canonicity and other thoughts

I really enjoyed reading the Chinua Achebe’s article this week as he really articulated his beliefs with so much conviction that I find myself being persuaded to adopt his view. Admittedly, Achebe seems rather passionate to the point of being offensive, calling Conrad out for being a flat-out racist (343) as well as one who is xenophobic (347), viewing Africa through jaundiced eyes. But I do think he got our attention and made us realize and acknowledge the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that psychoanalysts and critics fail to comment on this. Instead, Conrad’s texts are still widely distributed and widely read around the world. This definitely raised a flag in my head about canon making and how canonicity is built around male, Eurocentric texts. This erases the voices of many subalterns: women, racial and ethnic minorities, queer studies etc and deny them a place in literary history. I think in many ways, this Eurocentric canonization of texts reinforces the idea that British literature is the standard and ‘new’ literatures like those from Africa are ‘lesser’ works. Like the Gikandi reading, it calls attention to this pressing need to review historical scholarship and readjust our definitions of what “the greatest novel” should be. I think it is heartening to know that postcolonial studies is coming to the fore and giving a voice to the subalterns, telling about the colonization experience from a colonized perspective, something that is lacking in Heart of Darkness.

I think Achebe is perfectly reasonable in wanting the West to “rid its mind of old prejudices and begin to look at Africa not through a haze of distortions and cheap mystifications” (348). He wants Africa not to be seen as a political, economic entity, not as beasts, not as an antithesis to England but as people. He wants them to have a Prospero moment, to acknowledge, “That thing of darkness I consider mine” and to accept that their “humanity is…like yours…Ugly.” Achebe I think is trying to show how we are not all that dissimilar and as fellow human beings, they have a right to be treated with respect. That isn’t too much to ask.

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