Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
Within the context of approaches to engaging Toyin Falola’s polymathic vastness of scholarship and writing, this essay explores aesthetics as conceptual reflection on the nature of art and beauty, in relation to aesthetics as a study of the history of artistic developments, as these approaches are unified, with an emphasis on the latter, in the chapter on aesthetics in Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency and Voice, 2022.
The essay builds on my first discussion of the book, “A Masterly Overview : Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice: A Thumbnail Review” ( Studying Toyin Falola blog, LinkedIn, academia.edu and various Nigerian news media)
Great thanks to the reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous but whose reading of successive drafts of the essay was vital to refining the piece and to expanding my confidence in the direction the work was going, indirectly motivating further developments in the writing beyond its earlier drafts, even though the reviewer did not get to see those additions, having boosted my confidence sufficiently for my individualistic orientation to take over again, but, it can be quite fulfilling to go beyond the limitations of working on one’s own, as the reviewer’s kind efforts helped me better appreciate.
The Hunger for Totalistic Knowledge
The hunger for totalistic knowledge is one of humanity’s enduring aspirations. It involves the need to know as much as possible about as many things as possible. It is motivated by the need to gain a synoptic awareness of existence from as comprehensive a perspective as may be reached.
This aspiration underlies the structuring of forms of knowledge in their distinctiveness and interrelationships as these configurations have been developed at the mature stages of origins of systems of thought in various cultures. These range from the Platonic and Aristotelian synthesis of ancient Greek thought and its shaping of Western scholarship to such paradigmatic African systems as the Yoruba origin Ifa which harmonizes the visual and verbal arts, spirituality, philosophy, mathematics and medicine. This is a synthesis resonating with other African systems similar to Ifa, from the Igbo Afa to the Dahomean Fa and to others less similar, such as the Ghanaian symbol system Adinkra, which uses visual forms as a template for philosophy. Beyond Africa and the West is the example of Indian Yantra hermeneutics, correlating the visual arts, mathematics, spirituality and philosophy in their literary and performative dimensions.
The Unification of Human Cultures
Individual creatives, from artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci to medical researcher and philosopher Ibn Sina to poet and international public servant, second United Nations Secretary General Darg Hammarskjöld, who demonstrate efforts at creating multidisciplinary competencies and syntheses, are appreciated as achieving what a writer describes of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as demonstrating “how our divided culture might be reunited in a new ideal of wholeness.’’
In adapting this observation, I take “our’’ culture to mean, not the European culture that writer may have been referencing, even though Goethe was also a student and emulator of aspects of Islamic culture, but human culture in general. Humanity is understood in this context as demonstrating foundational, widespread similarities within differences. Human culture is seen as constituted by distinctive expressions, which, in their similarities, constitute unifying orientations emerging from the structuring of human awareness at the intersection of human biology and environment. The similarities in difference between individual cultures are perceived as coming together to generate a holistic orientation on existence defining the human race.
Forms of Multidisciplinarity
A polymath, as such figures as Goethe are known, may demonstrate varied competencies within diverse arms of a particular discipline. A discipline is perceived in this context as an approach to studying an aspect of reality in terms of a particular network of methods of investigation and of conceptions of that aspect of reality, in relation to existence as a whole. This epistemic and metaphysical particularity, however, overlaps with others within the broader network constituted by the epistemic and metaphysical frame in which it is embedded, such as the currently globally dominant Western origin system of knowledge. The polymath may also operate across disciplines, creating a variegated web, distinctive but conjoined windows of perception, through which the universe may be engaged with.
Toyin Falola’s Multidisciplinarity Within African Studies
One such interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary polymath is Toyin Falola, whose recently published book Decolonizing African Studies (2022) creates an opportunity to map his writing and scholarly career in relation to his field of engagement, the cluster of disciplines known as African Studies. One may also explore the instantiation of these interests in relation to one chapter in that book, the chapter on aesthetics, so chosen because of my fascination with its subject as well as its provocation of approaches to adapting Falola’s multidisciplinary scholarship in alignment or disalignment with his methods.
Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Structural Approaches to the Study of Toyin Falola’s Work as a Matrix in Exploring African Studies and Beyond
Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies demonstrates an admirably extensive coverage of ground, enabling its use as a matrix for exploring African Studies, in relation to the process of rethinking the foundations and directions of the field, in alignment or disalignment with the author’s approaches in this and other texts.
Falola’s total body of work is also strategic for such an exploration because it constitutes a very rich library of engagement with the various disciplines constituting African Studies, the scope of his work being unique in the field. This wealth of expression, sustained across decades, may inspire a range of exploratory approaches, perceptible in intrinsic and extrinsic terms.
The intrinsic relates to the internal structure and progression of his writing and scholarly project. The extrinsic involves its relationship with other bodies of knowledge beyond itself. This intrinsic study could include diachronic exploration – of its historical progression. It may involve synchronic analysis – of its character at a point in time. The convergence of the intrinsic and the extrinsic could be demonstrated by structural studies. These examine correlations between the total structure of ideas and investigative and expressive approaches developed within the network constituted by Falola’s body of work and its intersections with other bodies of knowledge.
Rhizomatic and Architectural Metaphors
Within this structural analysis and synthesis, the total body of Falola’s work may be understood in terms of various unifying metaphors. His productivity may be seen as rhizomatic, demonstrating a restless proliferation of possibilities across disciplines, without any effort at systematizing the cognitive network thus developed, an image adapting the development of this biological metaphor in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri’s A Thousand Plateaus (1980). It could be understood in architectural terms, as constituting a series of rooms, organized around a centre, an image adapted from Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle (1577).
The various rooms in this architectural metaphor may represent different disciplines or the relationships between disciplines demonstrated by various texts. Their order could be circular, arranged in a circle around a centre. Their organization could also be sequential, suggesting some disciplines or disciplinary conjunctions or particular texts as fundamental, points of entry into this proliferative cognitive universe, gestative zones enabling the myriad expressions demonstrated by this body of work, without this ordering suggesting superiority of value.
Motivational and Summative, Disciplinary and Textual Centres
That centre could be understood in terms of the ultimate motivation of his work, the originating and sustaining inspiration and rationale running through or emerging from the various expressions that constitute that work. Such a centre could also be seen in terms of the ultimate vision actualized by his creativity, the constellation of understanding reached through this diversity of expressions. Both approaches overlap and may be combined.
Along those lines, Falola’s originating discipline of history may be appreciated as a primary point of entry into his oeuvre, history understood as the exploration of the complete range of implications of the development of a phenomenon, Falola branching out from this superordinate study to engage its divisions across the humanities and social sciences within African Studies.
Perhaps one could focus on a text instead as such a foundational point of entry, understanding his In Praise of Greatness (2019), for example, as unifying the various expressive forms in terms of which he works, ranging over historical and synchronic humanistic and sociological studies, poetic and autobiographical writing and philosophical reflection. These structurations could also be organized in terms of ideas developed by the investigator, distilled from studying Falola’s work rather than directly applied from his own ideas and texts.
Between Work, Self, Society and Cosmos
The adaptation of Teresa of Avila’s architectural image from her The Interior Castle in interpreting Falola’s work suggests significant potential for such distillation of ideas and expansion of their evocative power. The Interior Castle is a mystical text, describing an approach to relationship with the essence of the self. This essence is understood as God, the identity in the central room of the castle. The castle represents the self, with the various rooms symbolizing aspects of the self. The self is depicted, in this context, as the expression of an ultimate reality constituting the core of the individual.
In adapting this image to Falola’s body of work, questions of correlations between self and work may be thereby evoked. What is the full range of relationships between the scholar and author and his creativity? How may his perennial, multidisciplinary creativity be understood, for example, in terms of ideas of access to performative powers dramatizing the self as an interface between the instrumentality of the mental, biological and social construction of the self and human embodiment of a life force that underlies existence, a summation distilling ideas of the self at the intersection of human creativity and creativity in nature represented by the Yoruba origin concepts àṣẹ, universal life force, and orí, the self, as this conjunction is particularly forcefully outlined in Henry John Drewal et al’s Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought (1989), a distinctive expression of ideas recurring in various ways in other cultures, such as the Indian Shakti and the Chinese ch’i ?
History and its implications within the construction of knowledge as storytelling and interpretation of stories, is one way of depicting the various rooms, the varied idea complexes constituting Falola’s work as represented by each text and the relationships between these texts. This is a summation adapting the hermeneutics of the Yoruba origin Ifa knowledge system. This interpretation of his work is convergent with Falola’s intellectual origins in historical studies and his explicit identification with Yoruba culture and thought, from which Ifa emerges. At the intersection of self and expression represented by this unfolding creative matrix, what may be understood of the ultimate direction of this exploratory journey at the convergence of human creativity and the creativity represented by the universe?
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Falola’s forthcoming Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies (2022) suggests an approach to related questions at the convergence of the self, its creativity and the embedding of this unity within larger socio-cognitive complexes, the social contexts that shape and are shaped by the development of knowledge. The book is described as applying ”autoethnography to the understanding of African knowledge systems [considering] the ‘Self ‘ and Yoruba Being (the individual and the collective) in the context of the African decolonial project [using] diverse and novel methods to access an African way of knowing [exploring] the different ways that a society understands and presents itself…”
”Memoir And Memory,” Falola’s Fall 2017 course at the University of Texas, demonstrates his efforts at translating into pedagogy these intersections of orality, memory, writing and the development of individual meaning and its social resonance, as evident from this representation of the course description, using its sentences but reorganizing them for the purpose of this essay:
Memoirs are reflections of events as filtered through the author’s emotions and cognitive frameworks. We will attempt to transform memory and reported experience into personal essays [developing] the craft of converting memories into compelling narratives. The class is an exercise in both developing writing skills and appreciating the importance of memory and oral tradition as history.
Exposing and converting truth to art requires courage and a refining of the artistic skills that allow memoirs to effectively communicate the deep layers of truth and humanness that are usually absent from conventional discourses.
Since the ascendancy of print, memory has been relegated to the background and substituted by texts. Scripts are privileged over oral accounts. Yet, these verbal accounts play important roles in writing history, and share the same weaknesses as archival sources. For historians and researchers, therefore, the course highlights the importance of memory and how it counterbalances texts.
The Centralization of African Agency as Motivating Vision of Falola’s Work
In terms of motivation and summative vision, Falola’s work may be understood as centralizing African agency, African creative powers, through the medium of multidisciplinary scholarship, complemented by autobiography and poetry.
Addressing the challenge of African empowerment and the revitalizing of African Studies everywhere through generating a greater degree of independent thinking as the field rises from constriction within templates created by its entry into global scholarship through the colonial encounter, is the vision of Decolonizing African Studies.
This and similar forthcoming texts may be described as Falola’s crowning projects at this point in his career, in a career demonstrating perhaps varied climaxes as the scholar ascends new peaks, generating new vistas of possibility in relation to the subjects he studies and within the topography of his work in general, a creative unfolding suggesting unpredictable future developments.
These current developments, bolder projections of orientations also evident in some earlier works, are often sole authored texts developing summative engagements with almost the entire field of African Studies and at times trying to rework its epistemic and metaphysical centres and modes of operation- ”Pluriversalism,” ”Ritual Archives” ( both in The Toyin Falola Reader on African Culture, Nationalism, Development and Epistemology, 2018 ) and Decolonizing African Studies-or centring on summative aspects of it- Sacred Words and Holy Realms (2022) and with Nicole Griffin, Religious Beliefs and Knowledge Systems in Africa (2021) – or surveying the field from a view both personalised and sweeping- In Praise of Greatness: The Poetics of African Adulation (2019) and perhaps the forthcoming Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies.
Questions of Scope in Falola’s Rethinking of Modes of Knowing and Structures of Existence as Understood Within African Studies
After reading his “Ritual Archives” where he projects ideas about metaphysical orientations outside the secularist paradigm shaping the globally dominant Western knowledge system, I wonder “to what degree is Falola ready to go beyond making assertive statements on these ideas to clearly mapping how factual he thinks they are and why he thinks so?”
In ”Synthesis and Storytelling:An Interview With Dr. Toyin Falola” ((E.D.Watson, Front Porch Journal), Falola mentions how an ”Indian guru…gave me a religious symbol and walked me through some spiritual dialogue so that I could recover” from the trauma of losing a number of his own unpublished manuscripts while travelling.
Will his first-hand experience with such cognitive systems, which are outside the dominant strains in Western academia, inform his work on pluralistic epistemologies, expanding theory and going beyond theory into practice?
He presents an expansive account of the power of words in Sacred Words and Holy Realms, but does he explain why he thinks those views are valid beyond being accounts of classical African and some other cultures’ ideas about language?
In stating ”Words, as stand-alone and in combination with objects, are translatable into various forms of power. Words can produce spells and trance, prophecy, commands, death, and flights into the holy realms,” in a talk presaging the April 2022 publication of the book, will he go beyond this assertion, a description of the metaphysics of language in terms that capture classical African, classical Asian and Western esoteric and Christian perspectives, to explain why he thinks that assertion is an accurate description of the power of words?
In sum, to what degree is Falola a describer and analyst of non-secular systems of thought and to what degree is he a person who identifies with these systems as an accurate description of reality?
In asserting the latter, as he seems to be doing, how far is he ready to go in validating his case? In other words, to what degree is he ready to move from dipping his toe in the water to diving into the river? We need critical thinkers who will dive into the river and tell us what they see, while keeping their critical intelligence alert.
Falola moves in that direction through his superb meditation on the Yoruba deity Eshu in ”Ritual Archives” but it would help if he were also to describe the ontological frame of such a meditation.
In what way does Eshu exist in that context, as Falola understands that spiritual figure, independent of the human mind or created by the mind or both? A cosmic identity as claimed by some?
In moving into these kinds of waters in his escalated efforts to centre African thought in scholarship, Falola rethinks the epistemic and metaphysical paradigms in terms of which he had conducted scholarship for decades, paradigms in terms of which the globally dominant Western academia is constructed.
Even then, however, Western academia is often so creatively elastic the longer it develops, challenges to its dominant paradigms do thrive within it, as represented by the growth of non-secularist yet non-religious orientations such as those of environmentalist David Abram and Chicano, feminist and sexual rights thinker Gloria Anzaldua.
Navigating the terrain between the ratiocinative thought dominant in the Western academy and the more intuitive, imaginative and multi-cognitive modes Falola is pointing towards is a delicate task. Falola seems to be boldly declaring his commitment to this navigational process. The expectations generated are great. One will need to read those texts to see how he pursues this task.
Falola’s Scholarship as Exemplifying the Paradox of Enablement and Disempowerment in Relation to the Work of the Diaspora African Scholar: The Migratory Context
Falola, as Jacob & Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, titles implying extraordinary achievement within and beyond the concept of the professorship, is one of the Nigerian scholars who moved from Nigerian universities to the West, when Nigerian academia entered into decline after the glorious years that ran from the 60s to perhaps the 80s. Like many who made that move, he has thrived in what is the world’s most highly developed economic system. The development of knowledge represented by scholarship is here understood as an aspect of an economy. The structure demonstrated by the Western economy represented by Europe and North America is depicted as the most highly developed and most inclusive of diversity, in spite of challenges that may exist to such inclusions.
One aspect of this migratory condition is reflection on what is, what has been and what may be, in terms of the tensions between the distinctive though entwined characters of where the migrant is coming from and where they are. A particularly poignant demonstration of this orientation is Abiola Irele’s ”The African Scholar,” (1991) in which, from his professorship at Ohio State University, Irele looks back over the glorious decades of academic scholarship-centered in higher institutions-in which he played a central role across Nigeria and Ghana. He laments the decline that motivated himself and others to move to the West. He describes these migrants as entering into a paradoxical situation, in which the scholarship to which they had devoted their lives as they built a new cultural structure shaping a distinctive African identity as the continent slowly emerged from its transformation by colonialism did not enjoy the centrality it had in their home countries.
Irele’s younger contemporary and later Harvard colleague, Biodun Jeyifo, told his own view of the story in ”One Year in the First Instance,” (2000) describing how one year exploratory visits were used by African scholars in testing Western academic waters for the possibility of migration. Other books and essays, such as Falola and Niyi Afolabi’s The Human Cost of African Migrations (2007), Falola’s The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization (2013) and other sole authored, co-written or sole edited and co-edited texts by Falola, as well as Nkiru Nzegwu and Isidore Okpewho’s The New African Diaspora (2009), amidst both broad ranging discussions of the subject and more fucused studies, such as Tejumola Olaniyan’s The African Diaspora and the Disciplines (2010), explore the experience of the migrant African scholar as well as the centripetal pull of the West for scholars from different parts of the world. These stories are correlative with migrations from various parts of the world in different fields of endeavour, such as technology, with the massively influential first generation Indian presence in US technology companies being one of the most prominent examples.
Falola’s Creation of a Research and Publishing Network Spanning the West and Africa Within and Beyond Academic Contexts
Falola has been particularly successful in this migratory framework. Working outside any academic position beyond his professorship, and, to the best of my knowledge, often without any access to institutional funding outside resources generated by himself and his collaborators-most likely except for the annual University of Texas Africa conference and the recent conference of Nigerian university administrators he was central to organizing, and possible institutional contributions to the Toyin Falola conferences and other conferences in his honour- he has built a research and publication network spanning Africa and the West.
This is represented by articles and books by himself and with others, sole authored, co-authored, sole edited and co-edited, and various book series with different Western publishers, along with editorships of a number of academic journals and memberships of editorial boards of academic journals in different parts of the world.
These initiatives involve such particularly prestigious brands as Cambridge, the world’s oldest academic press, and such resonant names in academic publishing as Routledge and Palgrave. It integrates such staples of Africana academic publishing as Indiana UP and Africa World Press and his edited series with University of Rochester Press, among other publishers, as well as publishing a number of books with Bloomsbury, famous as the publishers of J.K. Rowling, the most economically successful writer in the history of publishing and who also have a rich academic publishing arm.
The Challenge of Access to Comprehensive Information on Falola’s Work
The website of the Toyin Falola Network is a useful guide to mapping Falola’s productivity, even though its account of his creativity is incomplete. It gives a very rich presentation of his books but only up to 2019, even though Falola’s book publication has expanded in volume and variety after that year. The completeness of its records of his published books even up to 2019 is uncertain beceause, as far as I can see, it does not include The Toyin Falola Reader, published in 2018.
The site’s records do not include his articles, and do not indicate his general editorship of various book series. Another entry on the University of Texas site lists his editorship of a number of book series but seems to be an old entry, with a biography by Sam Saverance from 2005 and a valuable picture of a much younger Falola, and does not include his general editorship, with Carina Ray, of the Cambridge University Press series ”African Identities: Past and Present,” to which Decolonizing African Knowledge : Autoethnography and African Epistemologies is a contribution. His various CVs online are also incomplete. The one on his page at the website of the Department of History at the University of Texas tracks his books up to 2010. Another from the same university stops at 2011.
Questions of Scope of Audience Emerging from Falola’s Scholarship
These achievements emerge from a culture of yearly multi-book publication he embarked upon after his 1981 PhD at the then University of Ife in Nigeria, having undergone all his education in that home country. Having practically reached the heights of visibility in African Studies, radiating from his originating centre in history to practically all fields in African Studies except the sciences, certain questions remain.
”Whose interests am I serving through this relentless activity? Yes, any comprehensive bibliography on almost any field in African Studies will include a book written or edited by me, with my essays being imaginatively comparable to grains of sand at the ocean shore, but who does my work affect most?” Falola may be imagined as asking himself in quiet moments, in company in which free expression of intimate thoughts is welcome or in public contexts in which such questioning finds a place.
In terms of motivation and summative vision, Falola’s work may be understood in terms of the centralization of African agency, African creative powers, through the medium of multidisciplinary scholarship, complemented by autobiography and poetry.
This task is made paradoxical by Falola’s operating largely through Western publishers, whose books are often priced beyond the reach of the currencies of African countries which are often much weaker than those of the nations in which the publishers are based, and whose distribution presence in Falola’s native Nigeria, for example, is minimal, when it exists in the first place.
Faloa’s situation exemplifies that of the African scholar, particularly migrant African scholars, in the Western academy in its Western location. He is an African scholar, formed in Africa and active in the African academy well before migrating to the US. Yet he operates in the West within an academic system in which publishing with Western publishers is a non-negotiable imperative for career growth, the reach and prestige of these publishers eventually becoming central to Falola’s international esteem in the field. Yet, the work coming out of these publishing houses is often beyond the ready access of people in Africa. The paradoxes of this situation add extra urgency to Falola’s efforts to face the question ”whom does African Studies represent and whose interests does it serve?” the central question shaping his Decolonizing African Studies.
The economic questions invoked here are issues of socio-economic structure which Falola and his collaborators address as far as they can through providing limited ease of access to his work, as represented by book donations, the constant provision of publishing opportunities to any who cares to participate in his numerous book projects, as well as eagerness to help scholars publish their own works, regular conferences in Africa and Falola’s consistent writing in Nigerian news media, dramatizing his belief in the concept of ”brain circulation,” a term I might have heard him use, African diaspora scholars interacting with the continent in a cycle of renewal that ideally involves similar input from Africa based scholars.
This knowledge exchange, however, is often seen, in various contexts beyond the initiatives of Falola and his collaborators, as asymmetrical, with the Western based scholars perceived as those who primarily have something to give while those in Africa, and certainly in Falola’s home country, Nigeria, are understood as primarily recipients from their more advantaged colleagues abroad. Can this dynamic be changed to something more equitable, as Africa-based scholars generate new cognitive schemes, perhaps using the resources of classical African knowledge systems, an aspiration Falola projects with particular force in ”Ritual Archives?”
How may scholarship in Africa and about Africa be empowered, developing its own identity in the marketplace of ideas of how to construct knowledge? That question is the vision of Decolonizing African Studies.
Approaches to Discussing African Aesthetics
As the author acknowledges in Decolonizing African Studies, in a manner suggestive of the myriad possibilities engendered by the fertility of his work as a whole:
The book is particularly informed by the recognition that there will never be one approach to decolonizing knowledge. The book presents decolonization in many ways over various disciplines. There will be the usual contestations, as this book will form the basis of multiple debates, including critical objections to some of my statements. Thought patterns and knowledge systems are, by nature, multiplex and multiplural.
In this essay, my second encounter with Decolonizing African Studies, I have jumped to the chapter ”Decolonizing African Aesthetics” because of my particular interest in aesthetics, generally, and to some degree, African aesthetics. I hereby outline a point of alignment and disalignment with the chapter. Through such a process, one may move towards Falola’s example of integrative analysis over almost the entire field of African Studies as represented by this book, but perhaps approach it in a manner different from himself.
Falola’s attention in this chapter is on varieties of approaches to creativity in the various post-classical arts in African music, fashion and film. ”Post-classical” is a term I’m using in order to avoid the term ”post-colonial,” thereby suggesting the agency of Africans as originating before and going beyond the colonial experience and its consequences.
While Falola focuses on history, he also engages, minimally, in a correlative discussion of aesthetics in terms of ideas that inform or are inspired by art. These are ideas which may be created by the artists themselves or inspired by their work.
In addressing historical developments in music, fashion and film, the chapter complements the one titled ”Decolonizing African Literature.” In creating a mapping of the field inspired by points of agreement and disagreement with Falola’s own mapping, one could group the two chapters together as ”Decolonizing African Arts,” akin to the way more recent editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica classify all African imaginative forms under ”African Arts.”
Along with the arts studied by Falola, we could add the visual arts, which would include sculpture, painting, drawing and architecture, and perhaps others. These additions would be critical, because these are some of the forms in which the artistic decolonization process has been vigorously pursued in Africa and its Diaspora. In architecture, examples such as that of Demas Nwoko need to be examined, correlating Nwoko’s development of ideas of African aesthetics as philosophy, as in the journal New Culture, and his practicalization of his rethinking of African aesthetics through his architectural work. Discussing these arts together would facilitate demonstrating their points of convergence of action and of informing ideas and orientations. Such a correlation would complement the expansive range of arts engaged in Decolonizing African Studies, an expansiveness which is not often demonstrated in discussing African arts.
One could either enlarge the correlative discussion of aesthetics as philosophy, the minimally developed section of the chapter, in relation to aesthetics as artistic progression, the approach Falola centralises, or retain the chapter ”Decolonizing African Aesthetics” as a separate chapter. The second choice facilitates using the chapter as a means of discussing aesthetics, not as first order discourse, as Falola focuses on, a focus on aesthetics as artistic creativity, that being one understanding of aesthetics, but as second order discourse, a reflection on ideas and principles centred in the practice of art and the experience of beauty, as this field may be defined, the subsidiary aspect of aesthetics minimally discussed by Falola.
Aesthetics as second order discourse, as a philosophical discipline, needs to be so closely studied in this context because it’s a central arena in which the struggle for decolonizing African thought is taking place. The field involves both the philosophical positions taken by African and pro-African writers and other artists, to ideas developed by African and non-African scholars in these fields, positions spanning classical and post-classical African arts.
The power of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline is particularly obvious with reference to Western and Asian aesthetics, as developed by artists and scholars. These run from the Indian concept of rasa, to the wabi-sabi concept in Japanese aesthetics, to the Western idea of the Sublime, among others. I am interpreting aesthetics, in this context, as centred in ideas, deliberately constructed concepts, directly or indirectly related to art and the sense of beauty.
African contributions to aesthetics as philosophy include Uche Okeke’s idea of Natural Synthesis in his efforts, as a central ideologue of the 1960s Zaria Art School and his later fundamental influence on the Nsukka Art School, to develop an original direction for post-classical African art. They also involve Rowland Abiodun, Babatunde Lawal, Henry Drewal and others, engaging Yoruba concepts in studying classical Yoruba art as an aspect of reshaping art scholarship on Africa.
These investigations would be later adapted to post-classical Nigerian art, such as employing the idea of oju inu or inward vision from Yoruba philosophy as a category of universalistic artistic analysis. Related to but different from these efforts at demonstrating classical Yoruba aesthetic thought and its contemporary significance is Drewal’s distillation of his theory of Sensiotics from his practical experience as a sculptor in the Yoruba context and his scholarship on this artistic and reflective human environment.
One may choose, though, to subsume such a chapter on decolonizing African aesthetics within the chapter ”Decolonizing African Philosophy,” since aesthetics is a branch of philosophy. Doing that, however, would mean expanding that chapter to also include sub-sections on other branches of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and perhaps even the philosophy of law. This would be critical as a means of integrating developments in these branches in terms of the theme of decolonization.
In metaphysics, one could discuss work like that of Kwasi Wiredu, on Akan ideas of the nature of being, Pantaleon Iruegbu’s development of ”kpim,’‘ meaning ”core or essence of phenomena, from Igbo, Jonathan Chimakonam’s recent book, with Uchenna Ogbonnaya, on metaphysics in an African context, African Metaphysics, Epistemology and a New Logic: A Decolonial Approach to Philosophy (2021), among others. Helpful developments may also be discerned in the philosophy of law, in the relationship between classical African and Western legal systems, such as in the work of Taslim Elias.
In including a section on history and philosophy of science as suggested in my first essay on this book, one could also consider the philosophical orientations of efforts to decolonize African health systems in their adaptation of Western medicine, as in the work of Adeoye Lambo at Aro Psychiatric Hospital and his justifications of his approach with reference to the value of classical African medical systems.
Such studies of Lambo as Mathew Heaton’s “Thomas Adeoye Lambo and the Decolonization of Psychiatry in Nigeria” (in B.M. Bennett and J.M. Hodge (eds) Science and Empire: Britain and the World, 2011), focus on this subject, Heaton doing this in terms of a wealth of intertextual references to studies of science at the nexus of Western and non-Western systems of thought in relation to colonialism and its consequences.
Lambo’s own publications, such as African Traditional Beliefs: Concepts of Health and Medical Practice, 1963, help clarify his vision as a person deeply exposed to both classical African medicine and its philosophical foundations and Western medicine and its philosophical contexts, bringing these into a synthesis.
In sum, an understanding of the subject of decolonizing African Studies which Falola has so broadly covered may be developed through points of identification with or disagreement with his approach. Such a guide to thinking and creation is a central function of scholarly creativity as represented by Falola’s effort to unify the expansive subject of decolonizing African Studies within a summative text.
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Achebean Studies: A Tribute And A Syllabus
By Toyin Falola
On September 29 and 30, 2023, some of the most prominent names in the field of African literature will present papers at the Chinua Achebe International Symposium, which also doubles as the 10th memorial celebration of the late sage and central figure of African literature. There will be poetry reading, performances, hosting, and toasting to infuse dynamism and creativity into the feast. His Royal Majesty Igwe Alex Onyido, the Monarch of the Ogidi Kingdom, will be present in his royalty. There are also ambassadors, led by my good friend, Professor Abena Busia. Another major highlight of the event is the Keynote Speaker, His Excellency Peter Obi (now a household name), the recent presidential candidate of the Labour Party and the former Governor of Anambra State. Just as Nnamdi Azikiwe lent his name to the Zikist movement established in 1946, Obi has become an iconic figure of the “Obidient” movement. To Obidients worldwide, Peter should not allow the cock to crow three times!
As only the deep can call to the deep, only a scholar of Dr. Chika Okeke-Agulu’s calibre can organize a conference this expensive and elaborate. I am sure many already know Chika, but for those who are unfamiliar with him, his brief biography can be found at https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/546722-chika-okeke-agulu-shining-the-spotlight-on-a-true-son-of-the-soil-by-toyin-falola.html?tztc=1. Chika’s leadership of the Africa World Initiative has been stellar and impressive, in addition to his incredible skill in partnering with the program in African Studies and The Christie and Chinua Achebe Foundation.
In my brief presentation on the occasion, which I am releasing now as no one knows tomorrow, I will direct my attention to the dialogue encompassing Achebe’s literary body of work within the framework of global literature to facilitate cross-cultural exchanges and create a platform for discourse that brings the eternal and universal essence of Achebe’s profound perspectives to the forefront. Next year, Bloomsbury will release my long book on this iconic figure, Chinua Achebe: Narrating Africa in Fictions and History. Nothing in this tribute anticipates my long book.
Africa, as we know, is a continent teeming with abundant diversity, intricate historical narratives, and deep intricacies. From the golden sands of the Sahara to the verdant rainforests of the Congo, from the vibrant streets of Lagos to the tranquil vistas of the Maasai Mara, our continent is a rich tapestry interwoven with a multitude of cultures, languages, and customs. However, amidst this kaleidoscope of diversity, a common thread exists that unites us all – our shared past and the guidance that has shaped it. The chronicle of African leadership is as ancient as the continent itself. It is a tale that spans millennia, from the time-honoured realms of Egypt, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe to contemporary nation-states.
Throughout this extensive chronicle, the art of guiding has played a pivotal and transformative role in shaping the course of our destinies, for better or worse. As we stand at the crossroads of a new era, we must thoroughly scrutinize the paths taken by our leaders, the obstacles they encounter, and the prospects that lie ahead. African leadership has emerged as a tapestry interwoven with contradictions in the postcolonial epoch. We have borne witness to visionary leaders who have ardently championed the cause of emancipation, ushering in waves of sanguinity and aspiration. However, we have also observed individuals who, cloaked in the guise of liberation, have fortified their positions of authority, often at the detriment of the same people they pledged to serve. This dichotomy, this inherent tension between the allure of leadership and its frequently tumultuous reality, constitutes the essence of our present discourse and aligns with the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s provocative political treatise, The Trouble with Nigeria.
We honour the magnificent literary titan, Chinua Achebe, and commemorate his profound impact on the world. Hailing from the fertile lands of Nigeria, he was a guiding light for Africa, resonating far beyond its borders. Achebe’s brilliance extended far beyond his mere occupation as a writer; he was a masterful storyteller, a profound philosopher, and a protector of our collective memories. Through the eloquent rhythm of his prose, he infused vitality into the ancestral chronicles, painting vibrant tapestries that encapsulated our culture, traditions, and the essence of our shared humanity. The power wielded by Achebe’s pen surpassed that of any sword, challenging and dismantling colonial narratives while offering the world a glimpse into Africa’s soul. From the heart-wrenching downfall of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart to the intricate political entanglements of A Man of the People, Achebe masterfully captured the intricacies, magnificence, and hardships of a continent teetering on the precipice of transformation. However, beyond the pages of his novels, Achebe emerged as a champion of humanism. He embraced the profound value of each individual’s inherent dignity, the interconnectedness of our shared humanity, and the wondrous ability of narratives to bridge the gaps that divide us.
Prof. Chinua Achebe
In our celebration of Achebe, we do not merely pay tribute to a man but to a legacy—a legacy that serves as a poignant reminder of the potency of language, the significance of our cultural heritage, and the boundless opportunities that open up when we dare to follow our dreams. Although Achebe, the majestic Eagle perched upon the Iroko tree, may have taken his final bow, his tales, sagacity, and unconquerable spirit will eternally soar within the depths of our souls.
In the heart of Africa, a storyteller was born,
Achebe, the voice, when hope seemed forlorn.
With a pen as his spear and paper as his shield,
He painted our stories, and our wounds slowly healed.
From the banks of the Niger to the world’s vast expanse,
He sang of our heroes, our love, and our dance.
In tales of tradition, of gods and goddesses,
He echoed our struggles time and again.
Oh, Chinua, the sage, with wisdom so profound,
Through your words, our history will forever remain.
For in every line and every verse,
You captured our soul, the universe’s diverse.
A beacon of hope, a pillar so tall,
In the annals of time, your legacy won’t fall.
For as long as stories of Africa are told,
Your spirit, dear Achebe, will forever hold.
Rest, great bard, in the land of the free,
Your legacy lives on in hearts like the sea.
Achebe’s Discussions, Scholarships, and Interpolations
Following Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah’s brilliant views on the book The Trouble with Nigeria, he notes that Chinua Achebe expressed strong criticism of Nigeria’s insufficient road network, only to tragically become a victim of a life-altering accident on the same road. In Anthills of the Savannah, Achebe vividly portrays a ruthless military regime willing to sacrifice the citizens’ lives for its interests. According to Na’Allah, Achebe’s prophetic admonitions regarding the Nigerian political landscape remain pertinent, encompassing Nigeria and neighbouring nations. Despite a concise overview, this analysis necessitates attention due to Achebe’s multifaceted role as a political writer, essayist, and activist. Subsequent issues will delve into these facets. This significance arises from Achebe’s post-independence essays, novels, and poems, which offer a perspective through which the unfolding political events in postcolonial Nigeria can be comprehended.
Achebe’s reflections on the condition of postcolonial Africa are intricately intertwined with politics and aesthetics. This interaction constitutes the core of postcolonial aesthetics. As explored in this segment, examining the language matter, thoroughly studied by scholars and writers such as Owomoyela, Bamiro and Uwasomba, is an integral component of postcolonial identity. In “Postcolonial Adaptation and Appropriation in Chinua Achebe,” Anuradha Basu (2015) contends that Achebe’s literary works present postcolonialism as a means of resistance against the dehumanization of Africans. Nonetheless, as Olaniyan posits, Achebe’s approach is marked by moderate resistance, and he offers an alternative viewpoint on postcolonial politics and identity by employing Igbo aesthetics. In Arrow of God, Achebe metaphorically compares the world to a mask dance, and that remaining static deprives one of truly comprehending its essence. This symbolism embodies Achebe’s balanced position, indicating that the identity of postcolonial individuals should incorporate the consequences of historical events and conflicts between cultures, which profoundly impact African people’s psychological and social composition.
Achebe’s literary contributions have played an important role in the extensive collection of African literature that employs stylistic comparative methods by juxtaposing cultural elements from various origins. Central to his works is the examination of the challenges faced by African identity, both during and after interaction with Western cultures. Achebe’s narratives symbolize the profound impact of this encounter on African literature, as they are heavily influenced by the reactions of indigenous Africans to foreign ideologies and values. Nigeria’s complex tapestry of multi-ethnic divisions is a poignant backdrop to Achebe’s exploration of the obstacles to national unity. His writings act as mirrors that reflect the intricacies of the socio-cultural landscape of this nation. Presently, scholars engage with Achebe’s literary creations and the reflections embedded within them. This scholarly endeavour aims to evaluate the accuracy of Achebe’s portrayals and acknowledge any potential shortcomings in his representations.
Beyond this critical examination, the scholarly scrutiny of Achebe’s work is motivated by a desire to appreciate his enduring legacy and continued significance in the African literary panorama and on the continent. Both as a man and a writer, Achebe remains an enduring figure of interest within academia. Consequently, this intense focus on Achebe’s life and literary output has generated a rich research reservoir. These studies comprehensively analyze every facet of the Achebe phenomenon, providing valuable insights into the complexities of African identity and the evolution of African literature. Achebe’s contributions ignited a profound intellectual exploration that continues to shape our understanding of African cultures, identities, and the power of literature as a medium of reflection and transformation.
An Achebe-Inspired Proposal on New Waves and Directions on African Leadership
As we engage in discourse regarding leadership and statecraft in Nigeria and Africa, I am eager to present novel concepts, perspectives, and courses of action to this esteemed gathering. These ideas provide a distinctive framework to examine the intricate nature of African leadership, incorporating insights from historical circumstances and present-day trials.
- Neo-traditionalism in contemporary leadership
Although Africa boasts a wealth of historical traditional leadership structures, a noteworthy trend is emerging in which modern leaders embrace and adapt these conventional roles to consolidate their authority. This phenomenon of neo-traditionalism entails leaders embracing ancient titles and rituals, not necessarily to honour tradition but to authenticate their governance and appeal to cultural sensibilities. The implications of this trend on democratic processes and institutions in Africa could be profound, necessitating a more comprehensive investigation.
- The evolution of the “Big Man” syndrome
The “Big Man” syndrome, characterized by leaders wielding centralized power and influence, has been a recurring motif in African leadership. Nevertheless, with the advent of social media and the proliferation of globalized communication, some leaders now utilize these platforms to construct a more contemporary and accessible image while retaining their hold on centralized control. The existence of this duality–embodying the characteristics of a conventional “Big Man” while having the qualities of a contemporary, technology-savvy leader–poses an exceptional difficulty for both governing bodies and opposition movements.
- The role of women in African leadership
Throughout history, African leadership has predominantly been under the control and influence of the male gender. Nevertheless, there is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of women in assuming leadership positions, be it within the realm of politics or traditional settings. For instance, countries like Rwanda have remarkably progressed in this domain. This discourse could centre around the obstacles that female leaders encounter, the distinctive viewpoints they bring forth, and the societal transformations facilitating this paradigm shift.
- Postcolonial leadership and the shadow of the past
Following independence, several African leaders positioned themselves as emancipators, liberating their nations from the shackles of colonial domination. Nonetheless, several decades after independence, confident leaders still rely on their liberation credentials to retain their authority, frequently at the expense of democratic processes. The panel could explore the continued influence of colonialism on leadership styles and the expectations placed on leaders in the postcolonial era.
- Youth movements and the challenge to established leadership
Given that a considerable proportion of Africa’s populace is below 30, a discernible divide is emerging between the established leadership and the younger generation. Instances such as the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria and the protests in Sudan highlight the youth’s discontentment with the existing state of affairs and their yearning for transformation. The panel discussion may delve into the obstacles and prospects engendered by this demographic shift, the aspirations of the younger generation, and how the leadership can adapt and respond to these demands.
New Directions in Achebean Studies
Achebe, an eminent figure in African literature, has masterfully composed stories that depict the African encounter and reflect the intricacies of human societies. His literary creations, abundant in thematic profundity and narrative artistry, provide a rich fabric of discernment that is simultaneously profound and illuminating.
- The principle of balance in Achebe’s fiction: The recurring motif in Achebe’s literary works is the principle of balance, which manifests thematically and stylistically. A more intricate depiction emerges when examining the relationship between the direction of balance in Achebe’s fiction and its form and style. As Marjorie Winters notes, Achebe’s narrative style deviates from conventional English usage, introducing elements of “interest, variety, and emphasis.” Although these divergences momentarily impede the narrative’s progression, they contribute to a sense of equilibrium in sentence structure. Critics often interpret this stylistic equilibrium as indicative of “stateliness or formality.” Such a balanced stylistic approach is evident in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, with irregular sentences employed approximately one-third of the time, resulting in a distinctive rhythm and cadence.
- Ironies of balance: Achebe’s anthology Girls at War, presents diverse narratives that explore the societal shifts and transformations occurring in postcolonial Africa. While thematically bound, these stories testify to Achebe’s command of language and narrative techniques. In praising Achebe’s works, a literary critic has highlighted the notion of balance as a recurring aspect of his fiction. This balance can be observed in various dimensions, ranging from the balanced dualities of the Igbo worldview to the equitable evaluation of characters and situations elicited by his fiction. The stories within this collection, which include the depiction of the Biafran conflict and explorations of tradition and modernity, are imbued with a pervasive sense of equilibrium. However, this equilibrium is frequently tinged with irony, particularly in Achebe’s portrayal of the societal shifts and the erosion of traditional values.
- Achebe’s narrative techniques: Achebe’s use of narrative techniques extends beyond exploring themes; it exemplifies a masterful demonstration of narrative skill. His utilization of oral and literary narrative techniques results in the creation of a distinctive style of storytelling. This style, characterized by juxtaposing, adding, and aggregating various elements, provides equal significance to each narrative component, thus highlighting their importance.
- Embracing tradition and modernity: Achebe’s narratives frequently grapple with the inherent conflict between tradition and modernity. These stories place a considerable emphasis on practice and acknowledge the transformative influence of modernity. As one selected excerpt elucidates, “Despite the preoccupation with the thematic content of these stories, I propose that there exists an unnoticed quality within them: a peculiar and subversive manipulation of linguistic symbols, a manipulation that conventional notions of rationality, equilibrium, and moral order have tended to suppress.”
Drawing upon these insights, it is apparent that Achebe’s literary creations are not merely a mirror image of African societies but also a form of commentary on the human condition. His works offer readers a profound comprehension of the intricacies of life, culture, and history through their intricate fusion of theme and style. Therefore, scholars can uncover the layers of intricacy and subtlety that establish him as one of the most noteworthy writers of the 20th century by examining Achebe’s literary oeuvre through these critical perspectives. Such a multifaceted exploration will enhance the scholarly dialogue surrounding Achebe’s works and give students a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities of African literature and culture.
At this moment, I propose five new avenues that can be considered in the field of Achebean Studies, which could be advantageous in the Africana Studies curriculum.
Achebe’s critique of Eurocentrism
Achebe’s literary works, particularly Things Fall Apart, can be perceived as a direct response to European literature that inaccurately represents Africa, such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A more in-depth analysis would entail dissecting Achebe’s narrative techniques undermining the Eurocentric perspective. This endeavour would require a critical examination of how Achebe reclaimed the African narrative, presenting an alternative history that challenges Western perceptions and stereotypes of Africa.
Gender dynamics in a changing society
Although women in his novels may appear subservient at first glance, a more meticulous examination uncovers layers of agency, resilience, and subversion, making his depiction of women multifaceted. A scholarly inquiry can concentrate on the nuanced methods through which women navigate the patriarchal structures of Igbo society, particularly in the presence of colonialism and Christianity. This exploration can illuminate the interconnectedness of gender, colonialism, and tradition.
The tragedy of Okonkwo: A comparative analysis
Okonkwo’s tragic descent can be juxtaposed with the tragic heroes of other civilizations, such as Oedipus or Hamlet. A comparative analysis can delve into the cultural aspects that mould these sad narratives, illuminating the widespread nature of specific human experiences and emphasizing the distinctive cultural contexts that shape them.
Language, power, and identity
Achebe’s decision to write in English while infusing his prose with Igbo proverbs and idioms is an important assertion of language and authority. A critical examination could concentrate on how language in Achebe’s literary works is not merely a means of communication but also a tool of opposition, assertion of identity, and preservation of culture. This will result in more extensive discussions on language politics in postcolonial societies.
The interplay of individual and community
Achebe’s characters often encounter tension between personal desires and communal obligations. A deeper analysis can focus on how Achebe portrays the intricate balance between individual agency and societal expectations. This will shed light on the broader theme of the individual versus society, a conflict that resonates across cultures and periods.
So, with reference to Nigeria, it is not surprising that the immediate consequence of the realistic portrayal and exposition of the inefficiencies of Nigerian politicians and the subtle condemnation of their pseudo-messianic tendencies by prominent post-independent African fiction will emerge. With the country’s increased political instability, African and Nigerian writers, historians, and political scholars have risen correspondingly, diligently delving into political systems, actively documenting unstable political occurrences, and significantly producing works in Administrative Studies. The primary motive and objective behind these professionals’ endeavours in Africa is to elucidate and hopefully raise awareness among the general public about the continent’s political predicaments and anticipate the inevitable instability, crises, and disorder within the African polities.
However, rather than explore the terrains of political scholars in understanding this phenomenon, the choice of focusing on Chinua Achebe is vital, partly because he is one of the foremost Nigerian writers to adequately present political crisis through many lenses from the military regime to war stories, and even democratic settings. Also, Achebe’s restriction to the Nigerian space is captivating, chiefly because of his universal depiction of the size, cultural complexity, and modes of operation unique to the nation, as well as criticizing the Nigerian government and giving voice and agency to citizens who suffered and were silenced by these forces of leadership.
Once again, congratulations to the distinguished Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu for hosting this major gathering. Thanks for organizing what will become conversations across time and space. I now rarely attend conferences except to deliver Keynote Addresses, but this is an invitation that I cannot decline from one of the world’s most prominent art historians, an activist, and also, by any measure, an iconic figure himself.
Toyin Falola’s New Book, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni And African Decolonial Studies, Explores Decoloniality Discourse
Prof. Toyin Falola’s new book, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni And African Decolonial Studies, is divided into 11 chapters:
Chapter 1: Introduction: Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s Decolonization Vision for the World
Chapter 2: Decolonization and Decoloniality
Chapter 3: Marxism and Decolonization
Chapter 4: Race and African Studies
Chapter 5: Africa’s Liberation
Chapter 6: Zimbabwe in History
Chapter 7: Mugabe and His Politics
Chapter 8: Militarism in Africa
Chapter 9: The Challenges of Higher Education
Chapter 10: Futurity
Chapter 11: An Epilogue: The Future of Decolonial Studies
This book considers the work of the preeminent scholar on decoloniality, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, as a means of examining the development of decoloniality discourse and considering the future direction of the African knowledge economy.
Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni has been instrumental in constructing theories and ideas necessary for advancing a decolonial system of education and epistemology. This book considers how Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s work has helped to shape our thinking both on Mugabe and the history of Zimbabwe, and beyond to the broader questions of race, liberation, higher education, and the future of decolonial studies. Renowned author Professor Toyin Falola then invites us to consider the dangers of continued repression of African epistemologies, and the enormous benefits of an alternative knowledge economy in which a diverse multiplicity of ideas drives our understanding of the world on to new heights.
Unpacking the various conceptual leanings of decoloniality through the works of one of its leading lights, this book will be an essential read for researchers across African Studies, Race Studies, Philosophy, and Education.
Toyin Falola, Ph.D., is the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of History, The University of Texas at Austin. He is an Extraordinary Professor of Political Science, at the University of Pretoria, Professor of Human Rights, University of the Free State, and Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Lead City University, Ibadan. He is the recipient of many distinguished awards, including 16 honorary doctorates. He has contributed substantially to decolonization studies, most recently Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice (2022) and Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies (2022).
Nigerian Writer, Other New Voices Dominate Booker Prize Nominations
A graceful novel about a squash prodigy battling grief on court, a dystopia that reimagines Ireland as a totalitarian state and a coming-of-age tale about a neurodiverse teenager are among 13 titles longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.
The longlist, announced in a news release on Tuesday, features only a handful of novels by celebrated authors, including Sebastian Barry’s “Old God’s Time,” about a retired policeman confronting painful memories, and Paul Harding’s “This Other Eden,” about a mixed-race community that faces eviction from its island home.
Instead, the list is dominated by works by lesser-known writers, including four debuts. On the list is Nigerian writer Ayòbámi Adébáyò, “A Spell of Good Things”.
The New York Times quoted Esi Edugyan, an author who is the chair of this year’s judges, as saying in the news release that the list was “defined by its freshness — by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones.”
All the nominated books “cast new light on what it means to exist in our time, and they do so in original and thrilling ways,” Edugyan added.
The four debut books are “If I Survive You,” by Jonathan Escoffery, about a Jamaican family in Miami; “Pearl,” by Sian Hughes, about a mother’s disappearance; “All the Little Bird-Hearts,” by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow, which is told from the perspective of a mother with autism; and “Western Lane,” by Chetna Maroo, about the grieving squash player and her family.
Among the other nominees are “How to Build a Boat,” by Elaine Feeney, about a neurodiverse schoolboy and the teachers who help him, and the forthcoming “Prophet Song,” by Paul Lynch, about an Irish society falling under the grip of authoritarianism.
Founded in 1969, the Booker Prize is one of the world’s most coveted literary awards, given each year to the author of a novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. It is often seen as the capstone of a writer’s career, but the award has also regularly made new literary stars. Recent winners have included Bernardine Evaristo, Douglas Stuart and Marlon James.
Last year, the Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the prize with “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” a satire exploring the trauma of his country’s civil war. After the announcement, the book’s sales jumped to more than 100,000 copies and it has now been translated into 19 languages, the Booker Prize Foundation said in Tuesday’s news release.
This year’s judges will now narrow the longlist down to a six-book shortlist, scheduled to be revealed on Sep. 21. The winning book, whose author will receive a 50,000 pound prize, about $64,000, will be announced at a ceremony in London on Nov. 26.
The full longlist is:
Ayòbámi Adébáyò, “A Spell of Good Things”
Sebastian Barry, “Old God’s Time”
Sarah Bernstein, “Study for Obedience”
Jonathan Escoffery, “If I Survive You”
Elaine Feeney, “How to Build a Boat”
Paul Harding, “This Other Eden”
Siân Hughes, “Pearl”
Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow, “All the Little Bird-Hearts”
Paul Lynch, “Prophet Song”
Martin MacInnes, “In Ascension”
Chetna Maroo, “Western Lane”
Paul Murray, “The Bee Sting”
Tan Twan Eng, “The House of Doors”
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