About Aaron Bady
A graduate student in real life at UC Berkeley, Aaron is a graduate student in virtual life at zunguzungu.
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posts by Aaron Bady
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Some Uneducated Speculations on the “The African Novel” in Tanzania
When I was in Arusha, Tanzania--doing other things--I greedily purchased the few African novels that were available for purchase. This meant frequenting bookstores that sold novels to two very distinct markets: novels for white people and novels for Tanzanian students. I feel safe in saying that the comparatively high level printing, binding, and prices of the former pretty much limited those books to tourist and expatriate buyers (or were certainly printed with that market in mind), while the very specific pedagogical function of the latter confined their relevance to a similarly particular sub-section of the Tanzanian population: young people still in school. In the first category, you had both canonical English literature--penguin editions of D.H. Lawrence and so forth--and literary supplements to the tourist industry, stuff like this, with books like Out of Africa and Green Hills of Africa straddling the gap. The second market was for novels used as textbooks, a mixed bag which I’ll look at in a moment. I was therefore an eccentric purchaser, poorly served by either marketing strategy: I was in search of an object, “the African novel,” which hardly exists as such in the local commercial consciousness.Continue reading "Some Uneducated Speculations on the “The African Novel” in Tanzania"
Sunday, April 20, 2008
African Novels and the Politics of Pedagogy
(This, for what it’s worth, is a continuation of what I was thinking through in this previous post)
It’s something of a cliché that literary writing in Africa is more political than we are accustomed to expect in the West, but truisms often become clichés precisely because they have something true about them. So after tabling the fraught issue of whether one can productively compare “Western” and “African” literary aesthetics in any meaningful sense, I’m interested in the fact that the form taken by such literary politics is so often--and so significantly--that of pedagogy.
For example, Chinua Achebe’s 1965 essay “The Novelist as Teacher” set the tone for decades of critical work to follow by arguing that:
Continue reading "African Novels and the Politics of Pedagogy"
“the writer cannot expect to be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done. In fact, he should march right in front…I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past--with all its imperfections--was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them. Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure. But who cares? Art is important, but so is education of the kind I have in mind.”
Monday, April 07, 2008
Young Englishmen and Black Boys
That racism “infantilizes” people of color shouldn’t be news to anyone. Calling a black man a boy (or a black woman a girl) means something recognizably similar in contexts as different as almost any part of Africa or the Western hemisphere, and farther abroad than that. So when, in 1952, Dylan Thomas referred to the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard as written in “young English,” he was only playing an interesting variation on a well-worn theme. After all, while Tutuola made his reputation as a writer on the strength of that review, the idea of “young English” clearly defines a very particular kind of cultural hierarchy, infantilizing populations instead of particular adults.
But it’s at least worth taking seriously the fact that Thomas thought he was praising Tutuola’s “thronged, grisly and bewitching story” by calling it a “nightmare of indescribable adventures.” Tutuola’s writing blends basic ignorance of standard English with an equal measure of cavalier disinterest in it, and a desire to be “bewitched” could make that devil’s brew into a particular kind of virtue for a white book-buying public, the same way Paul Laurence Dunbar broke into print by imitating white dialect writers. And just as William Dean Howells introduced Dunbar to white writers by using his own authorial stature as contrast, so too does Dylan Thomas’ review distinguish such writing from the kind of literature a white writer like himself would produce. That Thomas’ Welsh-ness recedes into the background should underscore what calling The Palm Wine Drinkard a work of “young English” accomplishes: it makes a Welsh writer into a practitioner of “mature” English. As with Norman Rush, here, paradoxically, it is the things which the white writer can’t describe which make him white.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Cowboy Realism and Cowboy Presidents
I’m very happy to have been invited to contribute to the Valve! So let me just say thanks to Scott and the rest of the regulars, and get on with it.
I think it’s safe to say that HBO’s Deadwood first got a lot of attention for its foul language. I still haven’t seen the dad-blamed show, consarn it. But the “cowboys who swear a lot” meme is interesting, independent of whatever other virtues the show may have. After all, it’s not like the idea of cowpunchers swearing is unexpected; HBO’s own narrative stressed that colorful language is just one more of the harsh truths from which our tender sensibilities have hitherto been shielded by protectors of public decency. “Old” Bonanza style cowboy shows were idealized and stylized, airbrushed, brushed down, and cleaned up, but Deadwood, they tell us, is a step forward for gritty realism, a cowboy show unafraid to show us how it really was.
Whether or not cowboys actually cursed, I haven’t the faintest interest or idea. But I do know this: the good folks at HBO who made Deadwood weren’t the first to make cowboy cursing into a literary trope, by a long shot. Owen Wister was both the most important early popularizer of the “cowboy” genre and he made the “unprintable” into a generic convention of the Western. Early on in The Virginian (1904), for example, one of the first things that Wister’s narrator notices about the novel’s eponymous hero is the way his friends curse him to his face while his enemies do so at their peril. For example, and famously, when the amiable Steve calls the Virginian a “son-of-a----” (with the unprintable represented by the hyphens), Wister’s narrator, an Easterner naïve to the ways of the West, is astonished by the lack of reaction, writing:Continue reading "Cowboy Realism and Cowboy Presidents"