“Writing the Beautyful Struggle”: Literary Culture of Agency and the Resistance in the Works of Ayi Kwei Armah
Johnathan Bryan Fenderson
Thesis DT 3.5 2005 F463
xi, 129 leaves; 28 cm
“Writing the Beautyful Struggle” is a project about the works of Ayi Kwei Armah and the intersection between the literature ad the politics of Africa and the African Diaspora. The central task of this thesis is to properly (re) locate Ayi Kwei Armah in the overall trajectory of African and, by extension, Black World writing literature. Furthermore, this project seeks to recover a tradition in Black World writing, while simultaneously asserting this tradition as theoretical prism through which future studies of Black World writing can be explored.
Essentially this thesis contends that if we are to understand Armah, as an author and social critic, we have to scrutinize the entire collection of his works including those written after 1970. Moreover, it posits that in order to fully appreciate Armah we have to read him in a Black World context. Literary critics continue to do Armah a great disservice when they read and disconnect his initial work form the latter essentially interrupting and limiting his intellectual development. It is at this point that this thesis seeks to make a critical intervention by contextualizing the author’s works, specifically the last four novels, within the unfolding of the Black World’s cultural, historical and political interiority and the reading the works as representative of the Black World’s literary culture of agency and resistance.
Chapter one, Expressions of Literary Pan Africanism seeks to transform the dominant image of Armah as a post-colonial pessimist to a more accurate Pan Africanist writer, activist and intellectual. By charting the author’s global movements the initial chapter demonstrates his challenge to colonial-constructed national boundaries. The chapter follows Armah personal travels to Black America, Mexico, Algeria, Tanzania and a host of other places illustrating the way these spaces shaped his work and expanded his understanding of colonialism. Essentially, it reveals his belief in a collective destiny for African and African Diasporic peoples.
Grounding with Armah’s Sisters entails a gendered reading of the author’s last two text, Osiris Rising and KMT: In the house of Life. It builds upon the work of Abena Busia, who scrutinized Armah’s earlier works by locating the women in the novels as either parasites or prophets. Chapter two argues that Armah has gone beyond polemic characterization of women and moved towards one that is more dynamic. A number of Black Women’s critical theories are utilized to interrogate the two texts and lend a proper character analysis of the diverse women featured in the two novels.
The final chapter, details Armah’s intellectual development as reflected in his theorizing about history. Mediated through a discussion on African-centered discourse, chapter 3 moves us through three distinct phases of the author’s struggle to reclaim and rewrite history. Observing three of the author’s lat four novels as discrete periods, this chapter illustrates the ways that Armah has both inspired and drawn inspiration from African American’s discourse on a collective African subjectivity.
The project is broken down into three main areas to illustrate some of the various acts that constitute self-determined action and resistance: Pan Africanism, gender equity/space, and the rewriting of history. The three areas were selected because of their prevalence in Armah’s work. They do not constitute the entirety of the author’s acts of autonomous activity and opposition. Instead, the three areas demonstrate a few of the various acts that make up our ideas of agency and resistance.