On 6 June Neil ten Kortenaar (Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto) will give a lecture during the Comparative Literature Seminar titled 'Nigerian Writers Imagine the State at Independence'.
Nigerian Writers Imagine the State at Independence
African literature (novels, plays, and poetry written in English) was largely the creation of young men who came of age and began their writing careers at the same moment that they became citizens of newly independent nation-states. Just as the novel appeared at midcentury to be the epitome of literature, the modern state was the inevitable setting of all modern politics, but Africans, new to both, could not take either for granted.
African fiction differed from European and other fiction in that it could not accept the state as inevitable, did not assume that characters were sovereign citizens with rights, and questioned the nature of the rule of law imposed by the state. The modern sovereign state felt less than obvious to Africans because it was continuous with the colony: at decolonization selfdetermination was accorded to the colonial territory, never to the precolonial polity, the ethnic nation, or the continental federation. The same state that had ruled people was now expected to be a forum for people to rule themselves. But what does the word “rule” mean when the ruled become the rulers but still feel conscious that rule comes from above? Neil ten Kortenaar will read Nigerian novels just before and after independence as political allegories of the state.