That it is possible to republish the essays without revision so many years after their first appearance is a tribute to Ndebele's prescience. The issues that he raises and the questions that he poses remain key to a people who, after apartheid, have started to rediscover the complex ordinariness of living in a civil society.
Some New Writings in South Africa. Redefining Relevance. Retrospectively, it would seem that Ezekiel Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane and Nat Nakasa occupied one wing of the Sophiatown Renaissance, with the passion for the Harlem Renaissance and African-American culture being a central characteristic, and the other wing was in possession of Lewis Nkosi and Can Themba, with European literary tradition as their central focus.
Parenthetically, it ought perhaps be indicated that the relationship in 's between Ezekiel Mphahlele and Langston Hughes was not something really new in South African literary history, for in the 's Richard Wright had a decisive impact on Peter Abrahams which continued in a series of letters, as well as in the 's W.
- Reformation Thought: An Introduction.
- Letters From Johannesburg;
- A Tale of Tri-Cities;
DuBois had a tremendous influence on Sol T. Plaatje, which was also carried out in an exchange of letters. Still operating outside the immediate confines of The African Image, Mphahlele's encounter with the Harlem Renaissance mediated one of the most crucial events of the 's and the 's in African intellectual history: namely, the forging and establishing of national literatures in South Africa and Nigeria in modern times. These two projects found mutual nourishment and reciprocity in each other, when the South African modern national literature and the Nigerian modern national literature, represented by these reviews, Black Orpheus based in Nigeria and Transition , based in Uganda, and subsequently in Ghana.
Both magazines were the expression of the founding moments in the evolution of modern African national literatures. It was in the context of these complex formations and relationships, that in Ezekiel Mphahlele published an essay on Langston Hughes, which appeared in Black Orpheus. Unquestionably, the intended aim, though not fully and consciously articulated, was to uphold Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance as an exemplary national literary school which could literary and culturally inform the literary consciousness and stylistics of the new emerging national literatures.
Mphahlele was unclearly specifying that the formation of modern African national literatures had to be realized within the historical and political coordinates of Pan-Africanism. It is only in the second edition of , and not in the original edition of , that the book centrally concerns itself with nationalism.
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The importance of the Harlem Renaissance for Mphahlele's cultural imagination in The African Image enabled him to make a withering critique of the Negritude School, David Diop and others. Having made this damaging rejection of Negritude, Mphahlele attempted to make amends in book edited by him called, African Writing Today, but to no avail. The intellectual odyssey of Ezekiel Mphahlele in exile from to is one of the fascinating and consequential in South African cultural history. Besides interlinking the Sophiatown Renaissance to the Harlem Renaissance and to the then emergent modern Nigerian national literature in English, he equally forged a unity of mutual respect, however problematic and fraught with dissensions, between the Negritude movement of Francophone Africa and the national literatures of Anglophone Africa.
Also impressive, was Mphahlele's role in Nairobi through the Chemichemi Cultural Center which facilitated the cultural preconditions that were necessary for the emergence of Kenya, national literature in English. Across the ocean from Kenya, Mphahlele in , together with Wole Soyinka, participated in a historic African-American conference sponsored by Houston A.
Baker at the University of Pennsylvania.
Writing my Reading
One of Mphahlele's incontestable merits within the Sophiatown Renaissance was to draw and trace the complex map of black intellectual heritage in the twentieth-century in which the Drum literary school could find sustenance. His projects testify to the fact that the ruling imagination order of the Sophiatown Renaissance was in the critical arena, rather than, in the creative sphere.
Lewis Nkosi's book, Home and Exile, continued the hegemony of the critical imagination within the Sophiatown Renaissance. Whereas Mphahlele's book sought to establish the lineages of black international culture in the twentieth-century as a systemic process, Nkosi's collection of critical essays was articulated with the aim of incorporating into African literary culture Leavis' ethos of critical evaluation.
With Nkosi's book, we encounter the first instance in Africa in which literary criticism announces its own literariness, that is, the text draws attention to itself through the style in which it is written. With Home and Exile, African literary criticism transforms itself into an art form. Rather than draw attention to the works it sought to illuminate and explain, the book proclaims its own stylistics.
This self consciousness of its own style is carried to high pitch in the brilliant book, Tasks and Masks, a book with no precedence, and has not been paralleled since. For Nkosi, writhing well is a matter of morals and ethics; in this, he follows on the critical principles of F. The famous, or infamous essay, "Fiction by Black South Africans," postulates this thesis.
Black South African writers are convicted for writing bad fiction as though Kafka, Doestoyevsky and Joyce had not preceded them. The essay laments the dearth of the creative imagination in South Africa. The criticism of Lewis Nkosi in Home and Exile is not historically contextualized, and thus declares its own steadfast formalism, by implying that any style is suitable for any historical-literary moment.
Revealingly, because of the implied affinities, the point of comparison is Nigerian literature: We certainly have nothing to counterpoise against the imaginative power of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart or the placid grace of its style. To read a novel like Richard Rive's Emergency is to gain a minute glimpse into a literary situation which seems to me quite desperate.
This spontaneous comparison between South African literature and Nigerian literature is also carried forth in The African Image: There is no cross play of impacts between the literatures of South and West Africa. Communication between them is nil. Although the Nigerians Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara, Cyprian Ekwensi are sophisticated in a way that Amos Tutuola is not, there is nothing in these four writers like the cultural cross-impacts one finds in the South.
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Our idioms are different. There are not, in West Africa, the anger, impatience, restlessness, moodiness, semantic violence and the self-assertive laughter which hit the various planes of South African expression. There is an overall steady pace and sedate mood in West African writing. The contrast in the evaluation of these two literatures between these two critical viewpoints is not of immediate concern here; what is crucial is that they were responding to the cultural logic of a particular historical moment, the formation of modern African national literatures in the European languages.
The decade of the 's in African national literature in English.
This whole cultural preoccupation was to culminate in the Kampala Conference of on African Literature in English Expression. The conference was intended to celebrate the victory of this literature over the African Literature in the African Languages, whose genealogy was much wider and deeper. Although there were other writers from other African countries, the largest contingent of writers and intellectuals were South Africans and Nigerians.
The only dissenting voice at this Conference was Obi Wali, who proclaimed that the supposed victory of African Literature in English over African Literature in the African Languages will in the long run turn out to have been an illusion. Although the judgment of posterity is still out, there can be no doubt that history is on the side of African Literature in the African Languages.
The decade of the 's also in African intellectual history was equally witness to the emergence and formation of African Marxism. This modern African ideology was forged by Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral within the context of the cycle of African revolutions which stretched from the Algerian Revolution beginning in In other words, the decade of the 's was a revolutionary decade in African history. During this revolutionary decade, the two most consequential intellectual formations, African Marxism and African Literature in the African Languages, passed each other, without giving cognizance to each other and recognizing each other.
When they did recognize and confront each other in the historical moment of Ngugi was Thiongo, it was to be with dramatic results, whose consequences are apparent all over Africa, especially in the South Africa of the late 's, when a new democratic South Africa was in the process of emergence. The historical importance of Ngugi was Thiongo will be indicated in a moment.
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The Sophiatown Renaissance literature was not the only black legitimacy and appropriateness of this literature, which was part of the African Literature in the European Languages, was being challenged in that same decade. Although this challenge was indirect, it nevertheless indicated the questionableness of this black South African literature. Whilst the Sophiatown Renaissance literature was being forged in the pages of the Drum magazine, A. Jordan, then one of the leading literary scholars in South Africa, wrote a series of articles in Africa South, extolling the virtues of African Literature in the African Languages.
Using the instance of Xhosa literature, as a particular example, A.
Jordan argues for the greater literary heritage and cultural splay in the African languages. He traces the emergence of literary form from Ntsikana to Mqhayi, and its subsequent cultural metamorphosis. Through the fragments, I think there are 19 or 20 that look at the subject. He explains to people how the Johannesburg psyche is totally embodied in the height of the walls. And he does it in a very subtle, suggestive and ultimately powerful way.
He will talk about barbed wire on top of the wall above the metal spikes. He will talk about the electric fencing and how walls seem to get higher as the city becomes more inward looking. There is no street culture in the affluent parts of South Africa, there is no eye contact. Ivan is perhaps suggesting that people might want to knock down their walls, look on to the streets and try to take the first step towards mutual trust. I had a profound problem with this book, which I will come to in a moment. Breyten Breytenback is another one of our most esteemed Afrikaans poets.
His most celebrated work of English prose is The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, which was a memoir about his seven years in prison. He was part of a group of dissident Afrikaans writers formed in the 60s; another famous member was Andre Brink.