P208 – Afriphone Literature: Mobilization for an African Language Literature Agenda in the 21st Century
10 July, 09:00 – 10:30

Bodomo Adams / University of Vienna


Following a major debate about the subject matter of African literature between Ngugi wa Thiongo (e.g. Ngugi 1986) and others on the one hand, and Chinua Achebe (e.g. Achebe 1989) and others on the other hand, the definition of African literature still remains hazy. We are instead treated to paradigms by Europhone Africans like Anglophone African Literature, Francophone African Literature, Lusophone African literature, and, presumably in the near future, Sinophone African literature but hardly do we hear enough of the essential paradigm: Afriphone African Literature! This panel critically examines one particular definition of African literature as follows: “African literature is any form of artistic creation produced in the medium of African languages, first and foremost, or any other natural language (written, spoken, or enchanted) by an artist or group of artists with substantial enough experiences of the landscape of the continental landmass of Africa and its associated islands, along with diasporic exportations of the cultures of this continental landmass” (Bodomo 2014). This definition, without excluding Europhone African literatures, essentially encapsulates an Afriphone literature agenda, and contributions to the panel are interpreted as an intellectual mobilization to chart a new paradigm of African literature in the 21st Century. The papers in this panel address the challenges and opportunities presented by such an approach to African literature.

Littérature “afriphone”: mobilisation pour un langage littéraire africain. Un agenda pour le 21e siècle
Suite à un débat majeur à propos de la littérature africaine entre Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986) et d’autres auteurs, d’une part, ainsi que plus spécifiquement et par exemple Chinua Achebe, la définition concernant la littérature africaine reste encore vague. En revanche, les paradigmes de littérature africaine anglophone, de littérature africaine francophone, de littérature africaine lusophone et certainement bientôt de littérature africaine sinophone existent bel et bien, tandis que l’on parle rarement de littérature africaine afriphone! Ce panel prend en compte la définition de la littérature africaine de cette manière : «La littérature africaine englobe toute forme de création artistique effectuée en langues africaines avant tout ou dans toute autre langue naturelle (écrite, parlée ou (en)chantée) par un artiste fournissant des preuves substantielles d’une expérience du paysage du territoire continental africain et ses îles adjacentes, y compris des exportations diasporiques des cultures du territoire continental» (Bodomo 2014). Cette définition, qui n’exclut pas les littératures europhones africaines, met en avant la littérature afriphone africaine, et les contributions dans ce panel seront à entendre comme des mobilisations intellectuelles pour poser les cadres d’un nouveau paradigme pour la littérature africaine au 21e siècle. Les contributions aborderont les défis et les opportunités qui peuvent résulter de cette approche de la littérature africaine.

Paper 1

Boudersa Hemza / Ecole Normale Superieure Constantine, Algérie.

An Afrocentric Paradigm to Decolonize Post-colonial African Literature

Many analysts categorize post-colonial African literature in terms of a double-edged sword (on the one hand, “revealing” the ex-colonizer atrocities, “curing” the injuries of the colonized and “reconstructing” African national memories, and on the other hand, “carrying” Western culture). In this connection, fundamental preoccupations pertinent to languages, themes, audience, and critics are raised in this paper. The paper attempts to argue that a ‘genuine decolonization’ of African literature can only be possible through using Afro-centric rather than Euro-centric paradigms in studying any African literary work. This vision is what some African writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o advocated for in their literary dissertations. The paper, therefore, is based on the following major research question: in what ways can Afro-centric paradigms ‘decolonize’ post-colonial African literature from the colonial legacy? In this study it is claimed also that there would not be a ‘liberation’ of the African mind and literature unless there were ‘effective’ Afro-centric intellectual and literary approaches pertinent to a pure African socio-historical context, promoted by some African intellectuals and writers such as Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Other issues discussed in the paper include the language to be used in the writing of [Afro-centric] African literature, themes tackled by [Afro-centric] writers, and the critical criteria to be applied while evaluating this literature.

Paper 2

Diegner Lutz / Department of African Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

The contribution of Swahili Literature to an African Language Literature Agenda in the 21st Century

Swahili literature not only has a centuries-old oral and written tradition, but has also established itself as a considerably diversified ‘modern’ and postmodern literature in postcolonial times. It is vivaciously visible in the new media, be it in new forms of orality (‘SMS poetry’), or in serial novels published on the web. Apart from the new media, it has retained a remarkable position in the ‘old’ publishing industry, based in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. In this presentation, I raise the question of whether the ‘Swahili literature experience’ can be useful to mobilize producers and consumers of African literature to engage in an African Language Literature Agenda for the 21st Century. First of all, is it helpful for, or possibly detrimental to, other African language literatures in the region? Secondly, beyond the East African region, can Swahili literature (besides other ‘successful’ examples like Amharic, Hausa, or Akan literature) be a point of orientation to other African language literatures across the continent? Outlining major developments in postcolonial Swahili literature, I discuss its diversity of genres, the situation of the publishing industry, as well as the opportunities and challenges for African language literature in the new media. Apart from fictional literature, I will also address the question of African languages as meta-languages of science, and the humanities in particular (cf. e.g. Wamitila 2008, Agyekum 2012).

Paper 3

Garnier Xavier / Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3

Bourlet Melanie / INALCO, Paris

Establishing new communities through African language literatures

This paper interrogates whether African language literature can create a new modality of social resistance in the context of globalization. It points to the importance of the interconnection of local, national, and international scales in apprehending global collective mobilization phenomenona. The authors point out the limits of a purely institutional approach of literature, which may reveal some power issues regarding their poor institutionalization, but are unable as an explanatory scheme to take into account the intensity of the relation between written expression and life which is manifested in those literatures. We will show how African language literatures establish a network of potential relations between member communities scattered all over the world. In this scenario, the researcher has to put the concepts of mobility, connectivity, and reflexivity at the heart of his or her thinking and see literature as a pioneering way of extending social links in the context of globalization.

Paper 4

Ndi Gilbert Shang / University of Bayreuth

The language question and the development of Ayi Kwei Armah’s Cultural Resilience Project

Ayi Kwei Armah is one of Africa’s most strident imaginative voices and his literary works are underlined by a persistent quest for an ideal means of expression that will carry his vision for African renaissance. His novels are characterized by a persistent indictment of the epistemological consequences of colonialism and its resultant erosion of self-confidence in African cultural values and indigenous knowledge systems. The language question is very fundamental in the works of Ayi Kwei Armah and his writings have been marked by literary and artistic attempts to revisit and re-assert Africa’s lost cultures and languages as reservoirs of immense cultural knowledge. This presentation examines the developments and the key principles that underlie the linguistic quest of Ayi Kwei Armah, both as a writer and as a cultural historian.

Paper 5

Bodomo Adams / University of Vienna

Parallel text theory: conceptual grounding for an African language literature in the 21st Century

This paper proposes a conceptual grounding for reconceptualising and doing African literature in the 21st Century. 20th Century African literature has been characterized by colonial concepts through which literature in indigenous African languages was largely neglected while literature in colonial languages was promoted with problematic notions like “Anglophone African literature”, “Francophone African literature” and “Lusophone African literature”. African literature needs to be reconceptualized as Afriphone literature, where the notion of African literature must prototypically subsume literature in languages indigenous to Africa. African literature must be reconceptualized first and foremost as African language literature. Many scholars interested in the documentation and revitalization of African languages and cultures are largely in agreement with this but how to go about doing Afriphone literature remains a research challenge. This paper proposes an approach to addressing this challenge based on the notion of parallel text theory which postulates that in a bi-lingual and bi-literate environment, for more effective and optimal knowledge and information dissemination, users of language produce contiguous texts in at least two of the languages within the bi-lingual and bi-literate environment.

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