Publication details [#8484]

Olaogun, Modupe O. 1993. This 'separate earth': Figurations of the African world. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 325 pp.


This study explores the ways in which selected fictional narratives by Ayi Kwei Armah, Nuruddin Farah, Bessie Head and Wole Soyinka figure the African world in its postcolonial condition. By "figuration" I mean, after Hayden White, the manner in which a determinate narrative - historical or fictional - "emplots" its story. At the heart of this emplotment is a central figure or set of tropes, which organizes the narrative. What distinguishes this study from White's "tropics of discourse" is that, as demonstrated in the work of Edward Said, tropics of discourse are not self-determining entities but are generated by a world. The figural strategies of the chosen texts reflect the writers' concern for the "destiny" of a particular political space. The context is Africa, what Soyinka calls "a separate earth." Chapter One, "Narrative Figurations," studies tropes as organizing narrative principles of contemporary African literature. Chapter Two, "Metaphor and Madness," investigates metaphor as an icon of disintegration and blurred identities: for instance, in the depictions of personal and public cases of meaningless - Baako in 'Fragments'; Elizabeth in 'A Question of Power'; and "Somalia" in 'Sweet and Sour Milk'. Chapter Three, "Irony and Schizophrenia," reads 'Maru' and 'Season of Anomy' as attempts to account for postcolonial confusions and ambiguities through the figure of irony. Chapter Four, "Synecdoche and Transmutation," explores synecdoche as a figural process at the core of which is a transforming ascription of a meaningful whole to a partial fragment. This chapter shows how the text goes beyond descriptions of sameness and indistinctiveness, and detection of cause, to call for the invention or refashioning of meaning: the discourse of healing in 'The Healers' is quintessentially the practice of synecdoche; Medina's repudiation of the tyrannical General in 'Sardines' signals a search for a cooperative and synecdochic relationship of parts and whole; Kola's canvas in 'The Interpreters' makes the complexity of the creative activity itself synecdochic of the structure of the world and the social actions it represents. By demonstrating the affinities between figures, mental states and social conditions, this study revalues rhetorical figures as socio-historically mediated interpretive strategies. (Modupe Olaogun)