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.

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