- Mimetic Desire and the Nigerian Novel:The Case of Chike Momah's Titi: Biafran Maid in Geneva
René Girard's mimetic theory was first informed by Western canonical novels. Girard's paradigm, with its psychological, anthropological, and historical backing, provides explanations for universal phenomena like rivalry, violence, scapegoat mechanisms, and the religious processes of sin and redemption. While it is not reflected in his choice of literary subjects, Girard has endeavored to assert the universality of mimetic desire and its implications in "Other," non-Western cultures. However, little or no attention has been paid to novels that do not circulate primarily within Western canonical circles. To start redressing this gap in the literature, I use Girard's mimetic theory to study a Nigerian novel, Chike Momah's Titi: Biafran Maid in Geneva and show how the paradigm is suited to a novel so distant in space, time, and culture from the famous works that first inspired it. Apart from identifying the nature and phases of mimetic desire that appear in the novel, I propose other possible triangulations of desire, separating out the mimetic from the nonmimetic, and address the possible implications of the homosexual nature of the novel's interracial triangular desire. [End Page 205]
A First Encounter with the Novel
Since I assume that neither the author nor the novel under discussion are well known to the readers of this article, I will briefly discuss the author and trace the outline of the plot, in order to allow for an uninterrupted flow in my explication of the dialectics of mimetic desire.
The situation of Chike Momah in Nigerian letters is singular. He belongs to the Ibadan golden generation of authors, heralded by Chinua Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), and his contemporaries at University College, Ibadan, including the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, plus Chukwuemeka Ike, Elechi Amadi, Christopher Okigbo, Flora Nwapa, and J. P. Clark, among others. Despite his talent, Momah did not join the literary movement that his fellow alumni inaugurated. Almost 40 years later and two years prior to his retirement from his United Nations position in 1990, he began his literary career, which has yielded five novels and several essays. Being a firsthand witness to the birth of Nigerian written literature, he was sought after by biographers and conference organizers. However, his oeuvre has not garnered sufficient attention. This could be the result of a number of factors: first, the distribution of most of his novels has been limited; second, his writings began to emerge at a time when the literary reputations of his contemporaries had long since arrived at their zenith; and third, novels that primarily seek to entertain, as most of his do, are often disregarded in the realm of postcolonial criticism.
Titi: Biafran Maid in Geneva (1999) is Momah's second novel. It is the sole Nigerian Civil War novel to portray the horrors of the conflict from the viewpoint of a Biafran family living in Geneva, the Okekes. Its excellent exploration of war trauma frames an entertaining story line. This involves Titi, the Okekes' maid, and her multiple love affairs. Mimetic desire sets in during the course of her relationship with Eddy Mafa and the love triangle that ensnares them with Suzanne, Eddy's European lover. This tangled web provides the perfect substrate on which to test Girard's theory of mimetic desire.
Suzanne, Titi, and Eddy: The Genesis of Mimetic Desire
According to Girard, mimetic desire occurs when we crave for an object, place, status, or person simply because someone else desires it. The resulting rivalry can bring us into conflict with the models we imitate. According to this theory, [End Page 206] the romantic concept of spontaneous desire is illusory since it is learned from the Other. One therefore learns the value of desired objects from desiring subjects. Mimetic desire is schematized by a triangle. However, as we will see, not all love triangles are triangulations of mimetic desire.
In Titi: Biafran Maid in Geneva, the eponymous protagonist meets Eddy at the Okekes' house. They begin a relationship, which does not show many signs of prospering beyond its physicality. Apart from the fact that both...