This work's thought-provoking subtitle indicates that the author is "making an African sense of Western gender discourses", many of which she finds irrelevant in the African context. Oyewumi explores how the masculinized and sexist ethos of the colonial machine eroded the presence of African women from such valorizing sites as politics, administration, religion, education, labour, and property ownership, especially of land. So thorough were the colonial masters in their self-assigned duty of sexist social engineering that African women were eventually forced into the conundrum of what is now referred to in African feminist scholarship as "double colonization".
They were dominated, exploited and inferiorized as Africans together with African men and then separately inferiorized and marginalized as African women. Like Sofola, Oyewumi takes great pains to analyze the logical outcome of the colonial devalorization of African womanhood. The crucial point to be retained is that colonialism's most disastrous legacy lies in the dismantling of the traditional African public sphere and the subsequent erosion of the cultural ethos that governed social relations within it.
In its place was constructed a new, "civilized" public sphere within which all the structures and institutions of power, agency and upward social mobility were located. African women were systematically excluded from this new site. It is true that there is no basis to hold that forms of patriarchal and sexist oppression did not exist in pre-colonial Africa. But it is equally true that nowhere in pre-colonial Africa did women constitute a "muted group"2 3, nor were they socially invisible.
Pre-colonial African cultures had complex and democratic socio-political structures evolved in which women were active participants as agents. For instance, in the case of the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria, social positioning was determined mostly by seniority and not by gender. The sexist categorization of some professions as feminine, hence inferior, was also largely unknown in several pre-colonial African societies where women and men alike indulged in such activities as farming and trading.
Consequently, it can be argued that in view of colonialism's complete and radical transformation of social, economic, political and cultural space in the entire African continent, no single African woman escaped its inferiorizing effects. Whether she lived in the city or in the countryside, she was subject to the same process of generalized sexist subservience by the colonial regime. A contrary argument might be made in some quarters, that more than thirty years after the attainment of formal independence by African countries, it is no longer safe to assume that the modern African woman is still subject to the effects of colonialism.
This argument can be countered with the obvious fact that colonialism withdrew from Africa only after putting in place structures that would replace it with a no less pernicious heir: neo-colonialism. It is even more pertinent to remember that all over Africa today, the subjectivity and the social position of every newly born girl is still being determined by the most sexist, subalternizing political 19 legacy of colonialism: the modern African state, appropriately defined by Oyewumi as "the state of patriarchy" African women, oppressed by tradition and religion in the pre-colonial setting before being muted and rendered invisible by the historical event of colonialism, will constitute the focus of reflection throughout this study.
Approaching the African female subject from the standpoint of her objectification by the combined, sometimes mutually reinforcing, effects of tradition and colonialism opens up very useful possibilities for a revisionist reading of the texts of francophone African women writers and the criticism they have so far generated. These writers, like their male counterparts, are mostly products of the ecole coloniale.
L'histoire de l'édition, une histoire à vocation
Their texts are therefore irrevocably marked by that experience. Furthermore, one of the strategies deployed by colonialism to inferiorize women was to exclude them from educational institutions. This explains why, for its first two decades, the production of modern African literatures was an exclusively male affair. The late coming to writing of African women in general, and francophone African women in particular, ensured that their writing, when it eventually emerged, was born into a subalternized ambiance.
La place des femmes dans l'art et la culture : le temps est venu de passer aux actes
In other words, by the time pioneer African women's texts like Flora Nwapa's Efuru and Therese Kuoh-Moukoury's Rencontres essentielles were published, there was already a dominant male tradition constructed by critics as the norm. The writings of male authors like J. Adeola James' review in African Literature Today of Idu, Flora Nwapa's second novel, and Ernest Emenyonu's rejoinder to this review in the same journal are also indicative of the existence of an early intra-male flow of usually condescending discourse on African women writers.
African women's writing was therefore born into a pre-determined position of subalternity. In view of the positioning and ontologizing, by male critics, of francophone African women's texts as somewhat "inferior" to the dominant male African texts, it is not surprising that the female characters in those works, usually alter egos of the authors, mostly occupy spaces of absence, silence or subordination.
We shall examine the textual trajectory of those characters, mindful at all times of the extra-textual significance of their her stories. Apart from Mudimbe's own work 2 5, the literature justifying the philosophical and historical foundation of that statement is vast and cannot possibly receive an exhaustive review here.
- Littérature birmane.
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However, it is worthwhile examining a relatively representative position on how that process of invention was effected. Reflecting on the broader situation of spaces invented by the West all over the world, Gayatri Spivak states: 21 I am thinking about the imperialist project which had to assume that the earth it territorialised was in fact previously uninscribed.
So then a world, on a simple level of cartography, inscribed what was presumed to be uninscribed. Now this worlding actually is also a texting, a textualising, a making into art, a making into an object to be understood26 emphasis added This statement sufficiently shows that Africa was not only invented by the West, it was also made into an object of epistemological inquiry, to be approached almost exclusively from the standpoint of Western-spawned discursive models. Consequently, modern African Studies as an academic field straddling disciplines like literature, political science, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and history is essentially an invention of the West.
In literature, apart from having to write in the master's language, pioneer African writers relied very heavily on Western models in terms of form and narrative structure. And the critics who emerged to elaborate a critical tradition for the emergent African literatures in the sixties were mostly Western critics using necessarily Eurocentric critical tools. By the time the first African thinkers arrived from their formative bases in Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and the Sorbonne to join what they condemned as the Western monologue on African discourse, they could only maneuver within already existing Western paradigms of African Studies.
The politics and the subterranean ideological tensions that characterized the transfer of the editorial and discursive control of Black Orpheus from the Western guard Beier, Moore, Theroux to an African guard 22 Abiola Irele, J. Clark in are good indications of how determined the emergent African literati were to wrest control of African discourse from Western participants. For instance, Clark published an essay, "The Legacy o f Caliban", in the very first issue o f Black Orpheus he co-edited with Irele, and he frowned at the idea o f Westerners setting the standards in African literature: For a variety of reasons the European sector has been more articulate and o f overwhelming influence upon African writers.
Jealously, it holds fast to its claim of being the original owner and therefore the natural custodian o f the European language the African is using in his works. These in turn belong to the tradition of literate literature which again goes back to Europe. The very machinery for publication and distribution of African works is to be found chiefly in the capital cities of Europe.
Then, of course, there is the old economic supremacy Finally, there are the agents of this ubiquitous complex operating right in the midst of the African sector, and ironically the scouts and promoters of new talents are often to be found among their ranks. Suffice it to say, however, that while dismissing their Western colleagues as meddlesome outsiders who inflicted their Western neuroses and biases on African discourse 3 0, African scholars and writers unwittingly erected their opposition on the same Western models they sought to deconstruct.
These, then, are the conditions in which the much talked-about African theoretical dependence on the West emerged. So pervasive was this dependence that it came to be perceived as another kind of colonization; hence the urgency with which Chinweizu, Onwucheka Jemie and Chris Madubuike argued for a reversal of that trend in their 23 provocative book, Toward the Decolonization of African Literature Their heady rejection of every Western theoretical contribution to the understanding of African literatures was amplified by Udenta Udenta in his Revolutionary Aesthetics and the African Literary Process and Niyi Osundare in his powerful monograph, African Literature and the Crisis of Post-Structuralist Theorizing Nevertheless, part of the problem posed to African studies by the reality of theoretical dependence is what I will refer to as the crisis of authority in African production of knowledge.
The situation has been created in which every African essay or critical book must seek the blessing of certain stock Western authorities before being reckoned with. The situation is worse for the African thinker operating in the context of the Euro-American Academy. So intense is the pressure to draw on the authority of these thinkers that African critics sometimes unwittingly attribute the dialogic in African novels to Bakhtin: as i f Africa had waited for Bakhtin before evolving age-long communalist polities structured around the very principles of dialogue and social polyphony.
Dialogism's immense success sterns from the fact that it had the good fortune of being propounded in the context of Western individualistic monologism. It is really nothing new for the African.
What has happened in the last couple of decades has been a progressive transatlantic alliance between Europe and North America to constitute the behemoth now loosely referred to, in Third World oppositional scholarship, as Euro-American high theory. Michel Foucault, Didier Eribon's biography, provides insights into the workings of this theoretical alliance.
In most instances, Europe produces the thinker whose ideas are later 24 adopted, canonized and "globalized" by the North American academy. Eribon rightly suggests that the likes of Foucault, Baudrillard, Lacan, Derrida and Deleuze became world intellectual figures only after making the transatlantic pilgrimage.
When the ideas of Europe are received and canonized on the other side of the Atlantic, the Euro-American behemoth emerges. This behemoth is the well-oiled validating and authorizing machine that produces the situation of "asymmetric ignorance"31 which Gyan Prakash decries. By "asymmetric ignorance", therefore, Prakash means that the Third World scholar cannot afford or is not allowed to be as ignorant of Western theories as his Western colleagues can afford or are allowed to be of Third World theories.
Oyewumi sums up the situation thus: The point is that the West is at the center of African knowledge-production It is clear that the West is the norm against which Africans continue to be measured by others and often by themselves. The questions that inform research are developed in the West, and the operative theories and concepts are derived from Western experiences Consequently, African studies continue to be "Westocentric.
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Even if, as Prakash opines, one's criticism must acknowledge the fact that "it inhabits the structures of Western domination that it seeks to undo" 3 3,1 will no less attempt to study the textual trajectory of the African female subject in the works of francophone African women writers, drawing theoretical authority 25 essentially from subaltern studies in India, and from Africa-influenced versions of feminism.
A n Afro-Asiatic theoretical cross-fertilization will be the logical outcome of my discursive strategies. To put it in the language of international political economy, what I hope will emerge is a South-South cultural and theoretical contact that will be open to insights from the West without necesssarily centralizing them. I am therefore not proposing an insular theoretical framework similar to the Euro-American behemoth. In trying to understand the location of francophone African women writers within the inferiorizing.
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Etymologically, the term subaltern belongs to the military register, where the "subaltern" is a low rank subordinate to higher-grade officers. However, the initiative of transforming the term into a theoretical concept and investing it with latent ideological connotations belongs to the Italian Marxist thinker, Antonio Gramsci. In his "Notes on Italian History" 3 4, Gramsci variously uses the expressions "subaltern classes", "subaltern groups" and "subaltern social groups" to conceptualize the discursive spaces inhabited by subjects the peasantry and the people on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder.
The Gramscian subaltern is Marxism's hoi polloi, Fanon's "wretched of the earth" and Paulo Freire's "the oppressed" rolled into one. Gramsci's project is to map out "methodological criteria" for studying the history of the subaltern classes. In the process, concepts such as the State, hegemony, dominance and subordination emerge to characterize the relationship between the ruling and the 26 subaltern classes.
The State is not only the mechanism through which the historical unity of the ruling classes is materialized, it is also largely responsible for the subordination of the subaltern classes who, in Gramsci's opinion, are "always subject to the activities of the ruling groups" The point should be stressed that Gramsci's Marxist orientation is largely responsible for his seeing the subaltern's subordination to the ruling elites as a consequence of the historical victory of capitalism.
This is where the fundamental difference between Gramsci's use of the term and its consequent reconceptualization by the Indian subalternists appears. In the work of the Subaltern Studies Collective - a group which boasts members such as Ranajit Guha, Gayatri Spivak, Partha Chatterjee, Dipesh Chakrarbaty and Gyan Prakash - the condition of subalternity is essentially a consequence of colonialism and what Edward Said calls "its derivatives and heirs in the present" As was the case in Africa and the Americas, colonialism engineered a massive social, political and economic subalternization of the dominated peoples.
And in the process of writing Indian historiography, British historians and their elitist Indian allies simply recorded the oppositional processes that culminated in Indian independence as the handiwork of Indian elites.