, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 41-52

Prolegomena to the study of influence in African literature

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Abstract

Influence is a widespread and well-documented and widely acknowledged practice in the Western literary tradition, but there has been a flat denial that it exists among African writers. The very fact that a controversy should arise at all as to whether the readership of African writing lies within Africa itself says something about how a different standard is always applied when it comes to things African. Along with fame and fortune, the perception that one’s work could ignite the creative spark for others both in one’s immediate surroundings and afar continues to provide writers worldwide the incentive to keep honoring their calling, in part, because leaving a legacy of hope and inspiration is every writer’s dream. While common sense ought to suggest that the situation of Africa cannot be any different—after all, as a familiar African proverb has it, “it takes a village to raise a child”—the notion of artistic production as a communal affair has continued to be widely thought to be inapplicable to Africa. Why has it become convenient to argue that dialogue of an indigenous nature, as a mode of creative interaction and invention, is absent in contemporary African literature? To take up that question, our argument in this essay proceeds in three interlocking steps. First is an overview of the role professional readers, literary analysts, and scholars have ascribed to literary inheritance in the development of expressive power universally. Next is an attempt to adduce reasons for the persistent regime of denial that over time has established itself firmly in discussions of African writing concerning suggestions of a preoccupation, conceived expansively as disposition, style, thematic engagement, stance, and sensibility, which an informed observer might take as emanating from inspiration of a local origin. The final section makes the case that proper identification and recognition of the conventions of this indigenous literary source would unquestionably provide the best approach to understanding contemporary African literature and stimulating admiration for the creative temper involved in its writing as the case of contemporary African literature cannot be an exception.