Lecture – Neil ten Kortenaar (University of Toronto)

Nigerian Writers Imagine the State at Independence

6 June 2018 – 16.00-18.00
Universiteit Utrecht
Kromme Nieuwegracht 80 – Ravensteijnzaal

African literature (novels, plays, and poetry written in English) was largely the creation of young men who came of age and began their writing careers at the same moment that they became citizens of newly independent nation-states. Just as the novel appeared at midcentury to be the epitome of literature, the modern state was the inevitable setting of all modern politics, but Africans, new to both, could not take either for granted. African fiction differed from European and other fiction in that it could not accept the state as inevitable, did not assume that characters were sovereign citizens with rights, and questioned the nature of the rule of law imposed by the state. The modern sovereign state felt less than obvious to Africans because it was continuous with the colony: at decolonization self-determination was accorded to the colonial territory, never to the precolonial polity, the ethnic nation, or the continental federation. The same state that had ruled people was now expected to be a forum for people to rule themselves. But what does the word “rule” mean when the ruled become the rulers but still feel conscious that rule comes from above? I will read Nigerian novels just before and after independence as political allegories of the state.

Neil ten Kortenaar is professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Self, Nation, Text in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (2004) and of Postcolonial Literature and the Impact of Literacy (2011) and has published widely on African, Caribbean, and South Asian literature. He is the former director of the Centre for Comparative Literature.

The lecture is made possible by Neil ten Kortenaar’s KNAW visiting professorship.
More information: A.Rigney@uu.nl