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Shaken Wisdom

Shaken Wisdom: Irony and Meaning in Postcolonial African Fiction

Gloria Nne Onyeoziri
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Shaken Wisdom
    Book Description:

    In her focus on irony and meaning in postcolonial African fiction, Gloria Nne Onyeoziri refers to an internal subversion of the discourse of the wise and the powerful, a practice that has played multiple roles in the circulation of knowledge, authority, and opinion within African communities; in the interpretation of colonial and postcolonial experience; and in the ongoing resistance to tyrannies in African societies. But irony is always reversible and may be used to question the oppressed as well as the oppressor, shaking all presumptions of wisdom. Although the author cites numerous African writers, she selects six works by Chinua Achebe, Ahmadou Kourouma, and Calixthe Beyala for her primary analysis.

    Modern Language Initiative

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3200-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: African Ironies?
    (pp. 1-22)

    Irony can be a response to an oppressor convinced of his superior wisdom. It can suggest that its user’s wisdom is superior. Irony can also hold the line on traditional wisdom shaken by disruptive events. Wisdom itself can be ironic, therefore shaken from the inside. Wisdom displayed as absolute truth, by an older generation, for example, for some homogeneous community, can in turn be displayed ironically by a younger generation anxious to affirm its own claim to knowledge, understanding, and freedom. Irony can be a tradition, but it can also subvert traditions or perhaps hide traditions in itself in order...

  5. CHAPTER ONE From Rhetoric to Semantics
    (pp. 23-46)

    Under what circumstances does a literary discourse need to be ironic? Since written texts and representations of orality are often interdependent in the context of African fiction, irony helps interlocutors express two apparently contradictory facts: their sense of community and their unease with one another. As a reinterpretation of an oral discursive practice, the written text may be born out of a traumatic and divisive cultural rupture. In Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s novelL’Aventure ambiguë(1961;Ambiguous Adventure[1972]), the words of the dowager princess known as the Grande Royale, addressed to a communal gathering, reflect the dynamics of such a...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Interpreting Irony
    (pp. 47-64)

    A translator undertaking an English version of Calixthe Beyala’sAmours sauvagesmight hesitate in translating the name that the narrator-protagonist Ève-Marie gives to the young woman whose strangled body is found on the doorstep of her apartment: Should “Mlle Personne” be translated as “Miss Somebody” or “Miss Nobody”? With her characters’ names ranging from Plethora to Opportune des Saintes-Guinnées, Beyala is a powerful practitioner of onomastic irony. The young victim’s name is ostensibly based on the fact thatnobodyknows who she is: “A young woman was sprawled out on the floor. Nobody had ever seen her in the neighbourhood,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Pragmatics and Ahmadou Kourouma’s (Post)colonial State
    (pp. 65-85)

    Ahmadou Kourouma is perhaps the ideal author to consider as we turn toward pragmatics. Though his first novel,Les soleils des indépendances(1970), radically undermined the assumptions of stylistic heterodoxy in the use of the French language by African writers,¹ his life and career were by no means dominated by stylistic debates. A practical person, a soldier, a dissident in exile, an actuary who left a gap of twenty years between his first novel and his second (Monnè, outrages et défis), Kourouma consistently sought to use the language of fiction to address issues of social and political oppression. He was...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and the Pragmatics of Proverbial Irony
    (pp. 86-113)

    Chinua Achebe published his first and now universally canonized novelThings Fall Apartin 1958, a sequel,No Longer at Ease,in 1960, andArrow of Godin 1964. Dan Izevbaye sees as what is perhaps Achebe’s most important influence “his contribution to the advancement of a new postcolonial consciousness” (33). Achebe has had enormous influence on African fiction. As Simon Gikandi points out, Achebe’s “seminal status in the history of African literature,” lies in “his fundamental belief that narrative can [. . . ] propose an alternative world beyond the realities imprisoned in colonial and postcolonial relations of power”...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Calixthe Beyala: New Conceptions of the Ironic Voice
    (pp. 114-142)

    Given the fact, well documented in Irène d’Almeida’sFrancophone African Women Writers: Destroying the Emptiness of Silence,that women writers arrived relatively late on the scene of African literature and that many representations of what constituted African literary discourse as well as African tradition itself were already in place when the early novels of Ama Ata Aidoo, Flora Nwapa, Aminata Sow Fall, and Mariama Bâ began to appear in print, the question of how women authors perceive and use irony is crucial in several respects. Although mentionbased irony and subversive raillery are major elements in the discourses of authors such...

  10. CONCLUSION: When the Handshake Has Become Another Thing
    (pp. 143-150)

    I have emphasized linguistic and pragmatic approaches to irony, not because I expected to invent a new method of analysis, but because I was and still am convinced that in addition to being an artistic medium, African literary discourse is a particular form of pragmatic communication intimately connected with cultural and historical problems of identity, oppression, and voice. It is important to confront some of the major issues of irony, according to recent theoretical models, with issues of representation and narrative voice raised by such authors as Achebe, Kourouma, and Beyala.

    The preceding analyses have also shown that the problem...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 151-162)
    (pp. 163-170)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 171-178)