The Novel in Africa
John Maxwell Cottage is a South African essayist, novelist , linguist, literary critic and translator. He has also won the Noble prize in the Literature category. The following lecture ‘The Novel in Africa’ was given by him in the University of California in Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities. This lecture is a affectionately creation offs.
M -Cottage, which upholds his belief that, “… A true sense in which writing is dialog; a matter of awakening counter voices in oneself and embarking on speech with them. The two central characters in this lecture, namely Elizabeth Costello a middle aged Australian lady novelist and Emmanuel Egged are therefore the two counter voices in this piece which is both a lecture as well as a segment in a short Story, with a surprise element at the end Of it. Elisabeth gives a speech on how the novel has no future while Emmanuel gives a very passionate speech on how novel in Africa is a part of not the written tradition but of the oral tradition.These two topics themselves show how different these two people are in their thoughts and beliefs, and how differently they view the world around them.
They both meet each other on board the S. S Northern Lights, which was going to sail from Christopher to Ross Ice Shelf and then to Cape town. They both are there on the ship as a part of the education and entertainment staff. Elizabeth gives a speech which has its title as ‘The Future of the Novel’.She begins her lecture by trying to shock her listeners by telling them that she is really not interested in the future of the novel as it does not exist as “The future is, after all, only a structure of hopes and expectations. It resides in the mind , it has no reality. ” For her past is way more concrete than the future as the mankind has been able to weave together all the individual appending into one concrete story and presented it to itself.
Whereas as the future is concerned it is still something that has not happened and in sketching the past one has finished all its reserve of energy. So according to her the traditional novel is a way of trying to understand and explore the power of the past to create a present and then from there to create a future of an individual or individual. However even while she is giving this lecture she feels she is no longer convinced by what she is saying and this lack on conviction has seeped into her speech to.However she continues to give the speech as it is something hat needs to be done. Emmanuel then begins his speech The Novel in Africa’ by pointing out to three things. Firstly that alphabet was introduced in the continent by the westerners and that writing in Africa is a very recent happening. Secondly that the novel reading is not a typical African time pass and that due to being a third world country and poverty stricken Africans can not afford to buy a novel and read it because it gives nothing concrete in return to the African.
Emmanuel then goes on to highlight the problem of the writers in Africa, and how hard it is for an African novelist to remain true to is or her own essence when there are hardly any publishers in the country to support him in his endeavor to write something worthwhile and when he has to go to aboard to earn a living where people come with their own idea of what Africa and how one should write or portray it in literature.Thus an African writer has to bow down and concede to whatever is expected of him, thus the situation is ‘ He teaches in colleges in America, telling the youth of America about the exotic subject on which he is an expert in the same way that an elephant is an expert on elephants-.. ‘. We are then shown how African writers are truly different from the others by Emmanuel when he quotes the reply of Sheikh Humidor, where he says a very important line that, ‘ A French or English writer has thousands of years of written tradition[behind the contrary] are heirs to an oral tradition. According to Emmanuel African writers are different because they have not lost touch from their bodies. They are able to beautifully replicate their sensual experience which is because a true African novel is truly an oral novel.
For Emmanuel the African novel is the ‘critique’ of the western novel. Or we can say that it is oral versus the written novel.When a woman asks him about Amos Outlaw, and why was he not respected by his fellow Nigerian and was he the correct example of an oral writer that Emmanuel had in his mind? He says yes and the reason why Amos was not respected by his fellow Nigerian was because they did not want the world to think that they were illiterates who did not know how to write English because Outlaw being true to the oral tradition, wrote the way he spoke and felt and thus his writings were packaged of to the west as something exotic.He ends his speech with preference to Ben Okra asking people to read him as he ‘negotiates the contradictions of being himself’ for his readers, and ends his talk before it became to heavy. When Emmanuel is suggested by Shirley to compose straight on to tape, he replies that it is a good idea but it will not solve the problem of the whole of Africa, as the Africans wanted a more living presence than just sitting in front of a tape and listening to a long monotonous verbal rendering.Elisabeth says then there will never be any solution to the problem of novel in Africa if the Africans wanted a ‘living voice’. The main problem aced by them was because the African writers unlike the French and the English were not acting as writers but were actually behaving like interpreters of their exotic cultures and that the root of their problem was ‘ Having to perform your Fricassees at the same time as you write.
And that the Africans should learn from the Australians who faced a similar problems but got out of it when they considered themselves to be mature enough to handle and market their own writer ship. Elisabeth personal opinion is that people like Emmanuel and his friends will go on ranting about the African evolve, which according to her is a very muddled business, as long as it gets them a living and that Emmanuel is extinctions himself only to make money and nothing else and to enjoy the additional perks which come with the territory.So according to Elisabeth, Emmanuel is no longer a fellow writer but a fellow entertainer. Thus we see how J. M. Cottage successfully shows the future of the novel in Africa and its problems with the two conflicting characters of Elizabeth Costello and Emmanuel Egged and as according to a critic “typically produces irritation or discomfort” in a reader.