Importance of ‘centredness’ in literary analysis: Part Two…Africa versus European theories of literature


IN the European corner the current state of theory is such that there are many overlapping areas of influence, and older schools of theory, though no longer enjoying their previous eminence, continue to exert an influence on the whole.
You need to understand that the old theories lose eminence only because they no longer serve contemporary Western capitalistic and exploitative needs.
Because Europe depends entirely on parasitism; that is, continuous exploitation of the hinterland as they themselves have no natural resources to keep their economies afloat, they have to continuously refashion ideas which they peddle through the arts and other life sciences (philosophy included) to justify their grip on other people’s economies.
This latter point can be illustrated very easily by reference to the so-called Enlightenment Period.
I am tempted to suspect that the so-called philosophers of the time were paid to come up with theories that would justify the enslavement of especially the black race.
The ideas of this otherwise ‘very dark’ period have been at work on the centuries of distortion of Africa’s history and cultures by foreigners through slavery, direct colonisation and neo-colonisation, the three main forms of aggressive socio-political action against Africa in pursuit of unbridled gain.
Capitalism is the imperialist ethos which has been propped by a range of ideological theorisations to justify its existence.
This section analyses the combinations of political practice and attendant ideologies characterising the three main historical phases that imperialism has metamorphosed into over the centuries in response to the political imperatives of capital.
Racial theories, religious theories, pseudo-scientific theories, economic theories and a fusion of some or all of them have been at the centre of strategies ensuring the survival of capitalism. They have been used to justify domination and conquest of other people’s resources (both human and material) through ideological rationalisation.
This is the fundamental ethos of imperialism in its slavery, colonial and neo-colonial forms.
In contemporary discourse, imperialism is used to refer to a specific form or phase of colonialism, stretching from about 1870 to the so-called First World War when conquest of territory became linked to a systematic search for markets and an expansionist exporting of capital. (Bessis:2001)
However, given that the motive of territorial and capitalist expansionism dates back to the 15th Century following the industrial revolution in Europe (Williams:1964), this discussion uses this extended sense of imperialism to refer to the European interventionist politics covering its earliest colonial escapades in Africa and America, and its present-day global economic hegemony.
It is in this sense that imperialism shall be used as a polysemous or hyponymous expression of its multi-phases — slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism.
Colonisation per se pre-existed the latter-day European colonialism as it was practised by Greece, Rome and many other groups before. (Bessis: 2001)
The term ‘colonisation’ derives from the Latin term ‘colo’, whose past participle is ‘cultus’, and future participle is ‘culturas’.
It is from the same root that words such as ‘cult’ and ‘culture’ also obtain. (Shohat and Stam:1994:15)
This derivation makes colonisation embrace a constellation of values and practices which include occupying the land, claiming its resources and transmission of imposed values to the vanquished peoples. (Ibid: 15) European colonialism was unique in its planetary reach, its affiliation with global institutional power and ‘its attempted submission of the world to a single universal regime of truth and power’. (ibid: pp. 15-16)
To this end, in all its forms and manifestations, imperialism is part of a grand plan of a ‘predatory culture’ which McLaren (1995:02) defines as: “A field of invisibility – of stalkers and victims … the leftover of bourgeois culture stripped of its arrogant pretense to civility and cultural lyricism and replaced by a stark obsession with power fed by the voraciousness of capitalism’s global voyage.”
McLaren sums up the fundamentals behind the motives and motivations of the Europeans’ conquest of Africa through slavery, colonisation and neo-colonisation.
The desire for ‘capital’ is the essential factor behind the ‘official’ story.
The first crude manifestation of imperialism, slavery, was preceded and accompanied by genocide.
Europeans are the first people in history to commit mass murder by appropriating the whole continent of America.
It is indisputable that ‘slave trade’, which in fact was not a trade at all in the strictest business sense for it was a cruel mass capture and transfer of people across the Atlantic, was the key reason for the under-population of the African continent until the middle of the 20th Century. (Ibid:17)
In her words: “No other continent has undergone such constant and systematic bleeding.’’ (Ibid: 17) No rational mind would deny the demographic cataclysm where the Amerindians were wiped out on the pretext of a ridiculous reason that they did not belong to Christianity, logic which Sophie Bessis (2001) berates as ‘cunning of reason’.
It is clear that such an excuse was part of a well-orchestrated plan to use religious discourse to justify imperialist domination.
In fact, Europeans were not alone in such human rights abuses.
The Arabs had started their own enslavement of Africans several centuries earlier. (Ibid:18) However, in both Arab and European cases, the constant discourse asserting the dehumanisation of blacks shows that when theological legitimation became inadequate to justify such sadism, it became necessary to weave into the religious matrix intricate arguments (theories) about the inferiority of the black race in which pseudo-scientific rhetoric subtly corroborated the religious argument.
Racism was and, to some extent, still remains the dominant cornerstone of imperialism. As such it deserves some detailed explication to expose the ‘cunning of reason’ within it.
The domination of Africa (under slavery and colonisation) by Europe and its allies in the social, political, economic and cultural spheres has been maintained through a composite system of ideological mechanisms and prescriptive theoretical formulations.
Most of these ideological rationalisations of colonialism are grounded in the period ironically called The Enlightenment Period.
The 18th Century was particularly a critical period of Europe’s great conspiracy against, especially, Africans.
This period was called ‘Enlightenment’ because it was presumed to be a century of new rational, civilised thinking.
However, it was ironically a period that saw fresh theorisation justifying the earlier (mis)conception of ‘might as right’ (Bessie: 2001:20). I now turn to the main trends of this ‘founding’ period, which demonstrate how racism was theorised.
A quick glimpse of selected works of Aristotle, David Hume, Emmanuel Kant, Georg W.F. Hegel and Hugh Trevor-Roper will suffice for this purpose.


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