- African Modernity and the Philosophy of Culture in the Works of Femi Euba by Iyunolu Osagie
With her latest book, African Modernity and the Philosophy of Culture in the Works of Femi Euba, Iyunolu Osagie achieves two critical goals: she delivers an intricate study of the corpus of Euba's works and at the same time she offers an important perspective on the discourse of tradition and modernity from the prism of African metaphysics. Across five chapters, Osagie displays an intimate engagement with Euba's scholarly and creative productions. Euba's works to which Osagie offers detailed analytical exploration include the critical book Archetypes, Imprecators and Victims of Fate: Origins and Developments of Satire in Black Drama; his full-length plays Abiku, The Gulf, The Eye of Gabriel, and Dionysus of the Holocaust; his one-act plays A Riddle of the Palms, Crocodiles, and The Chameleon; and the novel Camwood at Crossroads. In each chapter, Osagie provides theoretical (and, where necessary, historical) contextualization to her close-reading of each of these texts by Femi Euba.
African Modernity and the Philosophy of Culture enters the age-old scholarly conversation about tradition and modernity. Osagie builds on and extends the disparate ideas of scholars of African thought such as Anthony Appiah, V. Y. Mudimbe, Achille Mbembe, Kwame Gyeke, and Olufemi Taiwo, among others, to argue that the distinction often drawn between tradition and modernity is not as clear as it is sometimes construed in scholarship—rather, Osagie posits, tradition and modernity are intertwined in a dialogic relationship, and any distinction between the two is at best a tenuous one. To that end, African Modernity and the Philosophy of Culture demonstrates how Euba's plays and novel consistently subvert the rigid polarity that is often thought to exist between tradition and modernity. As Osagie points out, one of the key distinctions between tradition and modernity is that while the latter is believed to be defined by certitude, the former is marked by doubt and unpredictable change. But Euba's works, Osagie asserts, highlight "the inescapable reality of tradition in the very workings of modernity.. the longevity of tradition, not as a dying past but as the very core of modernity itself" (114). That is, tradition and modernity do not only coexist, they also inform and interpellate each other.
Osagie anchors the core of her argument on the character of the Yoruba god Esu. She teases out the many ways in which Esu functions in Euba's ouvre as the "god of crossroads"—and more importantly, she extrapolates this ontological posture of Esu as representative of the relationship between tradition and modernity. In Osagie's analysis, tradition and modernity do not only meet at a crossroads, but they also function together as cosmic crossroads—and Esu functions in Euba's works as an extended metaphor, embodying this aesthetic liminality. African Modernity and the Philosophy of Culture highlights the significance of Euba's artistic deployment of Esu, in that it is a radical departure from how Wole Soyinka (a mentor to Femi Euba) deploys Ogun in his own art and philosophy. While Soyinka's [End Page 213] centering of Ogun in explaining African ontological identity has been criticized (notably by Anthony Appiah) as an imposition of Yoruba cosmology on the rest of Africa, Euba's deployment of Esu finds relevance not only among the Yoruba people nor just in Africa, but also across Africa's many diasporas. Esu is represented in the culture, history, and literatures of black people all over the globe. Osagie refers to Esu as a "boundary-crossing god, very much alive in the Black Atlantic world of the Caribbean, the United States, and other black diaspora spaces in Europe" (114). Hence, Euba's centering of Esu does not only lend a global resonance to his work, it also becomes a fruitful means of contemplating modernity through a global black consciousness.
Osagie's core argument is clearly stated and lucidly explored throughout the book. But while she argues that tradition and modernity are...