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Professor Ngugi And Writing As Social Communication

765 words - 3 pages

Professor Ngugi and Writing as Social Communication

During one of his Postcolonial African Literature classes, he stated that by adopting reading and writing as the chief form of social communication, a civilization is truly freeing itself to forget its own values, because those values no longer have to be part of a lived reality to have significance. A first-year undergraduate with a blind faith and deep passion for literature, I always cherished the idea that the written word has the ability to alter individual lives, to shape one's own identity and potentially, national identity. With Professor Ngugi's statement, however, I was confronted with the notion of literature not as an agent of vital change, but as a potential instrument of stasis and social stagnancy, and I began to question. How does "literature" function away from the written page, in the lives of individuals and societies? Furthermore, what is the significance of the written word in a society where the construction of history is not necessarily recorded or even linear?

Driven to examine these issues, I found that the general scope of comparative literature fell short of my expectations because it didn't allow students to question the inherent integrity or subjectivity of their discourse. We were told to approach Asian, African, European, and American texts with the same tools of analysis, ignoring the fact that within each culture (and numerous subcultures), literature may function in a different capacity and with a completely different sense of urgency. Seeking out ways in which literature tangibly impacted societies therefore led me naturally into other fields, including history, philosophy, anthropology, language, and performance studies. I believe the nature of this work is best represented in my independently-researched senior thesis entitled "Time Out of Joint: Issues of Temporality in the Songs of Okot p'Bitek," which, in addition to my own literary interpretations, drew heavily on p'Bitek's cultural treatises and outside anthropological, psychological and philosophical works. This interdisciplinary direction helped me to understand not only the meaning of the literary works themselves, but what I believe is more important, it gave me insight into the state of the Ugandan society and popular psychology that gave birth to the horrific Idi Amin regime. In addition, I was able to realize how people interacted with the works...

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