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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The African Literary Artist and the Question of Function

  • Author(s): Chukwumah, Ignatius
  • et al.

Critics have argued that the African literary artist [traditional or modern] carries out some kind of function. This includes teaching his audience through his work, having qualified as the keeper of his society’s mores. Yet no critic has closely interrogated this stance and the constitution of the space of representation and teaching; what he really teaches; the shades of opinion that make him seem a recorder of his society’s mores; and other sundry lacunae. This article proceeds by problematising such terms as artist, society, mores and teaching, on one hand, and by invoking such theoretical concepts of literature enunciated by critics, from Aristotle to Akwanya, on the other, in order to dismantle the argument that the artist teaches. It also argues that the notion of function, either teaching or recording of mores, privileges unity of message. The sense of unity is later exploded via exploring the chaotic meaning in Nigerian literature from traditional to modern works. In addition, this work demonstrates that the artist is a victim of the fleeting space of in-betweenness in which his craft is formed and to which he owes allegiance. Rather than record the mores of a society, at most, society merely affords him a place through its language for the purpose of mediating ‘reality’ at a second remove. From the explorations of the above varied concerns, this work concludes that either the artist is a bad teacher, or is someone from whom the ability to teach or record his society’s mores breaks free.

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