Friday, September 11, 2009

Blackheart of Darkness

Today was the second day of school, and the second of my five fall term classes. I didn’t even know I had registered for Post-Colonial African Literature until I got to class today, which was a little embarrassing, since it’s a fourth-year-seminar, and our prof asked us all to introduce ourselves, explain what African texts we were already familiar with, and tell him what induced us to take the class. I chalked it up to a night of heavy drinking and a torrid fling with a hooker from Botswana. Okay, no I didn’t.

To be honest, I had only stuck this course in a place-holder, hoping to get into first year history, just to see if I want to do a minor, but now I’m thinking of sticking with this class.

Our prof, I believe, is originally from Ghana, and then got his degree in the US. He seemed to be very excited to be in Canada, and particularly praising the fantastic libraries we have in our two major universities. (Those in this city, that is. Canada has more than two universities. This may come as no shock to you. We also don’t all live in igloos. Unless absolutely necessary.) He smiles a lot and seems to really enjoy books and literature, and wanted to impress upon us that he doesn’t want a master-slave relationship with us (his words), but rather to be the oldest student. (And the one who gets paid.)

So he suggested some supplementary readings to give some background for the books we’ll be reading, Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson, Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, and, (ugh), Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. (It seems like I just can’t escape that bloody book!) The three African authors we’ll be reading, in case any of you care, are Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Apparently in 1975, Achebe called Conrad a bloody racist, which caused quite a bit of controversy. Now, I don’t know about Conrad being a racist – I took HOD to be an anti-Imperialist text, but really, I don’t much care for Conrad’s writing either. He wrote Heart of Darkness in this weird fairy-language that he invented himself, and fits nowhere in history. And I don’t necessarily mean that as a gay joke. I just mean it belongs with the fairies, wherever fairies live.

“Some people say that the novel originated in Africa, others disagree. I say it does not matter. What matters is, does African literature bring anything to the form? We are all interconnected, into the same cultural stream. No culture is free from the influence of other cultures. Achebe was a student of Joyce Cary, and he wanted to write about Africa with his own voice. Do you think Things Fall Apart is an honest text?”

Anyway, there was one major point he wanted to leave us with, or perhaps more of a key term: “Narrative.”

“We all have a narrative,” he said, “or a story if you will. But who tells your story? If you let other people tell your story, they will tell it to their advantage. And they will destroy you.”

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