Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Globalectics (Theory And The Politics of Knowing) Book Review

downloadIt was not until I read Globalectics by Ngũgĩ that it suddenly struck me that he is more of an essayists than a novelist. He is exceptionally talented, the best Kenya has! This book is undoubtedly brings out the best of Ngũgĩ genius as a theorist and as well as a profound thinker and critic. He tackles diverse themes in this book decisively going into details analysing orature, orality and cyborality; defining globalectis, the theory of the English language and the colonial bondsman as per Hegel’s dialectic, oral narrative and the poor theory among other staid themes.

This is a book that I terribly enjoyed reading, and almost finished within one seat. It is a hallmark of Africa. It gave me a deeper understanding of Ngũgĩ perspectives as a novelist, essayist and as a person.

imagesMain themes in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Globalectics (Theory And The Politics of Knowing)

  • The English Master and the Colonial Bondsman

One of the dilemmas that the author has put up in this amazing book is how he realized that none of the creative books he read as a young man while in campus could speak about the present condition of the colonial bondage in Kenya. The English books that were studied in schools from Virginia Wolf to Beowulf did not tackle the colonial bondage and the fight for freedom, and as a result there was a need for literature that portrayed pure realism, as such the poetic works of Molara Ogundipe and Felix Mnthali of Nigeria and Malawi respectively, best communicated the whirlwind of colonization as it presently happened in Kenya while at the same time critiqued Jane Austen and her predecessors.

The English books that were taught in institutions had a colonial bondsman and portrayed the natives from the colonizer’s narrow perspective as opposed to the other way round. They propagated the poor theory depicting the poor as creative in order to survive, therefore took in whatever they were offered. As a result, they got into the shackles of colonization without fighting back. Its criticism did not necessarily come close to what was happening on the ground; nonetheless it caused a literature revolution at the University of Nairobi giving rise to post-colonial theory and literary studies. This gave the author the need to understand himself and his history ‘to make sense of the apparent irrational forces of the colonial and post colonial,’ as everything in Kenya was categorised in terms of black and white with colonial violence and brutality. The blacks were slaves of the whites, the English books propagated a colonial bondsman and this is what Ngũgĩ was trying hard to fight against. He gives an account of perturbing memories of how, coming from a boarding school in his teenage years, he found his entire village wiped out, burned down to the ground, and everyone relocated to concentration camps by the British forces. All this, years later, made him to turn into a fiction writer and published a short story in 1961, The Return. I suppose this is what he published as a novel later on: Matigari.

While in Leeds, Ngũgĩ came across a writer that would influence him largely and change his perception entirely: Karl Marx. His dialects, which were essentially Hegelian dialects had profoundly influenced him the same way Aristotle did to Plato and gave way to a new thought in him, ‘a new one-dimensional view to reality,’ and set him to understand Dickens as well as Césaire and made him to tackle the colonial problem effectively.

‘The Negritude movement of Aimé Césaire, Leopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas was an attempt to complete Marx.’ Though in essence the theory of Negritude lacked concrete consciousness and concreteness to reality and critics such as Wole Soyinka and Esk’ia Mphahlele pointed this out, it gave an insight to the writer and made his growth towards an independent African literature free from colonial bondsman to grow in leaps and bonds. In spite of this flaw in the theory, Frantz Fanon with his combination of psychoanalysis and Marxian-cum-Hegelian dialects changed this and communicated impeccably with the writer as well as the campus students the situation they were facing on the ground: it brought out the violence on the ground that the colonizers were imparting on the natives. As a result it brought about many changes even in the University Of Nairobi Department Of Literature as well as to the school’s (1)

  • The Education of Colonial Bondsman

In this chapter, Ngũgĩ looks at the position of the master and the bondsman as per Hegel’s dialectic, and how it applied to Africa and its colonizers. The unequal relationship of the master – the independent consciousness whose nature is to be for itself – and the bondsman- the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or be for another, makes one to be the slave of the other. While the bondsman can live without the master, the latter is not able to, for he is interdependent on the former for everything in his life from food to housing.

When the white settlers came to Africa, they perceived themselves as the masters and the natives as the bondmen/slaves. They thought of their education as being superior and that of the native’s inferior and barbaric, they never for a second considered the native’s rich history, way of life and oral literature. They simply shrugged it aside and imparted their education and way of life on the natives forcefully, and any native who refused was punished severely and at times sentenced to death. This eventually gave way to slavery, imprisonment and bereavement. Ngũgĩ gives good examples of Shakespeare The Tempest and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. He compares and contrasts the four characters in both books namely; Prospero and Caliban, and Crusoe and Friday, and shows the colonial master and bondsman relationship respectively.

Prospero and Crusoe view themselves superior than Caliban and Friday. They conjure themselves as the lords while the others as serfs. They teach their own language proudly as well as their way of life, all the while shunning Caliban’s and Friday’s knowledge and lifestyle. They see themselves as the masters, and even show it in their mannerism and language. They treat their counterparts as slaves. These two books ingeniously show how the white settlers treated the natives, and eventually set colonial bondage in Africa.

The master sees himself as God, and his perception is that the bondsman should serve him endlessly without any objection or reservation. He fancies himself as too of an intellectual to learn anything from the bondsman, therefore refers to his lifestyle as backwards, uncivilized and barbaric. What he fails to understand is that the bondsman is an intellectual in his own right more than the master, for he is able to harness new knowledge, language and facts, all which improve his life immensely. He also fails to note that he cannot live without the bondsman.

  • Globalectical Imaginationimages (1)

When Goethe noted that ‘there was no such thing as patriotic art or science: both belong, like all good things, to the whole world, he foresaw the coming of world literature, not bonded by continents, race or religion. One of the things that the writer should bear in mind is that, in as much as he may have a specific target audience for his work, what he writes will be conceived by people differently as such he should have the knowledge and tolerance of global reception, as all literature is universal. Here is a point that Ngũgĩ has ingeniously brought to light, something that I ascribe to. Whatever one writes, it should have a global feel: it should not be too constricted to a certain group, rather it should appeal to the entire humanity globally.        Its themes should not be limited by the author’s circumstance, time, religion, and region; it should be greater than the writer and rise beyond its present reality.

‘World literature is here’, however people still view it with one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness. This is something that colonisers grappled with, and could not accept that the bondsman oral literature was as good even better than their own education. They lacked the understanding that there is no particular knowledge that is greater or better than the other; all knowledge is equal no matter where it comes from be it from Africa, Latin America, or Europe. It should be accorded the same merits and be studied without any discrimination.



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