The National University of Lesotho
Several of the divergent opinions in African literary theory and criticism owe their origin (or at least their proliferation) to a scenario of rapid transition from an overwhelmingly oral phase to one of a predominantly written nature; one much more closely associated with African literature in the 20th century. This paper underlines the internal complementary dimension of three aspects of African literary theory and discourse - ideology, orality, and language choice. Although my discussion focuses on a very specific period of African writing, that of the 50s and 60s, and the emergence of the Négritude movement, it is arguable that some of the conclusions proposed offer useful insights into the way African literature continues to operate to this day.
In asserting that: "For it is your business, when the wall next door catches fire.", the Latin poet Horace was invariably endorsing the author's mandate to instruct, to amuse, to excite, and to record the experiences of society through the use of both passion and reason for the better. Horace's pronouncements underline the opening of the office of 'writer' to 'whosoever will'. In both colonial and pre-colonial Africa, the stakes in this endorsement were raised by the capacity of the literary endeavor to influence syllabus reformulation in schools, colleges, universities and public policy at large.
It must be underlined that the writer's work of correcting and influencing the lives of individuals and the wider community through the use of literary aesthetics, could not be done ex-nihilo. It had to be derived from the interpretation of the collective experience.
However, the representation and interpretation of the collective experience are influenced by the personal as well as communal perceptions within one and the same society. These factors were compounded by the different levels of ambition, courage, and capabilities to erode all possibilities of a uniform perception (among different writers) as regards matters of truth and their interpretation even within the hitherto enclosed belief systems of pre-colonial Africa.
This is why the landscape of 20th Century African literary discourse is in many respects akin to the operation of power relations in a multi-party pluralistic democracy. For instance, the earlier pre-eminence of surrealist and symbolist influence on the Négritude Movement did not in any way invalidate or preclude their coexistence with the Romantic or Phenomenological perceptions in matters of theme, language choice, ideology, style, and methodology. It is therefore not surprising that African literary works and the criticism thereof, are full of divergent objectivities all of which could be valid in relative terms.
This diversity is born of either a generalization or the universalization of personal experiences, the dramatization of isolated incidents and the exaltation of ideas which, just then, were beginning to make their mark. Equally it has parts of its roots in the free access offered by large-scale literacy brought by colonization. It was in the midst of these divergent opinions about African art that writers and critics expressed their views in terms which echoed closely those of a Shakespearean character: "I'll call for pen and ink, and write my mind."
The general belief that all writings express societal experiences often resulted in a situation where the author's mandate was taken for granted. It promoted a literary production characterized by a sense of laissez-faire; one in which authors could spuriously claim to possess unquestionable right and recognition which conferred on them the role of societal guides and representatives able to pontificate on matters of theme, language, audience, ideology, and style.
It is against this background that the contending issues surrounding discourse-ownership in African literary theory and aesthetics as they pertain to language choice, elitism, participation, ideology, style, and methodology must be placed. Many African artists and critics assumed a position akin to that of Césaire and transformed their literary preoccupation into an instrument of liberation. This can be seen in the theme of the second Congress of Black Artists, Rome 1959, where culture was raised to the level of an instrument of political liberation..
One of the consequences of this direct link between power and literary discourse can be inferred from what Dathorne sees as: "...tension between an ancient aristocracy and a new technocracy, between traditionalism and westernization, between the dignity of the old and the sprawling vulgarity of the new." The new writer was thus considered the opponent or usurper, rather than the complement of a traditional oral artist.
In this context the prominence of the former was strengthened by the avowed and conspicuous adoption of decolonization as a metaphor for progress and evolution, both in literary terms and more generally at the level of societal models. This ability to juxtapose decolonization (here clearly linked to written literature) to an oral tradition which, in turn, could be seen only as a backward literary manifestation, raised the image of the new group of African writers/artists. It even elevated them to the status of combatants.
A particularly illustrative example is that of Aimé Césaire who often assigned himself the role of a literary spokesman: both the representative and the voice of the oppressed:
And in Cahier de Retour au pays natal, Aimé Césaire castigates colonialism on account of the:
That for him suffering and oppression were often seen in strongly racialised terms, a dichotomy of black versus white, recalls Feuser's views in his discussion of the nature, content, and evolution of African literary criticism. Referring to what he saw as a critical model which stressed literature and literary theory as a tool in the anti-colonial struggle, Feuser notes: "As a critical theory it underestimates the social and geographical determinants of literature while setting up racial militancy as an artistic yardstick."
The assumption of the role of spokesperson by the writer and his/her speedy ascension to pre-eminence did not constitute a demise or even a subjugation of the traditional oral artist. Rather, in a sense it fostered the growth and continuity of culture insofar as it adapted the oral message to the written word, thereby creating the conditions for a much greater and diverse audience. Admittedly the scope of this putative audience may itself have been limited by the fact that literacy rates in the period to which I am referring were demonstrably low. Nevertheless, and as I argue below, such texts were in part addressed to a foreign audience. They were inserted within the kind of 'writing back' process Ashcroft et al explore in The Empire Writes Back (1989).
This process in turn gave occasion to heated polemics of the sort between Camara Laye and some of his critics such as Mongo Beti and Albert Franklin. Reacting specifically to accusations that his work L'Enfant noir (The African Child) was not sufficiently critical in its depiction of colonialism, Camara Laye asserted:
This is one of the many examples that underline the divergence in opinion among African critics as regards the nature and magnitude of vitriol and remonstrance to deploy in the discourse of protest literature. Hence Leopold Senghor could argue in his defence of Négritude and in the face of vituperous criticism, that: "Reason is Greek, Emotion is African.". To Senghor's assertion, Franklin responded in a scathing essay, "Presence Africaine": "We know that reason is not any more Greek than emotion is Negro...reason and emotion are at the same time Negro, Greek, Yellow and Red; that is to say, they belong to all humanity." Such divergent views, with, on the one hand, Négritude writers who represent pre-colonial Africa in idyllic terms of beauty, peace and progress, while on the other, their Anglophone counterparts seek to expose the full image of pre-colonial Africa with all its virtues and vices. These differing views epitomize the ideological rumples in African literary discourses of the 1950s and 60s.
The conflicting perspective that resulted from the large-scale infusion of the written word into African oral literature in the 20th Century, therefore, has confirmed Horace's opinion that: ("Difficult est propre communia dicere.") "It is hard to utter common notions in an individual way." This is especially plausible when one considers that such a process resulted in the adaptation of the communal and participatory essence of traditional African literature to modern exigencies. Again, and what is more important, it provoked a situation where the claim of many African writers to represent their people was contested and occasionally branded as an elitist imposition and a linguistic and aesthetic distortion of authentic African art. The implications for educational and social policy as well as syllabus reformulation in schools, colleges, and universities raised the stakes in this discourse and its ownership.
The debate over the issue of participation revolves around what often appears to be the virtual monopoly of the oral artists' right to represent the society in traditional communities. The arguments are often shrouded in the fallacy that one of the merits of oral African literature is that it addresses:
We submit that the contention is however too facile upon closer observation and is, in many instances, the opposite of the truth. That is not to say that written literature was in itself any more democratic, a claim the poor rates of literacy alluded to earlier would serve to undermine, but to call attention to the equally flawed role of an oral tradition. This is because in many traditional societies access to the practice of verbal artistry and dramatization were regulated by hereditary controls which made it impossible for an ordinary member of the community to assume the role of artist or literary spokesman. Traditionally roles were passed on from father to son, making arts such as praise-singing, drumming and ritual drama, etc., the exclusive preserve of a few. On these grounds alone therefore, the so-called benefits of the often lauded institutionalized oral literature of pre-colonial Africa and its practical disadvantage are asymmetrical. The disadvantages are just as prominent as the advantages.
It is therefore legitimate to contend that far from being a usurpation of the collective role of the people, the introduction of the written literature of the African writer/critic and its eventual triumph constitutes the liberation of African art from the trappings of tradition and culture. Indeed it enfranchised all of the talented and opened its production and consumption to a wider variety of hitherto 'ostracized' aspirants. In this sense the son of the traditional "griot" did not lose his right to artistic and literary production, rather this right was made available to all and sundry. The stakes in fame, power, and money were thus increased and opened to all for the development of African literary pursuit. In a sense discourses were democratized.
The choice of foreign languages as the media of literary expression in Africa is another area of contending discourses. Opinions here range from wholesale acceptance to utter denunciation. One of the latter stated that:
Evidently this accusation overlooks the obvious fact that the very quest for the revival of African values and pride had to target a colonialist audience; one which needed to be informed about an African world view and values. The message therefore had to be in the language of the colonizer and not the colonized. This is certainly not to purport that the African subject of colonization achieved "signification only through the colonial language." It is to point out that the official languages of the Colonial Empire as well as its creole variants became linguistic vehicles which (like Greek and Latin among the subjects of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires) strengthened the anti-colonial struggle with all its ramifications - cultural, social, political, economic and linguistic. It is not surprising then that regarding Wole Soyinka, Patrick Chabal notes that his: "...work is at once utterly modern in the Western sense but also fundamentally African in both inspiration and artistic sensibility" This assertion is equally applicable to the position of Ngugi wa Thiong'o as exposed in his work Decolonizing the Mind (1986). Foreign languages were also the best medium through which to appeal to the educated Africans and unite them for a common cause. This was all the more important since they belonged to different ethnic groups, in many cases devoid of any linguistic inter-comprehensibility. The protest of the people had to be heard in a foreign voice for very specific reasons. As such, his was a legitimate option available to the author in: " . . . trying to find an authentic language attuned to local experience."
We deem it apt to end this brief commentary on the realm of ideology, orality, and language choice in African literary discourse by remarking that the development of African literature has not been without the usual friction that makes normal movement and progress possible. Conflicting literary opinions have served to advance the cause of African literary pursuit and clarified issues relating to the various aspects of the nature and purpose of its discourse.
The introduction of formal education and the liberalization of the verbal art of literary production in 20th Century Africa, therefore, inaugurated an elaborate written literature which transferred the focus and nature of African literary production from its communal hereditary concerns to a diversified and group perception. And the consolidation of the written African literature did not end this diversity in unity and incorporation. It is this sense of accommodation which a critic evokes when indicating that: "Senghor is as wrong in wanting to impose negritude forever on African writers as Wole Soyinka of Nigeria is in challenging the Senegalese writer by saying that a `tiger does not speak of its tigritude'." We wish to suggest that from their respective standpoints, Senghor and Soyinka were possibly both correct.
In conclusion it is appropriate to observe that the overall effect of this diversity within the African literary scene has even been reinvigorating and renewing. It is indicative of the fact that the varied nature of the African experience should be expressed differently by different people in different places. It is this experiential diversity which precludes, in principle as well as in practice, any possibility of a representational monopoly. In this situation it is the capacity for skilful observation, effective, and relevant themes that will project the artist to the position of eminence when the audience/reader identifies with what they consider their own reality.
This has enriched the practice of exploring the varied meanings of African texts. It has highlighted a more critical and flexible way in which people speak of their experience, state their ideas, share their desires and read the implicit and explicit motives and norms of the African text. This has meant a deconstruction of the (traditional) conventions of the metaphorical coherence, the thematic unity, and the representation of reality in African oral text. The exercise will certainly guide African literary theory and discourse in the years ahead to reflect and represent the Continent's current societal experience in democratization, globalization and the quest for peace and progress.
 Horace, Ars Poetica, 3, 84.
 William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Act V, Sc 3, 1.66
 Such stances came to be particularly evident in the writing of authors such as the Nigerians Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o. In a recent study of Nigerian Writing - A Mask Dancing: Nigerian Novelists of the Eighties (1992) Adewale Marja-Pearce revisits the controversial site of writing as 'an instrument of political liberation', offering a scathing critique of Achebe's place within an earlier generation of Anglophone African writing, precisely that addressed in my paper.
 O.R. Dathorne, African Literature in the Twentieth Century, London: Heinemann, 1976, p. 319.
 Aimé Césaire, Cahier d'un Retour au Pays Natal, Paris: Présence Africaine, 1956, partie 1.
 Aimé Césaire, "Discours sur le colonialism", quoted in Jacques Chevrier, Littérature Nègre, Paris: Armand Colin, 1984, p. 175.
 Wilfred Feuser. "Alain Ricard, Théâtre et nationalisme, Wole Soyinka and LeRoi Jones". Durosimi Jones, Eldred (ed). African Literature Today, No. 8: Drama in Africa. London: Heinemann, 1976.
 Egejuru, Akubueze. Towards African Literary Independence: a Dialogue with Contemporary African Writers. London: Greenwood Press, 1980, p. 123.
 I am using the expression 'protest literature' here to refer to that body of writing which set out to deliberately challenge and deconstruct colonial representations of African society. Apart from Laye, others whose work engaged in this process include Achebe, in Things Fall Apart (1958), Amos Tutola, in ThePalm-wine Drunkard (1952), and Sembene Ousmane, to name but a few]
 Albert Franklin, `La Négritude: réalité ou mystification', in Présence Africaine, No. 14, 3, décembre, 1953.
 Horace, Ars Poetica, 3.
 O.R. Dathorne, African Literature in the Twentieth Century, London: Heinemann, 1976, p. xiii.
 ibid. P. xii.
 Christopher Miller L., Black Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985, p. 55.
 Patrick Chapal, "The African crisis: context and interpretation", in Postcolonial Identities in Africa, Richard Werbner and Terence Ranger (eds.). London/New Jersey: Zed Books, 1996, p.4
 David Lee, Competing Discourse: Perspective in Ideology in Language, London: Longman, 1992, p. 155.
 Okechuku Mezu, S. The Poetry of L. S. Senghor, London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1973, p. 94.
Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. London: Heinemann, 1958.
Maja-Pearce, Adewale. A mask dancing: Nigerian novelists of the eighties. London; New York: Hans Zell Publishers, 1992.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Homecoming: essays on African and Caribbean literature, culture and politics. London: Heinemann, 1972.
Ngugi was Thiong'o. Decolonising the mind: the politics of language in African literature. London: J. Currey; Portsmouth, N.H. Heinemann, 1986.
Raja, Rao. Kanthapura/Raja Rao. (London): Oxford University Press, 1947.
Sembene, Ousmane. Bouts de bois de Dieu. English, God's bits of wood, translated by Francis Price. 1962.
Soyinka, Wole, Art, dialogue and outrage: essays on literature and culture. 2nd, rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1993.
Tutuola, Amos. The palm-wine drinkard and his dead palm-wine tapster in the Deads' Town. London: Faber and Faber, 1952.
Kwaku Asante-Darko currently lectures in African and European Literature at the National University of Lesotho in Southern Africa. After studying History, Literature, and French Language in Kumasi, Ghana, where he was born some three decades ago, he proceeded to further studies in French and International Relations at the Universités Stendhal and Pierre Mendès France, both in Grenoble, France. His current research interest is in the areas of race and literature, as well as Pan-Africanism.