- Intertextuality in Contemporary African Literature: Looking Forward
Ode Ogede challenges the persistent belief that most African writers look exclusively to European literature for stylistic and narrative models. He demonstrates that African writers are avid readers and imitators of other African writers. Following Ogede's argument and detailed examples, we are able to see African writing as a dialogue among African writers crossing regional, ethnic, gender, and linguistic divides. Writers gather ideas and styles from their predecessors and reconceptualize the texts from which they borrow. Intertextuality is a creative process fundamental to the way that African literature reproduces itself over time and requires greater critical attention than it has received to date.
Ogede's studies of both what he sees as the source text and its intertextual counterpart are so detailed that they become as much an analysis of the texts in their own right as a study of the interplay of influence. His reading of Cyprian Ekwensi's Jagua Nana (1961) suggests that Ekwensi's attempt to represent prostitution in post-colonial Nigeria was hampered by the author's stereotypical conception of women. Flora Nwapa, in writing what Ogede views as a "companion volume" to Jagua Nana, her 1981 novel One is Enough, showcases the political and sexual agency of Nigerian women and questions traditional family values that limited women's options, but in so doing also falls into a vindictive and equally stereotypical vision of masculine behavior. But reading Nwapa's novel alongside Ekwensi's "helps the reader to come away with a deeper understanding of both" because their divergent agendas force the reader to view their presuppositions more critically. As in several of Ogede's analyses, overly detailed treatment of each text sometimes distracts from the focus on intertextuality. [End Page 140]
Ogede further illustrates the tensions created among African writers by discussing the "dialogic relationship" between Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1969) and Chinua Achebe's A Man of the People (1966). While the chapter opens with Achebe responding to Armah's novel as a stylistically admirable but existentially "sick" narrative, Ogede insists on the irony that the two novels bear striking resemblance in their use of satire as a vehicle for expressing post-independence disillusionment. Armah has pushed the efficacy of the "master-text" to greater heights by a more audacious attack on "massive political improbity." A Man of the People is held back by a subdued manner and "some sort of moral decorum." The intertextual distance is even more striking when Ogede compares Achebe's No Longer at Ease (1960) to Bessie Head's Maru (1971). The "imitator" not only brings a new style but "radically transforms the established values and the traditional way of thinking about the topic of class/ethnic difference." Although Femi Osofisan and Chimalum Nwankwo, two heirs of Christopher Okigbo's poetic tradition, are credited with poetic creativity—Osofisan for the historical significance of his poetry and Nwankwo for the "artistic transformation he brings to his reading of both Okigbo and his continent's political and cultural landscapes"—Okigbo remains the centerpiece of the chapter on poetic intertextuality. Okigbo's Labyrinths continues to be fundamental to the African poetic tradition.
Ogede suggests that the evidence of intertextual influence and dialogue among African writers offers an alternative to the dichotomy between a "unanimous common African culture" and a "retreat into regionalism." Literary models do not universalize African literary traditions, but have facilitated the circulation of ideas, techniques, and styles. Although Ogede briefly alludes to the influence of Ousmane Sembène, more examples are needed to illustrate intertextuality between writers of English, French, and Portuguese expression for example. Looking Inward is in fact a forward-looking study through which Ogede has pointed out a significant new direction for African literary history and criticism.