Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the Conceptual Worlding of Literature


The central claim of this article is that the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, known above all for his advocacy of African-language writing, performs in his essays a conceptual worlding of literature that serves to diversify its semantic content and thereby enable the recognition and expanded production of otherwise marginalised literatures. The logic of this conceptual worlding is read through a cosmopolitan-vernacular optic, which presupposes that Ngugi’s interventions can neither be defined as ethnically particularist nor as expansively cosmopolitan. Rather, his approach 1) combines multiple literary ‘ecologies’, in Alex Beecroft’s sense, and 2) attempts to reroute the temporality of ‘literature’ so that it is no longer reducible to Eurochronology. What unites these interventions is that they both draw on and attempt to recalibrate ‘world literature’ as a symbolic value in response to a postcolonial predicament. Three texts provide the empirical focus of the article: the department circular “On the Abolition of the English Department” that Ngugi co-authored in 1968 with Taban Lo Liyong and Henry Owuor-Anyumba; the essay “Literature and Society”, first written in 1973; and “Memory, Restoration and African Renaissance”, which is the third chapter in Something Torn and New from 2009.

author Stefan Helgesson

Anglia 135.1 (2017), 105-121

DOI 10.1515/anglia-2017-0007

published 2017