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Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 204-206

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Book Review

Anglophone African Literatures.

Thresholds: Anglophone African Literatures. Spec. Issue of Anglophonia/ Caliban: The French Journal of English Studies. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2000. 245 pp. ISBN 2-85816-505-X; ISSN 1278-3331.

This special edition of Anglophonia: The French Journal of English Studies edited by Christiane Fioupou puts together the papers presented at the first conference on anglophone African literatures held at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail in February 1999. The conference itself has several important implications, not least of which was the symbolic crossing of the threshold into the anglophone African literary world—or could it be the anglophone world as a whole?—by a highly prestigious French institution at the edge of a new millennium. As it would seem, the conference itself was part of another important event organized by the University: the conferment of an honorary doctorate upon Niyi Osundare, an emergent icon of the literature around whose works the conference revolved. The term thresholds supplied both the theme of the conference and the title of the publication that has brought out the papers presented. This title is most appropriate, as the term conveys accurately the ambiguous positionality of anglophone African literatures, indeed of all African literatures expressed in European languages.

Abiola Irele's paper supplies the framework for all the other papers presented, as it articulates the characteristic features of second-language literatures in Africa. According to Irele, African literature in European languages exists in an agonistic condition, situated as it were between the established canon of Europe and the West, on the one hand, and the indigenous heritage and realities of contemporary Africa, on the other. Irele negotiates his point by first undertaking a global, comprehensive review of second-language literatures, an exercise that enables him to prove the nonexceptional nature of the African institution. He concludes [End Page 204] by affirming the marginal nature of second-language literatures of Africa and, second, by underlining the way this literature fuses different generic modes together in a bid to transcend what he describes as "the prisonhouse of the print mode."

Besides Irele's, two other papers theorize further on the concept of thresholds. The first is by Niyi Osundare, the man who, at the moment of the conference, stood at the thresholds of France and Africa. His acceptance speech, titled "Thresholds and Millennial Crossings," proposes threshold as a point of transition and transformation. And this, as demonstrated in the speech, can be physical, spatial, temporal, or spiritual. The second, Wole Soyinka's "Exile: Thresholds of Loss and Identity," approaches the concept from the perspective of an exile. Soyinka's paper was inspired by his experience during the recent military dictatorship in Nigeria. The Nobel laureate had actually found himself wading through "the forest of a thousand daemons" in a desperate bid to save his dear life. According to Soyinka, the threshold of exile always presents a writer with three alternatives. The first is to transgress it fully; the second is to transgress, yet subvert it by continuously looking back to derive inspiration from homeland; while the third is to stay in the limbo, in what he calls "the debilitating where of exile [and] the threshold of loss that writes pray to avoid" (author's emphasis).

The conference, as noted, deliberately put Osundare at the center. So besides his own acceptance speech, there were four other papers that relate either directly to him or to his works. Stephen Arnold's "Carpe Millennium: Niyi Osundare's Seize the Day and African Literature and the Crisis of Post-Structuralist Theorizing" and Stewart Brown's "Niyi Osundare—Crossing the Thresholds between Yoruba and English" are essentially preoccupied with how the Ikere-born poet has been able to attain a balance on the borderline between Yoruba and English traditions. Fioupou's "Niyi Osundare: Esquisse au seuil des textes" presents the encomium delivered on the awardee. Finally, there is the short piece, again by Soyinka, that serves as the closing speech of the award ceremony.

Almost without exception, all the...


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