The character of literary forms always evolves with the passage of times. Although African literature in its written form (as against the traditional oral form) has a relatively short pedigree, it has not failed to constantly renew itself by evolving, principally in its social functionality, either as an avenue to demonstrate a cultural point of view or a satirical vista. Consequently, this attribute is responsible for the peculiar aesthetics that particularizes the literature.
Given the peculiarity of African literature and other reasons critics in this part of the world have often been wary of the term ‘aesthetic’. For instance, African critics have always frowned at such quasi negative critical registers like Larsonist, Euro-modernist, Neo-Tarzanist etc. that have adumbrated the canon of their literature especially as they tilt the form away from its original meaning. Basically because the front-liners in the practice of criticism in Africa are the creative writers themselves – the likes of Ngugi, Soyinka, Achebe Osofisan, Nkosi, Armah, etc – it is not surprising that such feelings of disdain against the variegated portrayal of what is African are obvious in the canon of creative genres in the continent. Importantly again, the socio-political dysfunctionalities of the post independence era yield identical thematic form to the genres of African literature and what has become prevalent in Africa’s creative facets is the foregrounding of thematic variants from societies where ugly political and economic trends have remained un(re)solved after several decades of post-colonial self-rule. With these situations in mind, concerns about writer’s commitment in African literature have become as pertinent as the works themselves.
The African Writer and His Worldview
According to Nagende (1963:137) the special situation engendered by a dystopian socio-political dynamics would not ‘permit … the luxury of poets who are strangers to commitment who are locked up in their narcissism in their monologues.’ Mphalele (1979: vii) corroborates this when he affirms that “every writer is committed to something beyond his art”. Inexorably, this commitment to extrinsic forces influences the intrinsic form and conception of a work of literature.
However, no matter the level of a writer’s political obligation, art must be presented ‘artistically’. No matter the function into which art is employed, literature must be treated as a compound that contains self-nourishing syntagms and paradigms that provide subtle literary topography for the critic. Little wonder Frye asserts, in Anatomy of Criticism that the postulate of criticism must emanate from literature itself. Also Henry James, the American novelist, once posited that how a story is told is part of the story; insisting “you cannot separate the story from the telling.” Hence, albeit functional art has become the norm in Africa, the artistic aspect has not become irrelevant. Much as writers’...