This essay asks what it means to call Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (1988) a postcolonial bildungsroman. It argues that there is a fundamental contradiction in the term between the pressures and practices of bildung (education; development; formation), on the one hand, and the project of postcolonial emancipation, on the other. Managing contradictions is a standard feature of the bidungsroman, though, and the essay argues that what makes Nervous Conditions interesting is the way it addresses this particular core contradiction. What marks Dangarembga's novel as distinct from earlier European bildungsromans is, first, its relationship with its revolutionary moment, that is, to the Zimbabwean independence struggle, and, second, its deployment of narration and description, or of realist and naturalist narrative modes, in representing an epistemology of postcolonial resistance.

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