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Historical revisionism and the future of black literary theory Odjo, Aboudou-Lassissi

Abstract

The future of the literary theories of Black Africa and the Black Diaspora lies in Africa's distant past. It lies in the discourses of origination, and in ontology that conceived subjectivity in significantly different terms from Hegelianism, Cartesianism, postmodernism, and Derridian deconstruction, for example. There is an ongoing crisis in Black critical theory regarding the parameters within which it should be articulated in order to remain responsive to its distinct historical consciousness. It is a twentieth-century problem, carried into the twenty-first, and it is mainly a crisis in philosophic discourse: This crisis of articulation is mainly a legacy of Western epistemological and political hegemony, and puts Black critical theory in the paradoxical position of being embedded in the very epistemological modality it seeks to overcome. In order for the crisis to be clearly seen as a philosophical one, a new Black subjective agency must emerge to elucidate the partiality of Western historiography, recast the history of philosophy, and formulate a more adequate metaphysics and art-theory. Such a theory will, for example, point out that the often nihilist horizon of subjectivity proffered by postmodernism is, in significant ways, inimical to the formulation or representation of this new Black subjectivity. For the first time in critical theory, the Black subject can see itself whole. It can now tell its story from the emergence of the first humans in Africa to the present, as a relatively unbroken continuum. The epistemological conditions for the emergence of a new Black subjectivity have never been better than in what I tentatively call the Dakar-Brazzaville-Stanford 'Conversation' (DBSC) about Black Africa and ancient Egypt. The DBSC stands for a number of major Black scholars (Cheikh Anta Diop, Theophile Obenga, Leopold Sedar Senghor, and St. Clair Drake) in those parts of the world, and the common denominator I identify in their historical, anthropological, and philosophic theorisations of Africa. My aim is to extend the 'conversation' by examining what it means for literary theory. The extent of Western historiography's misrepresentation of Africa's significance in civilisation is only now being openly acknowledged in Western intellectual discourse. It is, ultimately, a problematics that has to do with the status of language in relation to truth and history and, at a deeper level, embraces the ontological status of writing. African and Black foundational, philosophic, historical, and literary texts, shaped by particular systems of signs that are a clue to the African and Black mental worlds, require a particular kind of reading. Therefore, as part of the effort to represent Africa more adequately, a shift of perspective and form now enables Black fiction and literary theory to posit an alternative understanding of the idea and history of literature itself. And this involves recovering and redeploying ancient Egypt in its connection to Black Africa. Though there is increasing evidence in world scholarship that the first inhabitants of ancient Egypt were a negroid people, that their mystical beliefs laid the foundation for ancient Egyptian civilisation, and that philosophic speculation is, ultimately, Egyptian in origin, I do not know of any study that has systematically teased out the consequences of this flourishing scholarship for Black literary theory. The ultimate purpose of my thesis, therefore, is to deconstruct two figures (Hegel and Derrida) who have cast a shadow on Black literary theory. I do this by re-reading and, especially, re-contextualising them, to show that their philosophies are ancient Egyptian in origin. As a result of this re-historicisation, I argue that Black African and ancient Egyptian philosophies remain the most viable paradigms within which Black literary theory has a bright future. But it is a future that re-places Hegelian and Derridian philosophies in their originary Egyptian contexts in order to pare them of the unhelpful accretions Hegel and Derrida brought to them.

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