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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 559-566
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Igbo Metaphysics in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
Jude Chudi Okpala
I recognize in the critical history of Things Fall Apart three forms of hermeneutics. The first group reads the novel from a linguistic paradigm 1 and argues for the illegitimacy of any anthropological interpretation of the text. For this group, what is important is the symbolic nature of such a novel, which "continually restructures a variety of subtexts: cultural, political, historical and at times even biographical" (Quayson 123). The second group, particularly A.G. Stock, sees a rapport between Achebe's Igboland and Yeats's England. The third group, comprized of Obiechina, Chinweizu et al., Robert Wren, and Nnolim, explores the historical and cultural contexts of the novel. Yet, the pervasiveness of Igbo metaphysics in the text has not been fully discussed, and, therefore, it needs more detailing. What I shall do here is to explore the text with the intention of showing how Achebe uses Igbo metaphysics in his narrative imagination. But before I continue, I want to situate briefly Igbo metaphysics within the range of metaphysics in general and then pave the path of my interpretation.
Metaphysics is a derivative of this Greek phrase meta ta physika, and it is the name Andronicus of Rhodes gave Aristotle's books that appeared after the books on physics; but metaphysics later became the proper name of the discipline which Aristotle would have called "first philosophy" or "Wisdom." Metaphysics for Aristotle is the study of being as being; it is the final degree of abstraction, where things could be conceived independently of matter. "Metaphysics, as the very term indicates, rests on the assumption that the mere appearance does not include its justification, that it requires a foundation" (Dupre 1). Things are not intelligible because they exist, for existence itself requires justification. Accordingly, the search for foundation of the mere appearance resulted in many schools of thought, and especially by underscoring the relationship between the physical and non-physical beings, by assuming that reality is both physical as well as the non-physical. Plato held that physical reality participates in the non-physical. Aristotle argued that non-physical causes the physical. This structure of reasoning informs Western epistemology, particularly, Christian religion, the idea of Chain of Being, and the concept of human existence as dependent on one non-physical and transcendent cause, namely, God.
However, the focus of metaphysics changed in the course of history. The metaphysical investigation of the ultimate foundation of appearance turned into a search for epistemic foundation. In this connection, a schism surged between being and knowing—for metaphysics lost its focus as a study of being as being—especially [End Page 559] through the principles of 17th-century mechanistic causality and through Heidegger's metaphysics. Heidegger's metaphysics which began with the interrogation of "Being" is merely a philosophical anthropology; it is existential analytic of human existence (Dasein), by way of prescribing the authentic form of existence—that is living one's life to its possibilities.
But it is not enough "to analyze [only] the epistemic characteristics of symbolic processes," or focus on the existential ecstasies of human being, to find meaning (Dupre 11). Igbo metaphysics does not dissociate "being" from "knowing," nor does it isolate "knowing" from "being" and "acting." Igbo metaphysics is a "thought-system which recognizes the reality and independent existence" 2 of non-physical beings and their interaction with physical beings in the material world. Therefore, when I speak of Igbo metaphysics, I am evoking the question of being as being, which is also a question of being as knowing and as acting, and by using the modalities of Heidegger's investigation—that is, the existential-analytic of human existence—I will focus on the analysis of Igbo human personality. Accordingly, speaking of Igbo metaphysics in Things Fall Apart, I intend to recognize Achebe's exploration of this thought system and his inscription of Igbo human personality, especially through principles of causality, reincarnation, and dualism.
Dualism is a principle of Igbo metaphysics, which underscores the interaction...