Renaissance, creativity and the refractive aesthetics of African literature

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Lekan Oyegoke


“Renaissance” has come up for scrutiny in African political and literary discourse in recent times, sown, as it appears to have been, as a discursive seed in a mutant twenty first century chronological and topographical setting. The exciting paradox of the play of presence and absence in a controversial nursery bed of connotative and denotative instabilities makes this renascent linguistic seed simultaneously dud and viable. The historicity of the term as a specific archaic centenary experience in certain parts of the world makes it potentially semantically dynamic. Its suggestion of a resurgence of interest in some areas of cultural life renders it suspect or simply ontologically unviable. Renaissance then morphs appropriately into yet another signifier and linguistic counter and, as sign, is permanently detached from verifiable signified in a postmodern construct. Cultural creativity in Africa as elsewhere is expectedly an activity of civility, a vocation of nobility, but which in many parts continues to be savaged ever so tirelessly by tyranny and crass insensitivity. Nevertheless, humane artistry in the wider socio-cultural sphere outmatches the political elite’s tendency to dissipation. The notional prism of critical mediation in the transformation from conventional to radical, owing to the twentieth century revolutionary insights of modern linguistics, has turned opaque with a refractive aesthetic regimens of a new kind of licence that is named “theory” and is viewed with increasing suspicion in some quarters as a supplant of age-old “poetic licence”.  Further supplants have presented at fundamental levels in the relationships which subtend between cultural components that are informed and inscribed by different notions of “African literature”. This article attempts a reflection, using the trope of a prism, on some conflictive renascent ideas – positive and negative – in the aesthetic conundrum of signifier/signified in African literature.    

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