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The dialectic between African and Black aesthetics in some South African short stories

By Dennis Sipho Nakasa


Most current studies on 'African' and/or 'Black' literature in South Africa appear to ignore the contradictions underlying the valuative concepts 'African' and 'Black'. This (Jamesonian) unconsciousness has led, primarily, to a situation where writers and critics assume generally that the concepts 'African' and 'Black' are synonymous and interchangeable. This study argues that such an attitude either unconsciously represses an awareness of the distinctive aspects of the worldview connotations of these concepts or deliberately suppresses them. The theoretical and pragmatic approach which this study adopts to explore the distinctive aspects of the worldview connotations of these concepts takes the form, initially, of a critique of such assumptions and their connotations. It is argued that any misconceptions about the relations between the concepts 'African' and 'Black' can only be elucidated through a rigorous and distinct definition of each of these concepts and the respective world views embodied in them. Each of the variables of these definitions is also examined thoroughly through an application of, inter alia, Frederick Jameson's 'dialectical' theory of textual criticism, Pierre Macherey's 'theory of literary production' and also through the post-colonial notions of 'hybridity' and 'syncreticity' propounded by Bill Ashcroft (eds). In this way the study examines the dialectical interplay between, for instance, such oppositional notions as 'African' and 'Western' (place-conscious), 'Black' and 'White' (race-conscious), and other forms of ideological 'dominance' and 'marginality' reflected in the 'African' and/or 'Black' writers' motivations for the acquisition, appropriation and uses of the language of the 'other' (i.e. English) and its literary discourse in South Africa, Africa and elsewhere in the world. A close textual reading of the stories in Mothobi Mutloatse's (ed) Forced Landing, Mbulelo Mzamane's (ed) Hungry Flames underlies an examination of the processes of anthologisation and their implications of aesthetic collectivism, reconstruction and world view monolithicism which repress the distinctive world outlooks of the stories in these anthologies. The notions of aesthetic monolithicism implicit in each of these anthologies are interrogated via the editors' truistic assumptions about the organic nature of the relations between the concepts 'African' and 'Black'. The notion of a monolithic 'African' and 'Black' aesthetic is further decentred through a close textual reading of the uses of the 'African' and 'Black' valuative concepts in the short story collections The Living and the Dead and In Corner B by Es'kia (formerly Ezekiel) Mphahlele. The humanistic pronouncements in Mphahlele' s critical and short story texts suggest various ways of resolving the racial demarcations in both the 'Black' and 'White' South African literary formations. According to Mphahlele, a predominant racial consciousness inherent in the racial capitalist mode of economic production has deprived South African literature and culture an opportunity of creating a national humanistic and 'Afrocentric' form of aesthetic consciousness. The logical consequence of such a deprivation has been that the racial impediments toward the formation of a single national literature will have to be dismantled before the vision of a humanistic and 'Afrocentric' aesthetic can be realised in South Africa. The dismantling of both the 'Black' and 'White' monolithic forms of consciousness may pave the way toward the attainment of a synthetic and place-centred humanistic aesthetic. Such a dismantling of racial monolithicism will, hopefully, stimulate a debate on the question of an equally humanistic economic mode of production

Topics: Short stories, South African - History and criticism, South African literature - Black authors - History and criticism, Aesthetics, African
Publisher: Department of English Language and Literature
Year: 1993
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