Colonial Modernity: Progress, Development, and Modernism in Nigeria
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Colonial Modernity: Progress, Development, and Modernism in Nigeria

Abstract

This article reshapes modernist study through a historical approach. In a move to decenter and decolonize modernism, I focus here on its emergence in decolonizing Nigeria of the 1960s, specifically in the poetry of Christopher Okigbo, contending that modernism is an aesthetic movement that must be understood in its relation to colonialism, imperialism, and coloniality. I sketch out the coloniality of knowledge and being in Nigeria, or the ways in which colonialism has continued to impact Nigerian governance and political life, long after the country’s nominal liberation from British rule. I approach coloniality by examining notions of progress and development and the western standards to which these concepts are bound. Okigbo’s work, and its critical reception, form the centerpiece of my analysis. Like Nigerian economics, Okigbo’s poetry has been overdetermined through neocolonial notions of progress and development. I posit Okigbo’s poetry instead as a modernist negotiation of colonial history and western art, one consistently engaging with an ongoing colonial presence. From this perspective, a modernist study emerges that is comparative but not assimilative. The importance of postcolonial literature for the study of any modern art is thereby demonstrated in a decolonizing move that dwells upon the local rather than the marginal.

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