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Figuring the African in Theory: a Circumscribed Discourse?

Milton Obote Joshua


This article is about the practice of literary theory and the apparent intractable imprint of the African perspective in that practice. I develop the hypothesis that scholarly attempts at defining a genuinely African theoretical practice, knowingly or unknowingly inscribes in key postulates, the discursive paradox of its dependence on the hegemonic regime of the modernist theoretical canon. The article is not simply a lament at such dependence, but a critique of those perspectives valorizing a return to oral roots as the best way to theorize the African in the context of global practice. Although they are well intentioned and are predicated on genuine desires to unequivocally establish an African paradigm in theory, such valorizations invariably end up inflecting the predicament of what I call the modernist circumscription. I attempt to advance a case for an inclusive turn that takes into account African literary practice in the context of the Janus-faced modernity that is ambiguously inclusive and exclusive of the African perspective in mainstream theoretical practice. Figuring the African in theory has to take on board the harsh predicament that it is difficult to extricate African literature from the general modernist project.


Theory; Criticism; African, Modernism; Circumscription; Dependence; Situatedness

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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