Monday, December 12, 2005

Africa - I

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart - I love the way everyone speaks in proverbs, even the young sound so profound. The last line -

He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger

Achebe is of course telling us the stories, names, histories behind the almost certainly faceless 'natives' that will populate the pages of this (fictional?) and quite likely anodyne account of the creation of order in the lower Niger, written by a colonial British official.

Things Fall Apart can come across as quite misogynist. If Okonkwo is the face of resistance in the novel, then his hypermasculinity, his constant denigration of his son and all other men who do not show the same propensity to violence as 'womanly', his physical abuse of his wives - all of these make for very uncomfortable reading. Who (specifically, which woman?) would want to belong to this nation? What postcolonial promise?

Yet there are spaces in the novel for female agency - the second wife Ekwefi (largely) does as she pleases (at least in regard to the meta-decision of whom she wants to spend her life with), her daughter Ezinma is Okonkwo's favourite child (he keeps wishing she were a son in a weird display of a sort of reverse essentialism/patriarchy - he is proud of the daughter, but proud of precisely those qualities in her that he would consider 'manly'), and the priestess Chielo is a fearsome creature whom no one - not even Okonkwo - dare defy (but woman has power only when she begins to take on supernatural aura - what kind of empowerment is that?). Ok, back to what I'm really supposed to do.

Comments:
are you sure this isn't what you are really supposed be doing, too? ;)
 
no this is part of it. it's just that it's a bit of a journey from reading this kind of stuff to working it into the thesis and convincing the IR department that it belongs in an integral way.
 
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