The argument of this essay is that colonized writers, always limited by their conditions of production as citizens and subjects, had no choice but to deploy inherited European forms in their own literary projects. Using the example of some foundational African novels, Gikandi contends that what might seem conceptual separations (romance/realism or realism/modernism) were complicated by the terms of the colonial cultural and literary relationship itself — by the encounter between forms codified in Europe and the incomplete colonial project. Colonized writers needed an aesthetic ideology that would affirm the lived experience of the colonized while also questioning the language of a literary canon closely associated with the culture of colonialism and with colonialist notions about progress, time, and subjectivity. The challenge of early African writers such as Thomas Mofolo and Sol Plaatje was to produce a literature with an African referent in a language that deconstructed the mimetic contract as one of the operating signatures of colonial governmentality. In their literary ideologies and formal preferences, these writers did not consider romance, realism, and modernism separate categories. Rather, these categories constituted different ways of thinking about time, place, and identity.
Simon Gikandi; Realism, Romance, and the Problem of African Literary History. Modern Language Quarterly 1 September 2012; 73 (3): 309–328. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1631415
Download citation file: