To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
The interest in utopianism grew rapidly throughout the twentieth century and accelerated after the establishment of the Utopian Studies Society in 1989. Recognition of the importance of utopianism to the insurgent spirit of independence movements in the European colonies has only recently begun to develop. Throughout the British Empire the form of utopian thinking that emerged in colonial and postcolonial writing in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean was driven by the prospect of independence. This utopian spirit continued after such national liberation was achieved. But of the various forms of invasion that characterised British imperialism the one that proceeded in the Antipodes was a distinct example of the belief that a eutopia could be established on the far side of the world. The myth of Australia as a land of promise and the subsequent flood of settlers to the colony gave Antipodal colonialism a distinctive character.
This was a paradoxical consequence of the utopian spirit that drove imperialism itself. In his magisterial The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch observes that all ideology has a utopian element. In imperial thinking, as in all ideology, the belief in a ‘better’ world, however fanciful, can only be maintained by being at some level authentic. Clearly all empires display their utopian element when they manage to convince themselves that their overthrow of nations, their control of international policy and their securing of markets are conducted for the benefit of humanity. Imperialism is a classic demonstration of the realisation of a utopian dream, the legislation of which ensures its degeneration into dystopian reality. The paradox of utopia then is not limited to the contradictions of the clash between regulation and freedom that first emerges in Thomas More's Utopia; it also stands as a feature of what is in Bloch's mind a fundamental contradiction of the relationship between ideology and utopia. Thus the impetus to expand throughout the world, an impetus that had a formative impact on Australia, is characterised by the apparently contradictory impulses of exploitation and a civilising mission.
Within a century after the publication of More's Utopia the utopian genre had taken permanent root. Utopia emerged at a transitional period in European history, a period in which Utopia was coexistent with Machiavelli's The Prince, written in 1513, and Luther's ‘Ninety-Five Theses’, proclaimed in 1517.
Mia Couto's novels and stories, with their exuberant language and startling illumination of hidden dimensions of reality, present us with a question: ‘What is an African writer?’ The conclusive answer given by Couto is a writer who writes not just in and about Africa, who inhabits its conflicts and displacements, but who captures the spirit of the densely layered and multiplicitous reality of African life. Criticism of Mia Couto's writing seems to have revolved around two poles: the question of language, specifically whether his linguistic strategies represent the kind of transformation of the colonial language that we find in Anglophone writing, and the issue of magical realism. But it is clear that we cannot understand his work without also seeing the ways in which his imaginative world is deployed in extending the concept of Mozambican nationhood and the artist's role in reimagining the nation.
The fascination with Couto's language has been a particular obsession of Portuguese critics for whom the embattled history of Portuguese in Africa has been a continuing interest and for whom the importation of South American concepts of magical realism has seemed appropriate. For João Cosme, this concentration on language ‘constitutes a remarkable flaw since the richness of Couto's work reaches far beyond superficial language games’ (2007, 446). On the other hand, his innovative language has been condemned for portraying Mozambicans ‘speaking bad Portuguese’ (Cosme 2007, 437). Couto has always regarded himself as a short-story writer, claiming that the short story was not an inferior genre (to the novel) and, furthermore, it was the genre that best translated the orality of traditional African stories into the written word (Cosme 2007, 439). To Couto, ‘storytelling in Africa, or anywhere in the world, can help us accept, without fear, the full complexity of a world that is simultaneously based in laws and chaos, compliance and disobedience’ (Esposito 2013). Reading the episodic nature of novels such as Sleepwalking Land (2006) and Under the Frangipani (2001), we can see that his mastery of the short story extends into the novels in a way that gives them their particular character. But such stories also have a deeper function.
We cannot approach the question of an Africa-centred epistemology without addressing the trauma of colonialism. Whether this period caused irreparable damage to African societies, or whether African subjects successfully appropriated and transformed the technologies and discourses of imperial powers (including the colonizing language), or both, frames a continuing argument in postcolonial studies. The example of literature is instructive, because the adaptation of a global language allowed writers to represent their own reality to a world audience. In turn, literary appropriations are a model for the transformed and transformative modernity created by Africans. Afromodernity is one model in which the past is folded into the present in much the same way that contemporary writers transform literary discourse. Traditional knowledges either inform or exist alongside the modern, in ways that demonstrate the irrepressible adaptability and transformative agency of cultures. Far from a sense of fracture or brokenness, which we might assume to be the effect of colonialism (Eze 2008: 25), the key to an Afro-modernity is a multiple or layered sense of time. Furthermore, the African novel has been critical in producing ‘knowledge’ of such layered time, and in the process disrupting our sense of what constitutes ‘knowing’ and what constitutes ‘time’.
The issue of knowing time is obviously tied up with the production of history. ‘What does the thought of history in fiction tell us about suspended histories of peoples, traditions, societies and cultures in modern Africa, including Africa’s experiences of its own pasts?’ (Eze 2008: 28). The novel provides a path to an answer by distinguishing between history as a source of facts, and history as a source of wisdom about the meaning of time. The question of ‘knowing time’, therefore, lies at the centre of a far more familiar question: ‘How can the novel provide a different way of knowing tradition, a broken time, to appear at another level of consciousness as intense, if suspended history?’ (Eze 2008: 34).
We might add: how can the novel provide a transformed knowledge of historical time without objectifying the past as the past? The problem with history-making is not merely its unavoidable objectification of the past, but the unavoidability of History – the master discourse of European imperialism.
Everybody agrees that Dambudzo Marechera is a unique, and uniquely difficult, figure in African literature. There is possibly no writer whose fiction is more enmeshed with his life, no writer whose life seems more like a picaresque novel. Commentary on his work has been sometimes almost obsessed with the ways in which his life intervenes in his writing, no doubt helped by the dominance of the narrating ‘I.’ In passages on language, nation, literary identity, sexuality and many others, the writer seems to be speaking from his own life. In many places the narrator's commentary is directly autobiographical. Yet, as Flora Veit-Wild says, ‘Marechera was constantly re-inventing his biography,’ re-inventions that formed an apparently indispensable pre-text but no less fictional than his writing. Marechera's life was as rebellious as his work and this has inevitably acted as a magnet to commentary on the writing, ‘a unique expression of self and postcolonial identity in contemporary African literature.’ A true ex-centric individual, he eschewed nation, language, education, career. He turned his back on the life of an educated African writer, and while offering blistering attacks on the Rhodesian regime he offered equally scathing critique of the newly independent national administration of Zimbabwe.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.