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A POST-STRUCTURALIST INTERROGATION OF SELECTED WORKS OF CHINUA ACHEBE
1.1 Background to the Study
There have always been two traditions (structuralism and post-structuralism) in philosophy. One asserts that there are truths that are universal and eternal. They stand outside history and the physical world. Therefore, they are transcendental or ideal in nature. The other school claims that the world is physical and historical and that any truth we arrive at about it is equally historical and equally located within the physical universe, which of course makes our knowledge is limited and human. The world is not founded on absolutes that exist outside time and space. The first tradition provides a strong claim of authority for those interested in using philosophy to anchor ideas of social order. The second is closer to science than to religion and it promotes the ideal of progressive change. Disputes between these two positions were finally settled by Derrida in 1967 when he strongly reasserted the claims of the second position in three books - Writing and Difference, Of Grammatology and Speech & Phenomenon, all published in 1967. Derrida further argued that the most recent attempt to assert the first or absolutist and foundationalist position in the work of Edmund Husserl was mistaken. For Derrida, the metaphor of writing characterizes the world as a field of difference without identity. Derrida's work helped inspire a movement called poststructuralist which sought to learn from Saussure and the other structuralists while moving beyond them to other concerns such as social power.
One thing one might do with deconstruction therefore is to figure out how texts committed to metaphysical values work by suppressing difference, making it appear as a derivative of identity. The task of deconstruction is to undo such hierarchies and to show that all truth is differential and physical. Seen in this light, the novels Chinua Achebe's are seen here post-structurally philosophic tragedies rather than personal ones. The texts are classic stories of moral struggle and turbulent social conflict. The crisis in the texts are a crisis of the metaphysical conceptual regime upon which the novel's values depend, a regime that privileges identity over difference and truth over representation. The novels argue for a notion of identity as internal essence. Identity gives rise to character differences. The restoration of identity as the source of legitimate social order consists of re-establishing a system of differences that distinguishes absolutely the authentic from the imitative or artificial. Derrida would consider the crisis of representation in the novels, which allows truth to be denied, falseness to be taken for truth and signification to triumph over meaning, to be a crisis of western rationalism or logocentrism. Like logocentrism, the novels portray truth as interior to the mind or logos, as it stands outside signification and can do without its external assistance. This dissertation attempts a post-structural analysis of selected works of Chinua Achebe, particularly his three internationally acclaimed classic novels that have come to be known as his ‗African Trilogy‘; these novels are Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960), and Arrow of God (1964) are texts that basically revisited the past and emphasizing the fact that the roots of the present day Nigeria lies in her colonial encounter. Thus, apart from covering a variety of subjects, through his ‗African Trilogy‘, Achebe‘s textstravel through the history of Nigeria‘s colonization starting from the very beginning of colonial missionaries to the wake of independence. He did not just revisit the history but also tried to educate folks about what the real story was and how the people ‗fell apart‘. However, one objectives of this study is to analyze these novels as embodying the inherent structures of the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial African societies by exploring the varied possibilities in terms of meanings, oppositions and contrastive perspectives that exist and are manifest in Achebe‘s works by deploying some parameters of post-structuralism. Meanwhile, this study has been framed in the main by the view that the theory of post-structuralism is basically a reaction to structuralism. The terms structuralism and post-structuralism both refer to literary and aesthetic expansion of continental philosophy that developed in the second half of the twentieth century in a fashion parallel to certain developments in analytic philosophy. Structuralism derives ultimately from linguistics and it in turns is a discipline that has always been inherently confident about the possibility of establishing objective knowledge. It believes that if we observe accurately, collect data systematically, and make logical deductions then we can reach reliable conclusions about language and the world. Structuralism inherits this confidently scientific outlook: it too believes in method, system, and reason as being able to establish reliable truths. By contrast, post-structuralism although in many ways a reflection of structuralism derives ultimately from philosophy. Philosophy is a discipline which has always tended to emphasize the difficulties of achieving secure knowledge about things. This point of view is encapsulated in Nietzsche's famous remark 'There are no facts, only interpretations'. Philosophy is, so to speak, skeptical by nature and usually undercuts and questions commonsensical notions and assumptions. Its procedures often begin by calling into question what is usually taken for granted as simply the way things are. Post-structuralism draws from this habit of skepticism and intensifies it. It regards any confidence in the scientific method as naive, and even derives a certain masochistic intellectual pleasure from knowing for certain that we can't know anything for certain, fully conscious of the irony and paradox which doing this entails. In its deconstructive mode, represented in the voluminous and influential work of Jacques Derrida, for example, post-structuralism has systematically undermined the claims of history and subjectivity, called into questioning the privilege of writing over speech in the Western tradition, underscored the arbitrary nature of signification, and debunked the ideology of the unified subject. Indeed, post-structuralism has called the notion of a unified structure into question and insisted that meanings are themselves indeterminate. By contrast, post-structuralism is much more fundamentalist in insisting upon the consequences of the view that, in effect, reality itself is textual documented in literary works. This position is backed by Roland Barthes‘ 'The Death of the Author' (1968) which is a rhetorical way of asserting the independence of the literary text and its immunity to the possibility of being unified or limited by any notion of what the author might have intended, or 'crafted' into the work ―Post-structuralism, then, may be more broadly defined as the application of a deconstructive strategy model to all aspects of culture and thought‖ (Keesey 350). Deconstruction could be likened to the tool we use to take apart a work layer by layer and consider all its parts, even the conflicting ones while post-structuralism is the broader category of criticism which can apply not just to literature, but to ―all aspects of culture and thought‖ (Keesey, 347). It reminds one a little bit of the difference between close reading and formalism. Close reading is a tool we use to do a formalist reading of a work, just as we can use ―deconstructive language to do a post-structural reading. In contrast to other forms of critical theory, post-structuralism focuses on the social distribution of power associated with the construction of knowledge, what has come to be known as the ―power/knowledge‖ critique: How, exactly, do we come to believe what we hold as true? How is it, for instance, that we come to believe narrative of a progressprominient in punishment? What institutions and practices shape us to believe in the idea of the ―delinquent‖ or, for that matter, in the idea that we could possibly ―rehabilitate‖ or ―correct‖ that ―delinquent‖? How have our own disciplinary practices contributed to shaping our beliefs? And at what cost? Natural to human ways of thinking, narratives have no ‗natural‘ structural correspondence to the world and their content is in no way determined. They are an imposition of cognitive processes – guided by our particular desires and yearnings – on a world that is essentially unstructured. A world that, as post-structuralism emphasizes, is in constant flux, and, further, too complex for any single, however convoluted, explanation.
Thus, the objective of this study is to analyze Chinua Achebe‘s ‗African Trilogy‘, which in this case refer to his three novels – Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God, as an examination of the inherent structures of the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial African societies as represented in the selected literary texts for this study. The focus also being to assess language is used to negotiate and establish meaning and the truth about any literary text. Simply put, this study also explores the varied possibilities in terms of meanings, oppositions and contrastive perspectives that exist and are presented fictionally the selected texts. This study does this through an in-depth analysis of the structural and linguistic signs embedded in these novels by deploying the parameters of post-structuralism. Here, while the study focuses on Achebe‘s systematic effort to research on the roots of the present day crises of the country, the study goes on from re-inscription of culture to re-investigating the past, Achebe‘s methods of re-education and regeneration. Interestingly, it seems almost pointless to us to analyze a text so carefully and then to conclude that there is no determinate meaning in it and everything about it is contradictory as propounded by the post-structuralists. However, along the line, one could certainly see how it is possible to find these contradictions.
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
The theory of post-structuralism is basically a reaction to structuralism. Post-structuralism is a bodyand manner of discourse that followed in the wake of structuralism, and sought to understand a world irrevocably dissected into parts of systems, as in deconstruction. Studies have, however, revealed that little or no critical approach using post-structuralism has been employed to examine the three novels of Achebe that this study sets out to assess. Paramount too, is the fact that any recent study of Nigerian fiction, and particularly the novels of Chinua Achebe is bound to receive unfavourable critical response in the sense that it can be argued that ―too much‖ has already been written about the three works under consideration and about the sundry nature of his works in general. Significantly, this work employs a critical approach of post-structuralism to examine the selected works of Achebe. The research is therefore a deconstructive examination of the inherent structures of the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial African societies as represented in the literary works of Achebe that have been chosen for this study. The focus is an assessment of how language is used to negotiate and establish meaning and the truth about any given structure. Simply put, this work explores the never ending dimensions such as the varied possibilities in terms of meanings, oppositions and contrastive perspectives that exist and are manifest in Achebe‘s works. This study does this through an indepth analysis of the structural and linguistic signs embedded in Chinua Achebe‘s novels: Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964), to be specific, by deploying the parameters of post-structuralism