Sherbro Son

Chinua Achebe: On Criticism


Currently, I’m reading a series of lectures by Chinua Achebe called Home and Exile.  The first lecture, “My Home Under Imperial Fire,” is about the legacy of colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on “African Literature.”  He shows how certain texts, which are often held up as shining examples of books about Africa, are mired by an ugly legacy.  He goes into an anecdote about his experience with a book called Mister Johnson’s Countrymen which becomes an awakening for him on the power of writing and stories (and the perspective from which they’re told.)

What resonates with me is the final statement of the lecture that shows a young man at a crossroads of identity, disappointed with the way himself and his people are depicted in English language colonial literature, and instead of attacking the entire system he acknowledges his part in that system and opens himself to the exact same kind of scruitiny that he is giving the authors from England.  He concludes with:

[This] may well leave my reader with the impression that [my] joy in reading has been battered and bruised by the recognition that cruelty can be paraded in many disguises through the avenues of literature by all manner of dubious practitioners.  I am glad to reassure everyone about my abiding faith in the profession of literature, and further to suggest that the kind of careful and even cautious mode of reading that I am impliedly advocating does not signal despair; rather it is the strongest vote of confidence we can give our writers and their work-to put them on notice that we will go to their offering for wholesome pleasure and insight, and not for a rehash of old stereotypes which gained currency long ago in the slave trade and poisoned, perhaps forever, the wellsprings of our common humanity.  As a writer, I am all for such challenge and such expectations from my readers.

Something to think on as a writer, artist, or musician.  This invitation to criticism gives me comfort.

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