Title: Heroism & Critical Consciousness in African Literature
Author: Udenta O. Udenta
Publisher: Kraft Book, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
The first edition of this book was published in 1994 with a different tittle, Ideological Sanction and Social Action in African Literature. In this particular edition, the second, it has morphed into Heroism & Critical Consciousness in African Literature. The author, Udenta O. Udenta, explains, in the preface to the latest edition, that the title change is necessitated by the need to capture better the work’s subject matter by uniting the discourse on “The Positive Hero in African Literature” and “Critical Realism and the African Literary Process” in an organic manner.
Given the fact that the works analysed in the first edition were mostly published before the dawn of this millennium, the author, in the second edition, has extended the borderline of intellection with a Part Three that deals exclusively with texts published from 2000 upwards.
In the first chapter, the author attempts to establish the close connection between historically existing heroic types and their reflection in works of fiction and drama, while, in the second chapter, which can be read as a companion study to his Revolutionary Aesthetics and the African Literary Process. The third is a critical intervention to examine the crisis of theory in Nigeria and the possibilities of retrieving the fading materialist space.
What is the genesis of positive hero in world literature? A detailed answer is provided in the first chapter of Part I of this book. Says the author: “The positive hero –the hero of labour –did not just emerge in literature from the blue, as it were, but rather embodies the features and traits of a long succession of other heroic types since the dawn of human history” (p.25).
Positive heroes and heroines, Udenta affirms, are rooted in the tradition of the collective against individualistic struggles, in their love of humanity and in their ability to subsume their private interests and idiosyncrasies to the will of the majority, the will of the people. From the writings of the Eastern Europe, especially the Baltic countries, the author traces the impact of revolutionary aesthetics and heroic characters.
The qualities of the positive hero are also unlocked in this chapter by the author. One, he is must be a proletariat, a radical intellectual or a progressive peasant. Again, he must be historically conscious and must understand the dynamics of social development. The positive hero must be a tireless mobiliser and organiser of the working class and the peasants. Also, he is imbued with revolutionary humanism. Udenta specifies that the positive hero must be consistent and ideologically implacable, must fight for the establishment of democracy or the development and consolidation of existing democracy, and must embark on self-discovery through participation in the revolutionary struggle.
The book locates the emergence of the positive hero in African literature out of the objective political and cultural circumstances of African colonial and postcolonial history. It goes on to establish the presence of the positive hero in the African novel. Udenta’s research excavates the positive hero in Ngugi’s Petals of Blood (Karega), Devil on the Cross (Muturi and Warringa). They also include Bakayoko in Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bits of Wood, Beukes in The Frog of the Season’s End, and Idemudia in Violence. They are, hence, discussed extensively in this chapter.
Likewise, the positive hero is elucidated in African drama with Kiguunda in Ngugi/Mugo’s I will Marry When I Want, Wazobia in Tess Onwueme’s The Reign of Wazobia, and Titubi/Moremi in Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun,
Part II begins with “Ideo-Aesthetic of Critical Realism and the Dialectics of Transformation”, a discourse that dwells on the entry of historical, social and cultural density and forces into the ontological and aesthetic domain of critical realism. This intellectual quest in “Critical Realism and the African Literary Processs” substantiates the enquiry Udenta initiated in his earlier work, Revolutionary Aesthetics and the African Literary Process.
The author adopts a materialist-analytic framework as against an idealistic-romantic critical vision notwithstanding the glaring deficiencies and limitations of critical realism as an ideo-aesthetic method in literature. Udenta concedes the scarcity of materials with regard to critical realism in African literary scholarship, yet he is not undaunted in delineating the features of critical realism as a way of popularising an ideo-aesthetic method. Among others, critical realism allows for a revolutionary perspective of history.
Writing on “Critical Realism in the Immediate Postcolonial Period in Africa: Textual and Critical Positioning”, Udenta periodises it between 1960 and 1970, with the works of critical realism discussed here signposted by the classics of the Heinemann’s African Writers Series that include Achebe’s early fictional oeuvre, Gabriel Okara’s The Voice, Ayi Kwei Armah early fictional oeuvre, Kofi Awoonor’s This Earth, My Brother, etcetera. Udenta also offers insights into the future of critical realism in African literature. His verdict is that critical realism “has a secure future in the African literary process because very many African postcolonies are still festooned by an asphyxiating recolonial garb.” (p.198).
Part Three of Heroism and Critical Consciousness in African Literature dwells “Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature and the Possibilities of New Materialist Direction: Critical Fragments.” This book is highly recommended for students and scholars of literature.