Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Palm Wine Drinkard

          Amos Tutuola's Palm Wine Drinkard hits on two major ideas in Afircan Lit that have cropped up in my research, a) that the personable and earnest voice that I found apparent in Achebe's work, both critical and novelistic, is also weaved intentionally throughout this book and b) how many differing viewpoints cropped up very quickly in the critical outlook of African literature and how vastly opposed they could be.
          Much to the chagrin of many academics and critics, Tutuola writes in a very simplistic manner on the surface level, to the point that many refer to this book as a children's story; however, I believe that this is a vast simplification of the book as a whole based on the earnest, straightforward voice that he uses.  This book is a creation of the author's society and in service to it, as the issues of rising indivuality and focus on Western material wealth was, and is, an issue in modern African society.  Instead of hiding the morality and satire of this book under witty lines and Dickensian on the nose names like the Veneerings, Tutuola names his main character after his primary flaw, over indulgence. The Palm Wine Drinkard would supposedly drink about 150 tankards of palm wine in the morning and about 75 at night and all of this is paid for by his rich father, as such the Drinkard does not work. The indulgence goes so far as to have his father hire a man to tap the wine for the Drinkard instead of him doing it himself.  Though Western academics may call it one the nose, I believe this is overthinking what the author was trying to do, as Tutuola was writing in service to the people to address a rising issue, not to create the next great world novel.  This attitude, which is very much steeped in African culture, of writing in service to the community, as mentioned with Achebe's works, is Tutuola's goal and what not only makes this a great book, but a great African book.  Furthermore, the simplicity of the style is not only a stylistic choice that I believe fits the book well, but also one of necessity.  Many people could not read and those that could, could not necessarily read at an "academic" level, especially in English, thus Tutuola was trying to reach the most people that he could.  This leads in to the second point, this being the ways that critics attempt to legitimize African literature in their own ways, many times creating a lot of tension.
          This is a subject that I will go into more at I write about The Empire Writes Back and African Literature, African Critics: The Forming of Critical Standards, 1947-1966, but African Academics split into many different camps very fast in order to uplift African Literature.  The reason several camps disliked this books, as mentioned, was because of the supposedly childish manner, but more specifically because of the attention it was getting and academics did not want the Western world to see Africa as childish and hyper focused on, what the West would relate this to, folk tales.  Many had different specific opinions, but the more Western focused African academics, especially those in France, rallied against this as a symbol of their culture, thus they wanted a Westernized African style, whereas Tutuola and Achebe were more traditional in thinking of art in service to the African people's.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Hopes and Impediments

          Chinua Achebe's Hope and Impediments paints a broad stroking yet clear picture of his views of African Literature and the criticism thereof.  The first key point that stood out to me was Achebe's voice and use of language in his critical essays.  Achebe wrote in a very personable manner so that the reader felt very comfortable with Achebe, as if getting to know him on a deeper level.
          I believe this personable style is something very much tied into the idea of the artist in many African cultures.  Achebe talks about in one of the African tribes tribes that the artists, in this example a craftsman, would go into a relatively secluded area to do his work near the resources he needed for his art, but this is not to say he was alone.  On the contrary, the artist would have a whole group of people around him commenting on his trade and he welcomed it, even though he felt no obligation to take their comments into account, he still listened as his art was as much theirs as his own.   This example not only shows the communal aspects of African art, but also hierarchical place of the artist.
          African artists are actually in a higher societal class than you see in Western society, in fact many artists, particularly storytellers, would become chieftains of their tribes.  However, hierarchy is not the same as it is in Western nations.  There is a unwritten idealism in Western thought that those higher in status, particularly those in government, are suppose to serve the mass and in return the mass gives them power; however, this tends not to be the case in many instances.  More often than not the "have and have-nots" are highly stratified and the upper classes end up benefiting much more from the "social contract" than the lower classes.  In African culture this is not as evident, as this social contract is taken much more seriously.  As in the previous example, even though the craftsman will do what's best, his determination of what is best is very much reliant on the commentary of his constituents tempered by his wisdom.  Achebe actually gives another example of a very popular poet in Nigerian culture, Christopher Okigbo, who took his responsibility to community very seriously.
          One of the notable events in modern African history was the Nigerian civil war where the Biafra region of Nigeria attempted to break away from the rest of the country.  Many artists, including Achebe and Okigbo, supported this secession in words at the very least, though Okigbo supported it in blood.  Okigbo joined the revolutionary forces and fought against the nationalist army and in the process lost his life.  Now, this is not extremely uncommon for artist to join in revolution, take Byron in the Grecian civil war, but it is not so wide spread as it is in African culture.  I believe that this extreme sense of community is essential to understanding African literature, as I believe that I will find this common stream of cultural pride, earnestness, and sociable voce in the works going forward.