In Graham Furness’s piece, “Hausa Creative Writing in the 1930s,” Furness discusses five different works of Hausa literature: “Shaihu Umar,” “Jiki Magayi,” “Idon Matambayi,” “Gandoki” and “Ruwan Bagaja,” which we read for this week. But before delving too deeply into a close reading of those novels, Furness first analyzes critic Fredric Jameson, who in his 1986 piece in the journal Social Text, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” very assertively stated, “All third-world texts are necessarily, I want to argue, allegorical, and in a very specific way: they are to be read as what I will call national allegories, even when, or perhaps I should say, particularly when their forms develop out of predominantly western machineries of representation, such as the novel” (69).

Jameson backs up his claim by stating throughout his piece that there is a clear distinction between how first-world writers and readers treat a novel and how third-world writers and readers do so, perhaps most clearly describing his argument here: “One important distinction would seem to impose itself at the outset, namely that none of these cultures can be conceived as anthropologically independent or autonomous, rather, they are all in various distinct ways locked in a life-and-death struggle with first-world cultural imperialism—a cultural struggle that is itself a reflexion of the economic situation of such areas in their penetration by various stages of capital, or as it is sometimes euphemistically termed, of modernization” (68). Essentially what Jameson is saying is that third-world writers always end up writing texts that reflect their own postcolonial oppression or misrepresentation, which is expressed on a grand, social scale. Members of the first world can’t understand that kind of overwhelming objectification, Jameson says, so it’s our duty to read more third-world literature but also be aware of our own shortcomings. Because the third-world “story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society,” these texts are “alien to us at first approach, and consequently, resistant to our conventional western habits of reading” (69).

Furness takes a variety of different viewpoints regarding Jameson’s claim, both rejecting it and investigating its validity, but eventually moves on by noting how in the five Housa texts examined, “Overwhelmingly these stories are situated in a world where the British, their representatives, and colonial artefacts are absent” (13). And for the most part, I would say that’s pretty accurate within “Ruwan Bagaja,” or “The Water of Cure.” How is the Imam’s story an allegory of “cultural struggle” or an “embattled situation”? I just read it like a choose-your-own-adventure for kids, with some cheeky humor and easily recognizable community stereotypes thrown in for good measure. Instead, it seems like Jameson undercuts and undermines the ability of third-world writers to craft anything outside of a political narrative. It would be silly, I think, for me to claim that anyone living in a third-world nation has not been touched by colonialism—the very fact of growing up within such a situation immediately means you’re aware of colonialism’s implications on the overall public and yourself. It would be like me trying to claim that we are, despite being American college students, unaware of American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that’s just absurd. Of course we are. We’ve basically been indoctrinated with those lifestyles, morals and ethics since birth. But I think automatically assigning a political motive or underlying intention to any third-world author assumes that they can never return to a past that existed before colonialism, or access any kind of narrative that was around for years before colonialism occurred. In that sense, Jameson’s analysis seems logical, but also like a slight—by trying to apologize for first-world readers not being aware of third-world writers, Jameson wants to further justify their writings by painting everything in a political way. I’m not sure that’s necessarily accurate, but as the semester goes on and we analyze more texts, I’ll be interested to see if I’m right or wrong.

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About roxanahadadi

First-year literature graduate student! Planning on drinking enough Diet Coke to develop an ulcer during class discussions.

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