Abstract

This article situates the early novels of Amos Tutuola—The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952) and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954)—in relation to literary primitivism. The first part outlines the initial misconstrual of Tutuola in the United Kingdom and United States as a “true primitive,” capable of producing authentically what earlier modernist primitivists attempted to produce by simulation. The article then argues that Tutuola anticipated the reception of his texts and himself as primitive, and it describes how he manipulated a binary division in Yoruba folktales between the realm of the village and the realm of the bush. The third part of the article rehistoricizes Tutuola’s early works on this basis, showing how his primitivism relates both to the work of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, as well as to global thinking about spaces of primitivity in the 1950s in midcentury modernism and Cold War discourses of apocalypse. In this way, the article claims the importance of The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts both to African modernism and to the evolving engagement across the twentieth century between eccentric writing and the preservation of an imagined remnant at the edge of the world-system.

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