an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 4, April 2007, ISSN 1552-5112

 

 

 

The Author Never Dies: Roland Barthes and the Postcolonial Project

 

Senayon Olaoluwa

 

 

 

Given the manner of his theoretical musing, Roland Barthes as an intellectual figure, in life, was thoroughly steeped in controversies[1], which is why in death, it no surprise that the mention of his name in critical circles is no less subtended in contestations. Perhaps the intimation of the knowledge of his ideological eclecticism─ in the very nature of its mercurial extremism and contradiction─ accounts for this. One of such instances of controversies is found in his declaration on the place of the author in a literary text.[2] This he brought to the fore in his 1968 essay titled “The Death of the Author”. For so many reasons, the essay remains one of the most sensational in the history of literary theorizing. Expectedly, his combination of a wide range of fields─ from psychoanalysis to linguistics to structuralism to deconstruction and Marxism (Graham Allen 2005: 72) ─ exerts a great deal of influence on the position he takes in the essay. In a quick and conscious seriatim, Barthes interrogates the figure of the author in a literary text and simultaneously inaugurates and executes the process of demonstrating his irrelevance to the text. The process of the author’s “death” begins when Barthes symbolically takes off on a note of analogy of castration, alluding to a story by Balzac. Subsequently, the discourse progresses with an ominous texture as the author passes through dreadful stages of “desacrilization” to “death” and finally “burial”. What follows on the part of Barthes is an indulgent flaunting of his felicity over the successful performance of an undertaker’s task which, following the burial of the author engenders a substitutional incarnation of a “scriptor” who however bears no pedigree of the author’s “expression”, but that of passive “scripting” only.

 

The above, which appears to be a smooth load-down of the essay, serves in a precursory sense to necessitate a consideration of the fundamental questions that are induced in this act of the murder and burial of the author. The issue at stake may not however be so much that of the act of the murder of the author and his replacement with a passive scriptor, as that of the implications of the act itself. To get to the root of this is to offer to examine the rationale behind the act as put forward by Barthes in the essay. In considering the rationale, key issues call for examination. For instance, the need to eliminate the figure of the author is informed by the perception that “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin… [It] is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost” (p.1).[3] But in an attempt to liberate the text from the perceived tyranny of the author he alludes to the fact that in ethnographic societies it takes a “mediator” or “shaman”, or “relator” to perform to the people and he dare not ascribe the genius to himself. The contradiction that is evident in such an alibi lies in the fact that even the most ethnographic of societies relates to the ingenuity of the mediator only through the knowledge of common origin of identity which no doubt binds them all. This is the more so if we take as crucially instructive the fact that origin is central to the Bakhtinian notion of social evaluation in which case historical actuality is the credible ground for the production of the unity between individual utterance and the  attainment of fullness of meaning (Simon Dentith 1995:148).      

 

Besides, by deposing that there should be a severance of the author’s antecedent relationship to the text, not only is meaning compromised in the view that “expression” must be replaced by “inscription”, there is also by implication a call for an erasure of “history”. This makes it possible for the act of writing a literary text to flow ceaselessly without any attachment of meaning. But more importantly, writing becomes an end in itself and an automatic one, for that matter. This is why the implication of the anti-language activism, which harks back to the vernacular of New Criticism and of which Barthes himself was centrally located (Philip Thody 1977: 93), remains that literature no longer has the capacity to transmit ideas, nor can it be trusted to bear meaning. For with the death of the author has also come the death of meaning.

 

The implication needs to be taken further for the purpose of the congeries of issues specifically raised by Barthes: “The fact is that …writing can no longer designate an operation of recording, notation, representation, depiction…” (p.2). It will suffice to focus on the centrality of “representation” to the concepts outlined. There is in the profession an outright rejection of a mimetic aesthetics. This must have been done in the spirit of the necessary conferment of free reading on the readership that is at liberty to consider what it reads as mere “performative act” without any other content [other] “than  the act  by which it is uttered”(p.2). The approach in its pervasiveness and as can be seen in the other works of Barthes, is what Roland Champagne (1984:33) refers to as “a consumer-oriented method of reading” that in the context of Barthes rhetoric is antithetical to mimesis. With Barthes, therefore, realism comes under critical scrutiny since what the writer claims to write is nothing but “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centre of culture” (p.2). A sentiment of this kind accuses the text of a monotonous predictability. But more importantly, as Allen (73-74) argues further, by turning the text into a medium of “game” and game alone, the poststructuralist signification of deferred meaning sanctions a situation whereby the Barthesian proposition is a vignette of an endless “intertextual constructs” capable of generating anything  but meaning. In the end we are left with signifiers as an end in themselves.

 

Also related to the above is Barthes’ call for an interdiction of “passions, humours, feelings, and impressions (p.3)[4] , a mission expected of the incarnated scriptor in order that the mediatory functions of the critic can also be prevented. This way, it will be impossible to link any of the quadriga of “society, history, psyche and liberty” to the text.

 

What is paramount at this juncture and from the foregoing is the need to explore first, and introspectively, the grand contradiction that lies at the core of Barthes’ argument. A singular but thoroughly convincing illustration of this contradiction will be in order. Despite the frantic effort in his autobiography to dissuade readers from establishing a filiation between himself and the text, the book which he simply calls R.B. betrays all the contradictions that his theorizing on the death of the author conjures up. Specifically, in the autobiographical piece, he writes “I do not say: ‘I am going to describe myself’ but : ‘I am writing a text, and I call it R.B.’ I shift from imitation and entrust myself to nomination.” (Roland Barthes p.56). He goes further to deny the possibility of an actual self- referent in relation to the text. Although Paul Jay (1984: 175) tries to argue passionately in demonstration of Barthes’ success at preventing a connection between the autobiographical text and himself through  an allusion to Barthes’ efforts to “halt”, “deflect” and “divide” the subject  from its destiny”, this is far from convincing. The defence flies in the face of the reality that the autobiographical piece in question betrays all the elements of origin, passion, representation, history and other key concepts that define such artistic work and shows without efforts how the man, Roland Barthes, is central to whatever subject (or do we say “scripting?”) is created in it. What he terms “scription” may not be intended to bear meaning or origin as the case may be, but nobody is in doubt as to the volume it expresses especially when one considers the facilitatory role of the collage of his family members’ pictures and the supportive words written against them. This is despite the marginal significance he attempts to assign to photography in R.B.: that the pictures make an impression contrary to the author’s view is not in doubt (see R.B. p.73). If therefore there is any pragmatism to the autobiography with respect to the essay, it is only in the area of denial of reality. What is more, there is hardly a way any reader can be dissuaded from establishing a link between the “fragments” and the author. It is for this reason Mary Wiseman (1989:108) concludes that by so doing “Barthes plays havoc with the traditionally conceived relation between authors and self-conscious writings of the self by forging the question characteristic of such writings, namely ‘Who am I?’ and raising instead the pragmatically self-contradictory question   ‘Am I’”.

 

In a manner not unconnected with value judgment, Steve Unger and Betty McGraw (1989:xix) declare that Barthes’ intellectual musing which went against the grain of his time and as evident in the collection of his theoretical works could be said to be significantly catalytic to the evolution of cultural studies. However, one cannot but be critical of this claim especially as it has to do with the postcolonial world of Asia and Africa. Given the manner of its recommendation, “The Death of the Author”, if pursued with the logic of its rhetoric by the Third World, would only enhance an articulation of the subaltern status to which colonialism committed the Third World. But as Gayatri Spivak (1994: 132) reminds us, if colonial texts propagated justification of the sentiments of colonialism, it would just be logical in the imagining of the colonized, say India, to express its own counter-sentiments. For the Third World to have allowed itself drifted by such pontification as Barthes’ would have meant the production of literature without the values of meaning. It also means man and meaning would have failed to be at its centre; and if meaning would be ascribed only to the pre-1968 literatures, how disproportionate would have been the availability of meaning between literature of the West and Afro-Asian postcolonial literature! Beyond this, as Titi Adepitan (2000:177) argues, the question of “the mystique which African and Third World literature and writers in general hold for their contemporaries in the West is the enduring salience of their concerns and force of their moral authority.” Read against the background of Barthes’ argument, one realizes that if literature no longer serves the purpose of meaningful social relevance in the West because of the level of its social configuration, such supernumerary status cannot be ascribed to it in the postcolonial/ Third World. This is because of the very fact of the contrast that the configuration of the Third World presents. Therefore, origin, which implies history, memory, representation, passion as well as society─ all features denied by Barthes─ must play an important role in the identification of the Third World literature. The import of this is simply that the author from this part of the world must remain alive to convey meaning to his people. It also explains why for those readers out there, Spivak, for instance goes to the length of instructing on “How to read a ‘culturally different’ book”. Needless to say, writers of the Third World must be seen as committed to an undeclared solidary obligation to reflect the identity and meaning of their postcolonial world in a manner that indicates their stake in the world; a compromise will otherwise defrock them of this status.

 

One might turn squarely to Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Okri’s  The Famished Road for further illustration of the significance authors still hold in the expression and understanding of the world they are not just bound to signify,  but more importantly, express. Although both writers in the works under study have adopted the magical-realist mode, their commitment to the articulation of their respective historical consciousness as animated through the representation of the socio-political milieus of their representation cannot be lost on readers. In other words, even if the readers must be guided by the monastic injunction of Barthes and regard the narratives as a configuration of “games”, there is still for them, even at a subliminal level, an awareness to the contrary as the works do more than merely disport the them. The magical-realist narrative mode remains indeed shrouded in controversies; it betrays without being out of character, a radical eccentricism (Lois Zamora and Wendy Faris 2000:3), which to find some measure of indulgence, has been explained away as its unique hallmark of defocalization (Wendy Faris 2004: 43-44). More explicitly, there is an apparent tendency to remain mesmerized by the indeterminacy of the various angles─ in their blend of both realistic and fantastically animist moulds─ from which events are presented in this form of narrative. Besides, on account of its evolution, it is a radical narrative paradigm which stands to interrogate and reject at the same time the tyranny of unipolar realism of the West. But when considered against the backdrop of Barthes’ “The Death of the Author”, it becomes doubly dissident in the way it is adopted to apprehend the postcolonial world. However, despite its apparent disjunctiveness and fragmentation─ actuated by a continually distended interaction between the real and the fantastic─ which ordinarily ought to bear semblance to Barthes’ paradigm, the departure from such narratological sanction is evident in the concern for an ultimate reflection on the realities of the times. This is why it will be more appropriate to argue that Barthes has been more instrumental to the consolidation of a criticism which argues for and draws currency from a modernist notion whose advocacy is that of neutrality and autonomy of literature. Yet the appeal of such a position keels into entropy within the ambience of postcolonialism.

 

This view is further bolstered by the fact that in the age of the celebration of the growing influence of narratology on literary discourse, the fundamental questions of postcolonialism are not compromised. Indeed, even when using such modes as structuralism, postclassicism, postmodernism and psychoanalysis, the thought  of postcolonialism stands out in the way the narratological cadences are regulated by the need to be crucially sensitive to the “matters commonly, if not uncontroversially,  associated with the postcolonial” (Gerald Prince 2005: 373). In other words, whether in relation to the “rise and fall” of narratology,  or its “rise and rise” ( Monika Fludernik 2005: 36-37), postcolonial literary discourse is able to hold its own in the way it remains abiding and unambiguous in the concern for the depiction of its own world , and with respect to the outside world. It is the more so with regard to the relations of power and the aftermath of colonial experience. And taking the postcolonial in this context as centrally implicated in the typology of the Third World, Geeta Karpur (2004:58) declaims:

 

…we need to reiterate that we in the Third World continue to commit ourselves to the immanent aspect of our complex cultures. We persist in trusting the material status of meaning manifest, … as a “structure of feeling”. We commit ourselves to relating forms of art with social formations, for this kind of a grounded relay of cultural history will help the process of survival within the new imperialism that the late capitalist/ postmodernist world sets up.

 

On this note of “feeling”, one begins with Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Looking first at the narrative pattern which to Barthes should be the only and exclusive concern of criticism, it is not in doubt that Midnight’s Children is famous for sporadic digressions which complicate narration as apparently unrelated  issues and events come into  perspective. However for all its magical appeal, Aijaz Ahmad (1992:126) is quick to instruct that the aesthetic import of this can only be adequately gleaned when one acknowledges Rushdie’s indebtedness to “a generally non-Western, specifically Indian form of non-mimetic narration, derived, finally, from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and exemplifying, … the characteristically Indian penchant for obsessive digressions and the telling of an interminable tale”. It is therefore of the essence to argue that Rushdie may have conceived the idea of the text in England, the overwhelming  narrative mode remains Indian and by dint of its adoption, one cannot but admit of the filiation between the author and his society.

 

The question of social filiation between the author and history as well as all other similar issues Barthes assays to deny becomes convincing as one encounters the unambiguous socio-political consciousness which defines the text from the opening page to the end. That is, it is by no stroke of serendipity that the novel opens on a note of the birth of Saleem Sinai, the protagonist whose birth also coincides with the political independence of India:

 

I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out; at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. (Midnight’ Children, 11)[5]

 

As argued by  Slevon, it is just in character that the “birth of Saleem should coincide with the independence of India in order that there can be a foreshortening of  history so that the time scheme metaphorically contains the long process of colonization and its aftermath” (Stephen Hart and Wen-Chin Ouyang 2005:8).  In a recent interview, Rushdie himself admits that the very nature of the opening of the novel placed him on an enhancement springboard from which he was able to explore the entire Indian socio-cultural, economic and political milieu.[6] This explains why despite the “foreshortening”, the narrative oscillates between the colonial and postcolonial configuration of India.  The celebration of the independence and the pomp and pageantry that goes with it would not, for instance, prevent the criticism of colonialism in many ways. One example of such is the stupefying tenacity of the British to political domination which eventually resulted in nationalist confrontation that witnessed the massacre of many Indians (pp. 36-37). But more elaborate is the criticism of colonial mapping. Specifically, what Richard Helgerson (2001:241) refers to as the folly of mapping comes to the fore in the very conception of the present day India whose artificiality does much to interrogate the morality of colonial mapping. For here is “a nation which had never previously existed [yet] was about to win freedom” (p.111). It is for this fact of the artificiality through which diverse ethnic entities have been cobbled together that Saleem foresees a continual regenerative process, “which can only be provided by rituals of blood” (p.111). The various incidents of ethnic crisis since independence justify this vatic conclusion. Besides, the author’s demonstration of his awareness of the sub-continent’s history is brought to bear further on another aspect of colonial mapping which capitalized on religious schisms to ensure a partition between India and Pakistan.[7] It is therefore significant that Saleem severally in the novel keeps on referring to this “still-fictional country [like India] of Pakistan (p.75), or the preposterousness of the 1947 press conference at which the partition of India was announced (p.91).

 

The dissident awareness against this partition explains to a large extent why events occur freely across borders from India to Pakistan in the novel. It also accounts for why one must concede to seeing beyond the magical provenance of Saleem which enables him to claim and be claimed by a long list of fathers─ from Ahmed Sinai to Hanif Aziz, to Shapsticker Sahib, to General Zulfikar to William Methwold and Picture Singh─ what he calls “my dual lust for fathers and saving-the-country” (p.411). There is indeed a sense in which this apparently curious bio-data evokes more pragmatically the peculiar memory of India as a nation that fell victim of many colonial masters long before the last phase which is contextualized in Britain’s take-over from Portugal (p.92).[8]

 

With this kind of long history of diverse and coerced colonial occupation coupled with internal religious scuttles, it is just logical that the foundations upon which the newly independent nation will be laid are fundamentally flawed. As postcolonial events unfold, it is understandable why the séance of 1001 children born within the first hour of India’s independence will be that passionately interested in the developments of things in the land.[9] And having Saleem whose magically enormous nose serves as transmitter to the other midnight’s children in their series of conferences, there is no doubt that there is an investiture of legitimacy on their activities in view of the fact that , like Saleem, here is a generation “mysteriously handcuffed to history” (p.11). Through their magical means their commitment attains the status of an alternative view on Indian polity in order to highlight the bane of postcolonial development. As an alternative to the ruling Congress Party headed by the widow, Indira Gandhi, there is a sense in which the narrator presents the government as maintaining a suffocating hold on the political life of India (Faris 139). The evidence of such tendency is seen in the flawed prioritizing of social and economic needs and the conception of urbanization, which results in an excessive inflow of resources from other parts of the country into Bombay. However, there is little or nothing to suggest that the city deserves such attention as it lacks the productive will of an urban centre. It should then follow naturally that Saleem’s gluttonous consumption of food “without nictating” is a homeopathic experience against which the performance of Bombay city is measured:

 

What I see: the city, basking like a bloodsucker lizard in the summer heat. Our Bombay: it looks like a hand but it’s really a mouth, always open, always hungry, swallowing food and talent from everywhere else in India. A glamorous leech, producing nothing… (p.125)

 

Any wonder then that as the novel progresses, it is not hard to see how the undue attention given to Bombay has resulted in congeries of gentrifications as poverty reeks through many parts of her suburb. So Saleem tells us about “tattered men and boys ... Clusters of children abandoned to begging and premature labour”(p.210).  A similar instance of this is seen in New Delhi where parents cripple their children to make a fortune of them from alms collection (p.126). Furthermore, Saleem’s vantage position as a personality with adaptive organs for transmitting information to the other midnight’s children conduces to revealing the extent of post-colonial political and administrative bungling. This is seen in the Prime Minister’s blind reliance on a supernumerary service of astrologers in the determination and running of state affairs. Indeed, the revelation serves to show the impropriety of such dated application of superstition in an industrial age, which should be more driven by contemporary logic and technology than any other thing. Most importantly, all this goes to show Saleem’s place as one that “signifies a…quotidian and terrifying bloating and fragmentation of identity” (Stephanie Jones 2005: 260).

 

As observed earlier, because Saleem sees the partition of India as a mere act of artificiality, it is logical that events in Pakistan should also command our attention. One of such is the complicity of religion in the overthrow of democracy as represented in the character of General Zulfikar and other military officers. Their vulnerability to what Leo Tolstoy calls the peculiar capacity of the service to corrupt men and invest them with unlimited power ( Udenta Udenta 1996: 101) is seen in the various  ways in which the name of Allah in the Muslim nation of Pakistan is used in suppressing progress and amassing wealth for themselves. So, on charges of “election-rigging and black-money”, the Commander-in-Chief at a meeting in Zulfikar’s apartment demonizes the civil political class and ultimately declares, “Tonight, therefore… I am assuming control of the State” (p.280). The eventual discovery of the scandalous wealth of Zulfikar through his proxy smuggling is a major inversion and mockery of the whole shibboleth about military revolution in Pakistan. This is worsened by the vulnerability of the various religions in the sub-continent to manipulation of war by the political class. Through this, many child-soldiers are drafted into the Indo-Pakistani War for which the only reason is the need to “give those Hindus [of India] something to worry about” (277), and the need for Indians themselves to take up the challenge of upholding their Hindi faith in the martial way. At the end of the day all this leaves one with a thorough interrogation of the desirability of religion in view of the fact that in each of the instances of the wars prosecuted, and beyond the alibi of defending individual sovereignty, there is an undertow of oppression of the masses through the whipping of religious sentiments to instigate them to wars.

 

Regarding Midnight’s Children, therefore, although the narrative pattern may have involved much of “panting, ranting and wrangling on” in space and time (Steve Connor 2005: 64) and Saleem may be “ the most unreliable of narrators” (Jones 260) because of the adoption of the magical-realist mode, the novel nonetheless is unambiguous about the primacy of history. The establishment of this fact demands that the filiation of the author to his Indian history is not denied.

 

Like Midnight’s Children, The Famished Road gets across through a child-narrator called Azaro. His persuasive magical disposition is not in doubt. One is continually impugned by his various accounts of events and incidents which testify about the overlap and interplay of the natural and the supernatural worlds. The first instance of this is the delicate but consistent weaving of a long narrative around the metaphor of a mysterious road that assumes significance in the various possibilities of interpretation the text has to offer. This is why: “In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and branched out to the world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry” (p.3). Just as the road is stunning in the context of the narrative, so are the various personages who, we are told, metamorphose from humans to spirits and vice versa like in the case of Azaro himself, his father, Dad and Madame Koto, to mention but three (see pp.199 and 139). Azaro is a classic expose of this mercurial corporeality:

 

When I was very young I had a clear memory of life stretching to other lives…Sometimes I seemed to be living several lives at once (7)  One night I was standing in the street with Mum when a voice said:  ‘Cross over’. (9)

 

Apart from the overwhelming magical inclination of the narrative, its adoption of the episodic format appears to be an attempt to occlude the possibility of connection between events as related in the work. However, Ato Quayson (1997: 131) is quick to instruct that:

 

Despite The Famished Road’s a-historical narrative structure, the events are supposed to take place within a specific historical setting, indeterminable though it often seems to be. It is that of Nigeria at the verge of independence. The vague references to political activity are all supposed to derive from that period.

 

We are therefore constrained to recognize the historical filiation between the narrative events and the Nigerian context of their suggestiveness. What is more, the authorial interpolation superimposed upon by Azaro’s narrative voice remains sympathetic to this view as “Our country is an abiku country.[10] Like the spirit-child, it keeps coming and going (p.478).

 

So the narrative, emerging from the initial cloak of its magical spoof, places us face-to-face and squarely with the realities of a nation encumbered with the burden of becoming. This is amidst a plethora of socio-political challenges which impinges ultimately on the well-being of individuals and other forms of collective institutions. The earliest instance of this is seen in the night-fire in which an entire compound is caught. It is significant to note that this incident in which Azaro’s parents are involved as victims of infernal dispossession marks the beginning of change in fortunes: “On that night our lives changed” (p.9).Curiously, there is a concurrent incident of riot in the same night. The beating that Azaro and his family receive in the hands of the police is an unmistakable indictment of the insensitivity of the state to the plight of the poor who appear perennially doomed to tumble from one form of calamity to another. The extent of state brutality is thus exposed as “Three policemen…fell on us and flogged us with whips and cracked our skulls with batons” (p.10).

 

The instance of violence is so prevalent that even when it is enmeshed in the magical, the import does not fail to register. When for instance, Azaro, the extraordinary choice for the depiction of a nation thoroughly riddled with both physical and spiritual degeneration (Eldred Jones 1998:3), goes into one of his ethereal and nocturnal “border crossings” from the realm of reality to the metaphysical, the interruption which ensues from the physical is significant. There is no gain saying the fact that there is a correlation between the explosion that occurs all through Azaro’s body while attempting to master the art of escaping through the roof at night and the banging that comes on the door of their house. This time it is the photographer who has been caught in the crossfire of street fighting:

 

And when I gained myself I heard, for a moment, the rats chewing, my parents snoring, and someone banging relentlessly on the door…The photographer …was bleeding from the head. He sat on my mat, blood dripping down his forehead, past his eyes, and soaking his yellow shirt. (p.188-89)[11]

 

Beside the predicament of an individual like the photographer, a whole community can be implicated in the dispossessing powers of violence as seen in the literal and collective dream of the people.  Additionally, the said violence goes hand in hand with poverty. This manifests in different shades and forms in the novel. The spill-over effect of poverty can be seen in the ubiquitous presence of mad men whose description by Azaro conjures up images of extreme penury and neglect. Also related to this role is the overwhelming presence of the disabled, the significance of which goes beyond their actual presence to mean a reminder of the deformity done to contemporary Africa through its colonial antecedent (Quayson 2002:228).

 

But, it is to Azaro’s family one must turn to be able to assess more profoundly the impact of poverty on the society. It will suffice to concentrate on Azaro’s Dad who is sometimes referred to as the giant, or titan because of his impressive physical build and strong will against all forms of dispossession and oppression.  However, his strong will is painfully undermined by the forces opposed to his aspirations. At one moment these forces are symbolically depicted as a physical load which weighs him down:

 

He went on staggering, balancing the weights and slipping and miraculously regaining his footage, grunting and sweating, uttering the words ‘MORE! MORE!’ under his breath, and when he went past me I noticed that his eyes were almost normal under the crush, and his muscles tremble uncontrollably, and he groaned so deeply, and he gave off such an unhealthy smell of sweat and oppression that I suddenly burst into tears. (p.146)

 

Such suffering of an individual which is analogous to the suffering of the nation naturally induces curiosity as to its causes. This is where comes in the indictment of the political class that musters all its resources, contrary to expectations, towards the consolidation of poverty. To this class, leveraging the condition of the masses is the last thing on its agenda. It explains why the Party of the Rich, symbolic of the leadership, through collusion with the land lord of the compound, attempts poisoning the masses through its distribution of free milk in hope of election favours from the poor (p.132). The oppressive political class finds it easy to operate because of the readiness of some members of the suffering masses to call it quits once there is an opportunity to get to the top through exceptionable means. The desperation to escape the pains of poverty through any means thus becomes the primary motivation for the compromise of Madam Koto as she joins the Rich People’s Party and becomes a byword for oppression. Her magical powers are used in a stunning way to increase business turn-over; and because of the questionable way this is achieved, she becomes an embodiment of a corruptible and corrupting political and ruling class. The capacity of this class to set the nation adrift is a consistent source of worry in the novel. This is why despite the contemplation concerning the prospects of “economic boom” towards the end of the novel, Azaro still has a premonition about an “orgiastic squander” that will ultimately result in “the exile to strange lands” (p.492).

 

The overwhelming negative influence and triumph of this class is also known to have been exponentially enhanced by various forces of western capitalism. This way one finds collaboration between leaders of western allies and the internal political leadership where the masses are determined to bring about a positive change to their existence. Towards the close of the novel Azaro observes concerning the fight between the spirits: “The party of the Rich drew support from the spirits of the Western World” (p.495). This goes to justify the implication of the West in the increase in the impoverishment of Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general. It is for this that Wole Soyinka (2004:22) contends that while the misfortunes of African nations must be blamed on leadership, it does not preclude the indictment of western powers whose collusion with African leaders has further contributed to the travails of the people. It must be observed on a last note that such collusion has since gained ascendancy in many forms through the current sweeping trend of globalization.

 

Therefore, whether in the peculiar fascination with aesthetic/structural analysis, or the historical consciousness of a literary text in the postcolonial world, such tutelary efforts as Barthes’ which recommend an interdiction of the filiations of the author to history and all the other considerations its mention suggests, cannot hold water. The sheer zest with which Barthes pursues his conviction to a proselytizing conclusion may indeed have a fascinating appeal, but such attraction can only be for the nonce. This is why his emasculatory analogy and the eventual murder of the author can only bring about an excitement of fleeting values like the one that must have overwhelmed the Widow in Midnight’s Children after a perceived success at the ectomy of the surviving midnight’s children. The anticipated end to their “fearsome conspiracy” is a ruse after all, since with Major Shiva, “a new generation of children, begotten by midnight’s darkest child, was [and is still] being raised toward the future” (Midnight’s Children, p.425). The place of the author in literary analysis will thus remain inalienable just as history, even when suffussed in dreams, as seen in the two novels, will remain tied to literature. To aver to the contrary in the postcolonial world is to strip literature of its human pivot and by implication its signage of credibility, which is why authors will always remain alive and kicking. 

 

 

 

              

an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 4, April 2007, ISSN 1552-5112

 

 

 

 

           WORKS CITED

                                                

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Adepitan, Titi. “Ken Saro-Wiwa: Poetic Craft, Prophetic Calling”, Before I am Hanged: Ken Saro-Wiwa: Literature, Politics and Dissent. (Ed.) Onookome Okome. Trenton, N.J: Africa World Press, 2000, 175-183.

Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London and New York: Verso, 1992.

Allen, Graham. Intertexuality: The New Critical Idiom. London and New York: Routledge, (2000) 2005.

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author”, http://faculty.smu.edu/dfoster/theory/Barthes.htm

───  Roland Barthes. London: Papermac (1977), 1995

Champagne, Roland. Literary History in the Wake of Roland Barthes: Re-Defining the Myths of Reading. Birmingham and Alabama: Summa Publications, 1984.

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Notes



[1]  To buttress this, it is necessary to cite Philip Thody’ Roland Barthes:  A Conservative Estimate ( London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1977) as one critical text in which a considerable part revolves around the various instances of controversies that defined Barthes’ intellectual life. This straddled fields as wide as theatre and theatre practice to politics and to a severe clash of ideological rhetoric, the most memorable of which was his quarrel with Raymond Picard in the 1960s. If, however, there was anything that united all these instances of clashes, it was Barthes’ pontification to the end that it is “wrong to see words [whether on the stage from the mouth of an actor or actress, or from a writer on the pages of his book] as translating a meaning which is hidden so deep inside the text that every effort must be made to bring it into clear light of day” (p.56). The essential, if not exclusive concern, was the medium and not the content.

[2]  Even at this point, it must be admitted that his position remains one that finds no place for the author, not only of a literary text, but of any other text. According to Andrew Brown in Roland Barthes: The Figures of Writing (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992, p.50), this may as well be explained in terms of Barthes’ “drift from Utopia to utopia, from any topos (any geographical or rhetorical place) that is affirmed as eu-topos (a good place), to a loss of topoi (and thus the loss of such identities as meanings).”

[3]  All references are to “The Death of the Author” as sourced from http://faculty.smu.edu/dfoster/theory/Barthes.htm

[4]  Talking about passion and feeling as implied in the concept of emotion, Jacques Depelchin in a recent publication, Silences in African History: Between the Syndromes of Discovery and Abolition (Dar Es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, 2005), considers the facts of academic history as inadequate to address Africa’s postcolonial condition, which is why he argues that it is to literature we must turn in the assessment of the full import of colonialism. This is so because it is in postcolonial literature as against postcolonial historical scholarship that one finds a true re-invention and evocation of the emotional angle of postcolonial conditions so much so that it gets across as truly representative of history. Put differently, he is of the opinion that so long as such historical accounts are to the end of eliding the human and emotional dimension of the history of imperialism, especially with respect to the oppressed, then it is to literature we must turn to see the true picture of things (p.147-174). It goes without saying that postcolonial literatures will not fail to live up to this expectation.

[5]  All references are to Midnight’s Children (London: Jonathan Cape, 1982).

[6]  See Jack Livings, “Salman Rushdie: The Art of Fiction” (no. 186). The Paris Review, 174 (Summer 2005), pp. 107-143.

[7]  Regarding the divisive antecedent of religion in India during colonialism T. J. (1988:2) Nossiter recounts that “Under the British a nation was forged from peoples of different race, language, religion and tradition. By the late 1930s, however, it had become clear that when independence came there would be two successor nations, a Muslim ‘Pakistan’ and a secular, though predominantly Hindu, India.” (Marxist State Governments in India. London and New York, Pinter Publishers, 1988).

[8]  Nossiter goes further (pp.2-3) to cite Karl Marx’s assessment of Indian nation as one whose historical passivity is evident in the long list of colonial masters she once had: from Turkish rule to Persian to Russian  before the British.

[9]  By the very coincidence of Rushdie’s birth with India’s independence, it can be argued that Saleem is his alter-ego.

[10]  An abiku in the West African myth is a spirit child that dies before attaining adulthood because of an abnormal disposition towards inhabiting both the worlds of humans and spirits.

[11]  Explaining away the preponderance of violence in his works, Okri in an interview with Jane Wilkinson says: “… I’ve come to realize you can’t write about Nigeria truthfully without a sense of violence. To be serene is to lie. Relations in Nigeria are violent relations. It’s the way it is, for historical and all sorts of other reasons…” (p.81). See Talking with African Writers (London and Portsmouth: N.H., James Currey, Heinemann, 1992).