n Journal of the African Literature Association - African literature and social change: tribe nation, race / Author’s response

Volume 13 Number 3
  • ISSN : 2167-4744
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Olakunle George’s African Literature and Social Change: Tribe, Nation, Race is a welcome addition to African literary criticism. The book begins with familiar questions about the place of African literatures in discussions of twenty-first-century literary globalism, but the interventions yield valuable insights that benefit the study of the authors he reads closely as well as our conceptualizations of some larger preoccupations in African literary studies: the meanings of blackness and Africa, the intersections of literature and globalization, and the tense relations between postcolonialism and global Anglophone literary studies. Early in the book, George’s questions seem well-worn: he states that African literatures occupy a nebulous position within theorizations of literary globalism whether conceptualized as world literature, comparative literature, or global literature. He attributes this misapprehension to the undertheorized status of Africa itself and interrogates that status quo by exploring how contingency and openness towards unspecifiable futures and new potential subjects bring fresh perspectives to understandings of Africa. He then illuminates how African literature, as a site of self-negotiation defies simplistic universalizing inclinations (58). Through analyses of change, crisis, and transformation in narratives from Africa and the diaspora, he identifies different genealogies of African literary globalism that go back to the nineteenth century. The result deserves careful and repeated readings because George’s innately measured prose sometimes seems very reticent where it might have been forcefully declarative.

I am very grateful to Taiwo Adetunji Osinubi for his generous and incisive review of African Literature and Social Change. Osinubi zeroes in on the book’s central concerns and identifies the discursive contexts I sought to address: African literary studies, postcolonial studies, and black Atlantic cultural criticism. Osinubi’s approach takes the book on its own terms while also highlighting some of its limits. He engages the book from within the logic of its stated aims and conceptual parameters, and this allows him to get at key arguments while also pushing farther to raise questions that should command our attention. My response will proceed by revisiting two crucial areas touched upon by Osinubi, the point being to benefit from his reading and also try to advance the conversation. I think of these two areas as linked to questions of (i) method and (ii) framing and scope.

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