Since Rocky pretty much wrote my intended blog post, I want to build off of her arguments about Jameson’s privileging of the colonial conflict in interpreting Nigerian literature.
Rocky notes Jameson’s perverse claim that all third-world literature inherently reflects the contestation over colonial power (even subconsciously/allegorically). She rightly observes that this line of logic attempts to eliminate the possibility that third-world authors can access any kind of narrative that existed before colonization. I would add that Jameson tries to erase more than just the pre-colonial narrative: he claims that there is neither a pre-colonial nor a POST-colonial narrative. Not only can Nigerian writers never access a narrative from before colonialism, but they can never transcend the idea of colonialism in their writing. Talk about patronizing.
The Brian Larkin article, “Indian Films and Nigerian Lovers,” and our readings of Onitsha market literature go a long way towards busting this paternalistic and harmful commentary on third-world writing. Because western culture (the culture of the colonizer) is dominant and pervasive in the world at large, it is easy to see where Jameson might get away with arguing that Nigerians could not escape the influence of colonialism and the legacy left after its retreat (and thus resort to re-hashing it in all their locally-produced literature). However, the prevalence of Indian media and cultural influence in movies, celebrity culture, books, and mythology throws Jameson’s argument into peril. India is offered as an “alternative modernity” for Nigerians to interact with, where western culture is unfulfilling, difficult to identify with, or brings with it troubling colonial baggage.
The popularity of India as an alternative modernity is obvious, not only in the media directly imported to Nigeria, but in the ways India and “the East” are represented in Hausa literature. In Alhaji Abubakar’s story, “The Water of Cure,” the protagonist does not travel West to America or Europe, but East, to West Sudan, Timbuktoo, and India, places which Nigerians value as far-off and mystic and that become gateways to magical realms with talking fish and evil spirits. This narrative line seems far-removed from any colonial narrative, creating a fictive landscape that encompasses both pre-colonial Nigeria, as well as a-colonial (to the narrator) India.
If we consider another local literature output, the wealth of stories churned out from Onitsha market, the content is similarly devoid of colonial struggle, instead focusing on codes of behavior between men and women, the importance of money, moralistic tales about sexuality and medicine, etc. These stories usually take place in an assumed post-colonial landscape, because the objective of market literature is to remain “current,” but there is no indication of a colonial subtext, and many pamphlets are devoid of conflict altogether (for instance, the “Bachelor’s Guide to Marriage and Writing Letters”). Together, Onitsha market literature and Hausa fiction seem to effectively disprove Jameson’s desire to pigeonhole Nigerian literature as a colonial artifact.