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6 - Orality and the genres of African postcolonial writing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2012

Ato Quayson
University of Toronto
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Let us begin by reminding ourselves of where the efficacy of genre analysis of literaryworks of art lies. It lies, Northrop Frye writes in Anatomy of Criticism, inits capacity for illuminating the ‘traditions and affinities’ that literary conventions invoke. For our purposes one of the interesting things to note about Frye’s argument is that he deduces it, in part, from a consideration of literary works that inscribe the spoken word. Thus, he points out that in using a narrator Joseph Conrad assimilates writing to speech; and that in using the epic invocation in Paradise Lost John Milton suggests that the most intimate affinities of the genre also lie with speech. So Frye’s argument locates the efficacy of genre analysis in its facility for contextualizing the relationship between a specific text and others, both literary and oral, within a tradition. Although his examples consist of literary works that use the oral, it does not, thereby, prohibit a consideration of oral texts that invoke the literary. Thus Frye’s argument opens up to us the space required to pose and address several questions concerning orality and the genres of African postcolonial writing. What generic affinities exist between orality and literacy in African postcolonial writing? How do African postcolonial oral and literary works inscribe the conventions of orality and literacy? What, specifically, is postcolonial about these generic conventions?

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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