adéèkó's arguments are premised on the notion that the "messenger does not choose its message," thus suggesting that each text self-generates its rhetorical strategies and peculiarities by virtue of thematic concern and cultural context.

In theorizing on the "nativist impulse" or what the author consistently calls "native ways of knowing," Adéèkó groups his functionalist aesthetics in a triad: Classical Nativism, Structuralist Nativism, and Linguistic Nativism. While "classical nativism claims inspiration from an Africanized aesthetic theory of 'use' and 'relevance,'" structuralist nativism "proposes idealistic interpretations of the formal dimensions of 'traditional' theater, fiction, and poetry," and linguistic nativism "demands a radical translation of all arts that aspire to be called African into indigenous languages and cultural conventions" (6-y). [End Page 213]

In addition to reviewing the positions of major exponents of nativism in their varying convictions and controversies, such as Obi Wali, Achebe, Ngugi, Obiechina, Soyinka, and Chinweizu et al., Adéèkó relates his formulation on nativism to contemporary literary theory by invoking critics like Christopher Miller, Fredric Jameson, Henry Louis Gates, and Kwame Appiah in order to cogently articulate the relevance and contribution of nativism to contemporary literary theory:

The philosophical challenge of nativism for criticism lies, I believe, in devising the means with which to measure how well an identitarian discourse like African literature can fulfill its classical role of persuasion at the same time that it says conspicuous figuration is immaterial. (27)

Adéèkó rises to this "challenge" through a critical paradigm robed in Yoruba proverbial rhetorics where "proverbs are simultaneously figurative and literal" and are thus encoded by nature, in doublesense, for the proverb can "mean what it says without necessarily saying what it means" (49). In this complex fabric, textuality and interpretation must derive from that form-nourishing ambivalence that makes it both local and...


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