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Introduction From Récit to Catastrophe: Tracing Dispersions This project is the culmination of years of thinking through some of my dissatisfactions regarding the field of African literature and its relationship with certain theoretical directions in literary studies in general. While African literature in general (and specifically Francophone African literature, the primary area of my study) has been, since the second half of the twentieth century, one of the most fecund fields of literary production, it remains on the margins of literary studies. Though many American and European universities have specialists in African literatures and though Francophone literature has gained a place of visibility for itself, the study of African literature still remains the business of the few: not incorporated into literary and theoretical discussions and developments in general, still framed primarily by the discourse of postcoloniality. Moreover, the critical and theoretical discourse on African literatures, both within and without the continent, has been dominated by the political, social, or anthropological, rendering texts documents . Even those who admit that the literary is not the same phenomenon as the social, the political, or the cultural have not always managed to escape the pitfalls of appropriating literature for these domains.1 The historical relationship of African literatures with anthropology has been difficult to debunk. Simon Gikandi, in a speech at the African Literature Association Conference in 2000, gave voice to the frustration of many in the field when he spoke about his experiences teaching Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. He explained the difficulties and the resistances he confronts in trying to break with the overarching tendency to render the main character, Okonkwo, immediately representative of the Igbo people and culture. Gikandi imputes the origin of the problem to the discourse of modernity , especially its valorization of rationality and universal reason, arguing that by repudiating difference from the center of its production, namely Europe , it did not eliminate difference but rather pushed it toward the margins PAGE 1 1 ................. 17176$ INTR 01-15-09 14:18:56 PS 2 Introduction of Europe, in this case, Africa.2 In Francophone African literature, Camara Laye’s L’enfant noir has had a similar fate.3 As a student of African literatures, I too went through the stage where I pored over texts from both Francophone and Anglophone traditions with focused ethnographical and anthropological attention. I read through these lenses writers as diverse as Camara Laye, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ngugi wa Thiongo , Bessie Head, and Cheikh Hamidou Kane. It may be true that some texts lend themselves to such appropriations and as a result circulate more easily, while others remain unread, untranslated, uncommented upon, or even unheard of and quickly go out of print precisely because of their resistance to such overarching assumptions of representation and documentation . This project turns to some of these sites of resistance and attempts to show the dynamics of these resistances. The aim is not to propose a literature devoid of political, ethical, or cultural import but rather to investigate how these dimensions find singular articulations in specific texts that may exceed documentation and overparticularization, that is texts that are more than documents of a culture.4 My interest in storytelling was prompted primarily by the centrality of this question in the context of African literatures. Orality versus literacy remains one of the central problematics in discussions in this field. It is undebatable that oral cultures have strong storytelling traditions and that these traditions of storytelling help develop the imaginations of writers from these cultures. And clearly there are differences between a scene of oral storytelling and one of writing, in the strict sense of these activities. However, it does not follow that an African literary text that features storytelling refers itself to the oral traditions or wishes to duplicate or mimic this tradition. In other words, while I do not wish to reduce the differences between the oral and the written (I do not deal with this specific problem in this project since I do not work with oral works), I contest the deeply rooted division between orality and writing as the primacy of one over the other in the context of writing by African authors. The notions of continuity between oral and written as well as the authenticity and the primacy of one over the other have been critiqued by African and non-African scholars. Eileen Julien, for example, with whom I agree, has consistently argued that one must neither conceive of the African novel as a linear...


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