Printer Friendly

The Crisis of Revolutionary Ideology in African Aesthetics.

But while both humanization and dehumunization are real alternatives, only the first is man's vocation. This vocation is constantly negated. It is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity. (1)

Attempts have been made by African artists to evolve a revolutionary ideology that will negate the evils of colonialism. neocolonialism, racism, imperialism and capitalism Vacillations and apathy typify the search for such an ideology of development. African artists have not really salvaged modem man from "a profound feeling of powerlessness," to use the words of Eric Fromm. This raises a big issue in modern African literature, since contemporary African arts have a maximum opportunity to develop ideologies. This article examines the strategic weaponry of ideology in imaginative creativity. Concepts such as "Dysfunctionality," "Conscientization" and "Violence" serve as operational terms.

Historical contradictions create the process of dysfunctionality. Chalmers Johnson gives a catalogue of the various sources of social dysfunction. The discovery of new territories. global diffusion of industrial culture, imperialism, elaboration of metaphysical beliefs, technical and scientific discoveries can produce adverse effects on the system. Africa has been besieged by these sources of social dysfunction. Colonialism through the process of acculturation creates "a new mental universe in Africa." The crisis is visible in the area of "psycho-affective equilibrium" and "dependency syndrome," to use the words of Franz Fanon.

The third world countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America are embroiled in this cataclysmic force of history. The erection of conservative, feudalistic and totalitarian hegemonic structures in fascist prototypes like, South Africa, and colonial and neo-colonial capitalist settings, makes inevitable a manifestation of cynical Machiavellianism. Capitalism seeks refuge in reactionary violence and the aesthetic culture of subjugation. Comparing the nature of censorship practised in South Africa to that of Soviet Russia and French Enlightenment, T.T. Moyana concludes that "censorship had not yet been developed into such a viciously meticulous science with a well trained permanent bureaucratic cops to enforce it" (3)

In post-colonial African states and other third world countries, progressive Governments are heavily policed and disorganized by the strong intelligence networks of Western powers. The ruling class in many African countries cannot be exonerated from acts of aggression and repression. The revolutionary forces, especially the intellectuals, face the risk of arduous torture or even extermination at the order of the ruling class. Prison memoirs such as The Man Died and Detained expose such administrative nihilism of the African political establishments.

Capitalist oriented cultures breed all forms of alienation. A study o f the imperialist economic ideology is significant for an idealogical examination of African literature whether in the colonial or neo-colonial phase. Angus Calder in a letter to Pio Zirimu assesses such ideological relevance:
   Economics as an ideology, not a science, and development
   (as aid giving countries define 5) form an integral part of an
   ideology of exploitation and alienation. This ideology,
   unchecked, will destroy the world much like it has already
   destroyed the comfort of most of its inhabitants. The artist, if
   he merely wishes to survive, physically into middle age
   cannot exempt himself from political action. He must
   commit himself to the destruction of a system which
   destroys humanity. (4)

To him, "this implies an aesthetic which defines itself as primarily antibourgeois." He advocates that "the artist must wrest control from the bourgeois aesthetic propagated in films and pulp fiction where ever Pan-Am makes the going great for capitalism.

These sources of social dysfunction are the same factors responsible for the submersion of people's consciousness and which prevent them from perceiving dialectically the essence of their being. Both classical Marxism and liberalism make the rationalist assumption that man, given the opportunity, will naturally come to political consciousness of self or class. Considering the widespread political apathy of the people Wright Mills sees "indifference" as the major symptom of the collapse of "Socialist hopes" (5) The revolutionary commitment of the modem African artist is the recreation of a more coherent, dynamic, intellectual and psychological atmosphere to boost a radical cognition, from which cultural action for man can emerge. This is the central thesis of this article.

In "What is to be Done?" Lenin advocates the political education of the Working-class, thereby negating the subjective rationalism of classical Marxism and liberalism. Such education should transcend merely minting out the contradictions of the society. It should provide means of building critical consciousness, mobilizing the people, engaging in struggle and reflecting on the struggle. Paulo Freire adds the empirical dimension to Lenin's view. History provides Freire an ample chance of developing and testing his paradigm of action, not as a liberal, but as a dialectician, revolutionary in his method. Such a programme of mass socialization and mobilization he terms "Conscientization." Conscientization thus becomes an essential factor of historical development in the movement from a critical to critical consciousness.

Ross Kidd, adult educator and researcher on the Third World Popular Theatre, links the development of such theatre to the empirical strategy of Freire:
   All over the Third World groups
   of peasants and workers are rediscovering
   the potential of people's theatre as a
   weapon in their struggles for land, better
   working conditions, and political rights.
   The new tradition builds on a long history
   of people's songs, drumming, and puppetry
   being used in resistance against colonial
   and other forms of oppression ... (7)

Kidd's bibliographical data and field work experiences illustrate the relevance of conscientization as an ideo-praxis in revolutionary art. Examples cited include: 'Experiments in Community Theatre in the Philippines." The RCDA Experience: Organizing the poor through Cultural Action" in India, 'Theatre as Revolutionary Activities: The Escambray in Cuba" and Freire's empirical participation in Guinea-Bissau's revolution.

The impact of such an ideo-praxis is still minimal in Africa. Playwrights and theatres of socialist complexion have rarely extended beyond the gamit of academicism and elitism. Despite what a Critic regards as "Osofisan's participatory theatre", the masses are yet to benefit practically from his socialist spirit. Before the rehearsals of Hope of the Livuig Dead began, Ola Rotimi advised his cast, "Your ultimate obligation is to your audience." (8) Audience at the National Theatre, Iganmu and the Univefsity Ivory Towers or the audience in the theatre of social garbage and dregs? The play's emblem of class struggle is brandished only in the literary theatre, without provoking motivation for change in the real social theatre of oppression. This parodies what he exalts as the "Polaroid (instamatic)" nature of his audience. Biodun Jeyifo comments on the crisis of ideological theatre in Africa:
   To my mind, the literary playwrights have not sufficiently
   clarified the issue of their audience or the publics for which
   they write. Stated plainly and directly, a popular literary
   drama will emerge only if, and when there is a conscious
   wish for its emergence. (9)

Conscientization demands disalienation of script-writers from the shackles of academicism and the psychology of production and performance from elitism. Ross Kidd describes an authentic revolutionary theatre:
   This use of theatre is not a cathartic one, simply giving the
   oppressed a chance to get their grievances and frustrations
   off their chest; nor is it the 'banking' one of the spoonfeeding
   the oppressed with externally prescribed messages, fitting
   into a stereotyped developmentalist mould.

   This is Brechtian theatre, challenging people to look
   critically at their situation and change it, provoking the
   insight into the ruling class myths controlling consciousness,
   including the myth that the world cannot be transformed.
   This turns theatre from a monologue fostering passivity or
   pseudotheraphy into a dialogue in which the 'audience' are
   actively engaged in the production of meaning. It converts
   the 'audience' from passive recipients of received truth to
   active protagonists in creating a theatrical experience ...
   critiquing it, and using this analysis ... in working out
   political strategies and engaging in struggle. (10)

The Kamirithu Educational, cultural and Community Centre in Limuru, Kenya, encouraged this type of theatre. The centre produced Nghaabika Ndenda, a play scripted, rehearsed and performed by the masses of the rural setting. The Kenya comprador bourgeoisie banned the play and Ngugi himself was detained for subversive activities. As early as 1960, Sembene Ousmane in God's Bits of Wood employs mass mobilisation as a "sine qua non in the proletarian struggle. The absence of a coherent mass mobilization scheme in Soyinka's Season of Anomy, diminishes its strength as a socialist novel.

Basic to the process of conscientization is the democratization and popularization of African literature via national languages. Ngugi's crusade for the linguistic decolonization of African literature is aimed at this revolutionary goal. At the festival of African and African-Caribbean writing organized by ICA and Heinemann Publishers (August, 1986) at the Institute of Contemporary Art s in London. Ngugi restated his position:
   Neocolonial structures also mean that the ruling regimes in
   those countries do not actually want to encourage any
   promotion of progressive ideas being available in the
   languages spoken by peasants and workers because those
   ideas might be dangerous. (11)

In an article, I stress the revolutionary effect of Ngugi's standpoint:
   ... its long time effect will not be less than the type of
   iconoclasm that accompanied the invention of printing
   during the Middle Ages and subsequent popularization
   of literature and radical consciousness. It is an historical
   reality that such development destroyed the monopoly
   of knowledge by the Papacy over Latin Christendom
   and produced the era of Lutheran Protestanism. (12)

Paulo Freire's idea of conscientization has a logical relationship to the Fanonian theory of violence, since any programme aimed at dismantling the anti-dialogical method of oppression and its aesthetic culture of subjugation, inevitably invites revolutionary violence. While reactionary violence is galvanized daily by the oppressors, the oppressed are advised to engage in the pacifist semantics of "democratic, constitutional and humanistic approach." The "dysfunctionality" initiated by oppression cannot be averted by the simple logic of pacifism. Chalmers Johnson maintains that "social violence is the appropriate response to intransigent resistance; it occurs because known methods at non-violent change are blocked by the ruling elite." (13)

Sovinka professes humanism in art:
   "But writing directed at the product of a social matrix must
   expect to remain within it, and to resolve the conflicts which
   belong to that milieu by logical interactions of its
   components. (14)

He contends further that "ideology once ** departs from humanistic ends is no longer worthy of the name. The ultimate purpose of striving is humanity." (15) Soyinka pietism is unrealistic for the structural reorganization of the dysfunctional society in Season of Anomy. His humanistic sentiments make the bureaucratic genocidal propaganda thrive unabated in the novel Marxist theory embraces political strategy and organization, fostering mass psychology and use of revolutionary violence. This empirical format must be reflected in socialist art

The idiosyncratic duality (creator and destroyer) of Soyinka's Muse Ogun, contained in Yoruba Cosmogony, seems to impose some constraint on his literary ideology. His seizure of the radio station in old Western Region of Nigeria in 1965, his peace campaign during the Nigerian Civil war and his provocative idea of "gun-running and holding radio station" at the African-Scandinavian Writers' Conference in Stockholm in 1967, are the many faces of Ogun fused into the personality of the creative artist. This duality recurs in Idanre and almost all his plays. Destruction that dialectically creates and recreates, is humanistic. In the passagerites through the chthonic realm, Ogun, the pathfinder, destroyed to create functional " rnan-cosmos organization."

Rationalising on humanistic sentiments makes Season of Anomy and Two Thousand Seasons identical. The latter in all its creative force manifests revolutionary violence, ranging from the revolutionary activities of the women in the harem, the implied revolutionary violence in the hunting imagery encapsulated in Anoa's myth, to the guerilla strategy of the people of "the way." Through authorial comments, Armah contradicts these, detesting the use of arms and probing rhetorically, "for in the face of armed enmity is unarmed courage not merely another name for suicide? (16) Soyinka commends this ambivalence as "the humanistic recourse to proportion." History of social revolution attests to the truism that whether armed or unarmed, the oppressed will react violently, when stung to the marrow.

Both novelists appreciate revolutionary violence, but like Ofeyi, they detest fouling up "the remnants of (people's) humanity as others do bv different means." (17) The revolutionary or humanist artist wants to eat his cake and have it. Soyinka and Armah's "rationalist and emotive fantasies" are symptomatic of stoicism. Humanism is still a theoretical concept as long as people are politically and economically shackled by the Machiavellian apparatus of the state. Such violence emasculates the human psyche and physique. Revolutionary violence being an antidote, aids psycho-social therapy and has humanism as its ultimate goal.

Soyinka's and Armah's ambivalence is further compounded by the ironically depressing views of Robert Fraser. He describes the revolutionary activities of the people of "the way" as "the small-unit scale of recent terrorist warfare," just as Majdalany degrades the Mau Mau activities. (18) This, of course, destroys the futuristic and prophetic vision of Armah's novel. In the face of a conventional army, guerilla warfare is the revolutionary alternative to curb the excesses of neo-colonial capitalist regimes. This probably is the last stage of the struggle against oppression in the Third world countries and the sooner the creative artists express this reality, the better. This is the epoch when violence as an ideo-praxis will assume its true empirical and pragmatic values in proletarian revolution.

As ideo-praxis, conscientization and revolutionary violence are yet to assume proper ideological function in African aesthetics. Artists are afraid of king smeared "propagandists" and "anarchists." Those that realize the essence are still struggling in the process of experimentation. The logic of conscientization as an ideological force is that "the child is the father of man." The revolutionary sensibility articulated by Andrew Salkey's children in Joel Tyson has rarely formed element of characterization and action in African literature. Since the majority of African governments have no radical educational programmes, the psychology of the budding generation (the generation of the future) is still enslaved by the conservatism of the status quo. Participants at the Sierra Leonian Conference on Children's Literature in Africa (March, 1983), were shocked by Kole Omotoso's comment that such literature should reflect the contemporary African political reality. (19)

The transformation of society through art demands a more pragmatic ideological approach. The fluctuation of ideas and ideals, the inability of many African artists to translate and interpret the historical and materialistic perspectives of African development to a progressive literary and social vision, adversely affect the emergence of a coherent revolutionary art. By examining concepts such as "Critical Realism" and "Socialist Realism," we can elucidate further the absence of ideological precision in African literature.

Omafume Onoge discusses the deficiencies and meanings of Critical realism as:
   ... a host of philosophical positions ranging from liberal
   reformism, nihilism to comic pessimism. Satire is the
   favoured method, and typically all social classes are satirized
   equally ... In the hands of a more pessimistic thinker the
   preoccupation with satin and irony tends to retreat into an
   individual aesthetic involution. Sometimes, the
   powerlessnessof an individual actor to interrupt the
   oppressiveness of the political process, is enlarged as a
   symptom of the 'collapse of humanity. (20)

This literary perspective nurtures the novel of "the romanticism of disillusionment" (Lukacs) and "Psychological novel" (Lucien Goldmann), typified by quixotism and messianism, the type advocated by F.W Dillistone in The Novelist and the Passion Story. The Interpreters, The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born, Fragments and This Earth My Brother.... belong to this category. Liberalism, a facet of Critical Realism, is an undialectical model that discourages conscientization and revolutionary violence. Its aesthetics degenerates into social inertia and perpetual alienation of the working class.

According to Onoge, "Socialist Realism" implies the artist's or writer's fundamental agreement with the aims of the working class and the emerging socialist world. (21) Unlike the critical realists, the socialist realists do not "merely testify to the conditions of social crisis," but "offer a precise diagnosis." The ultimate aim of the Socialist realists are optimistic, having "confidence that their constituency, the masses are the agents of change." Maxwell Adereth in Commitment in Modern French Literature gives the objective view of our ideological standpoint in this article:
   ... committed realism necessarily implies that literature does
   more than simply mirror the world, it actively intervenes in
   order to change. (22)

and that,
   'Literature Engage,' the truthful depiction of the world is not
   an end itself--it is but the means by which the artist instills in
   his reader the will to act (23)


(1.) Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1972).p. 20.

(2.) Chalmers Johnson, Revolution and the Social System (Standford University: The Hoover, On War, Revolution and Peace, 1964)

(3.) T.T. Moyana, "Problems of a Creative Writer in South Africa" in Aspects of South African Literature, edited by Christopher Heywood (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.. 1976). p. 9.

(4.) Andrew, Gurr & Angus Calder, editors, Writers in East Africa. Papers from a Colloquium at the University of Nairobi, 1971 (Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau. 1974). p. 207.

(5.) C. Wright Mill, White Collar (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), pp. 325-328.

(6.) Paulo Freire, Education: The Practice of Freedom (London: Writers & Readers, London, 1976), p. ix.

(7.) Ross Kidd, "People's Theatre, Conscientization and Struggle" (Unpublished, January, 1980). p.1.

(8.) Director's Charge to the Actors of Hope of the Living Dead. (Delivered by Ola Rotimi on the day of the first reading of the play: Friday, February, 1985.) Excerpt from the Reduction Diary by Lola Oluyida, Stage Manageress.

(9.) Biodun Jeyifo, The Truthful Lie : Essays in a Sociology of African Drama (London: Port of Spain, 1985). p.83.

(10.) See "People's Theatre: Conscientization and the Struggle," p. 1.

(11.) "Literature & Politics: Africa's Pen-Warriors" in African Concord. (August 14, 1986, No. 103), p. 27.

(12.) Bayo Ogungimi evolution, Language, oral tradition and Social Vision in Ngugi's Devil on the Cross," UFAHAMU: Journal of African Activists Association Los Angeles, California, Vol. XIV, No.1 1985.

(13.) Revolution and Social System, p.6.

(14.) Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).pp. 121--122.

(15.) Wole Soyinka, "An interview with Biodun Jeyifop. Transition, 42, 1973, p. 62.

(16.) Ayi Kwei Armah, Two Thousand seasons (Lon: Heinemann educational Books Ltd., 1973),p. 141.

(17.) Wole Soyinka, Season of Anomy (Lon: Rex Collins, 1973), p. 135.

(18.) Robert Fraser, The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah: A Study in Polemical Fiction (London: Heinemann educational Books Ltd.

(19.) See publishing in Nigeria, "Writing Wrongs for Children in West Africa, March 7, 1983.

(20.) Omafume Onoge, "The Crisis of Consciousness in Modern African Literature: A Survey," in Themes in African Social and Political Thought (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978), p. 123.

(21.) Ernest Fischer, The Necessity of Arts (Penguin Books Harmondworth, Middlesex, 1970), p. 108.

(22.) Maxwell Adereth, Commitment in Modern French Literature (New York: Victor Gollancz, 1967), p. 178.

(23.) Ibid., p. 179.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Black Writers' Guild
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Ogunjimi, Bayo
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Previous Article:The Writer and His Critics: A Critical Review of Studies on Ayi Kwei Armah's Fiction.
Next Article:A critical review ... Cecil A. Abrahams. Essays on Literature.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters