Title: Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature and Possibilities of New Materialistic Direction
Author: Udenta O. Udenta
Publisher: Publisher: Kraft Book, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Driven by what he considers as the “contamination of postcolonial studies by an arrogant postmodernist scholarship”, and the need for aesthetic and cultural retrieval vision, renowned public intellectual, Dr. Udenta Udenta, has come out with Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature and the Possibilities of New Material Direction, a product of painstaking eight-year research.
With assailing wit, data and a discourse oriented approach, the book interrogates the merits of postmodernity while constructing a counterhegemonic cultural and aesthetic theory capable of generating debates on the Nigerian literary scene that will herald a new, robust aesthetic order.
A book in four parts, with a note on contemporary Nigerian music and film as its climax, the author, in the first part, x-rays the evolution of postcolonialism by Edward Said and disciples, such as Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spinak, and its rampant deployment by literary scholars in Africa.
The author pragmatically unfurls this intellectual rupture in the second chapter entitled “Crisis of Theory and the Retheorisation of Nigerian Aesthetic Order”. The issue, says Udenta, is not even that there are many brilliant scholars and theorists selling the episteme but the corruption of the original spirit of postcolonialism by an invasive postmodernist model.
Hence, he laments that the “more Nigerian literary theorists, scholars and critics refer to other scholars who refer yet to other theorists, the more they are removed from the concrete issues Nigerian novelists and short story writers reflect in their works, and the more they are forced into these artists’ works, ideas, themes, situations and realities at variance with their objective intentions and creative vision” (p. 41).
Udenta goes on to cite the major interpretative information adequate for a detailed examination of prevalent critical opinions on some of the texts, starting with Helon Habila’s ouvre, Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time and Oil on Water, explicating his preoccupation with the emplacement of characters whose social and political identity and prerogatives are clearly delineated.
The book some important Nigerian novelists, like Chimamanda Adichie, Uzodinma Iweala and Chris Abani, as history’s willing prisoners in their aesthetic mediation of the forces that shape individual social and cultural identity, which enables justification for social performance and subvert the essence and goals of self-realisation.
Udenta also identifies the overarching power of history, historical consciousness and historisation of cultural and social experiences in contemporary Nigerian fiction. He scrutinises the reviews of scholars, like Chris Anyokwu, Obi Nwakanma, Lilly Mabura, Ogaga Okuyade, Dana Tunca, Anthony Oha, Adeleke Adeeko, among others.
After a close scrutiny of the works of new Nigerian literature and the critical readings of the texts, Udenta arrives at a conclusion that the character, nature, and essence of contemporary Nigeria aesthetic order: ontology, identity, historicity, as well as material forces, relations and postcolonial social formation. The fifth is realism.
Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature and the Possibilities of New Materialist Direction also offers shellacking of scholars who derail from misreading works of African writers and misapplying theories, like Ali Erritiouni (on Helon Habila’s Waiting for Angel), Francis Mowang Ganyi’s theoretical position in “The Relevance of Ideology in the Aesthetic Development of Contemporary Nigerian Literature beyond Soyinka”, to mention a few.
Udenta frowns that “Ganiyu’s prescriptivism theoretical paradigm further commands Nigerian writers to abandon the narration of the nation, to decentre and spatialise national singularities into the values and mores constructed by globalised pluralities” (p113).
The author believes that the epistemological orientation and ontological aura of contemporary Nigerian Nigerian literature are embedded into layered memories and historicised consciousness that are neither depthless nor ephemeral; of a cultural imaginary that is not ambiguous; and of the construction of a negotiated identitarian force field that is not contingent.
Udenta is somehow perplexed by the epistemic rupture in the evolution of Nigerian aesthetic domain canvassed by Pius Adesanmi in his paper, “Post-centenary Nigeria: New Literatures, New Leaders, New Nation”, especially its “false historical consciousness, an idealistic conception of a historical process that is heavily sand lacking in organic interconnecting principles and logic, and the mechanized transplantation of cultural and aesthetic theorical constructs into a historical and cultural order sufficiently resistant to such labels” (p.141).
This book, rather, sanctions a counterhegemonic Nigerian aesthetic order, which will involve the collaboration of literary and non-literary cultural aesthetic forces that will cumulatively determine its ontology. Udenta helps out with fragments of ideas to be developed along the following: Postcolonial Nigerian Ontology: Interpretative Paradigm; Postcolonial Nigerian Ontology: Postmodern Echoes and Metanarrative Practices; Concrete Universal Cultural and Ideological Thesis; The Revolutionary Aesthetic Imperative; Material Transcendence and Material Forces; Lessons from Non-literary Aesthetic Spaces; Concrete Universality, History and Time: The Benjaminian Factor, as well as Coordinate Linkages and Modes of Overdetermination.
The author ends this engrossing intellectual diet with a short note of the aesthetic revolution on Nigerian music and film culture. Udenta’s Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature… is book that must be read by every student, graduate, teacher of African literature and those in the culture sector.