From the Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft of
the African literature

Nasrin Pourhamrang


The African fiction was born in a conceptually and structurally contradictory situation. Like the other concepts, “contradictions” can have a bilateral or multilateral function and as they can leave destructive impacts, they may also have constructive impacts and effects. Whereas the modern story-writing in the West appeared following the proliferation of individualistic thoughts, and the modern stories became the narrator of the private and daily lives of anonymous people who tried to realize their absolutely personal, daily and mundane aspirations and ambitions through social relations, the modern African literature emerged under completely different circumstances.

If the modern story-writing in the West indicates the appearance of personal self-consciousness, the modern story-writing in Africa came into existence at the times of the emergence of communal self-consciousness and the reason was nothing but the presence of colonialist powers in these countries, that is precisely what the African writers protested at in their works.

The colonial presence of the foreign powers, although as bitter and painful for the citizens of the African countries as for any other nation that has experienced colonialism, led to the solidarity of these nations as a unifying element, and in the absence of other unifying elements such as a comprehensive religion or a common national language which all those people spoke, could unite and bring together the peoples of the African countries.

The resistance and opposition which the people felt against the intrusive foreign culture propelled them toward a communal self-consciousness and contributed to the birth of the concept of nationality in these countries. While several African countries have a tribal structure and different ethnic groups with different religious customs and different rituals consider themselves needless of solidarity with the rest of tribes, the presence of a factor, namely the colonial culture, contributed to the creation of a feeling of communal self-consciousness among the inhabitants of these countries.

Although modern fiction narrates the endeavors of people who try to satisfy their own expectations, the modern African fiction depicts the spiritual and intellectual desperation of people who are entangled in undemocratic social structures and it’s very likely that they are contributing to the recurrence of these structures.

In the modern Western society (Gesellschaft) the people want to be the heroes of their own personal life by putting aside social concerns. However, fighting against difficult social conditions (Gemeinschaft) is a price which they have to pay. However, if they lose this battle, all of their hopes for realizing their worldly aspirations will be shattered. Therefore, the rationality which takes shape here is blended with hallucinations which can facilitate the consolidation of the existing decaying structures.

Fear, anxiety and apprehension are not because of the forces which have been erupted from the bottle, because such forces are not at all existent; whatever exists are wandering ghosts which add to the dreadfulness of the atmosphere and further complicate the turbulence of the mind.

In order to achieve the unifying structure of “nation-state,” the open-minded African author seeks assistance from the forces which he wants to resist against, that are the very forces of colonialism; and to benefit from the attractions and products of modernity, he will have no other options but to get inspiration from the styles of social living of the same states which he calls colonialist. He should repel them from one hand, and draw them toward himself from the other hand. And these are the complicated contradictions which lie at the heart of the modern African literature and the social developments of the countries in this continent.

In order for his writings to be impressive and effective, the African author finds it inevitable to precisely and deeply reflect the realities of his society, but all of these realities contradict the dignity and honor which the culture of modernity bestows upon its citizens. The African intellectual returns to the ancient layers of the civilization of his homeland to escape these contradictions; he ransacks them. He reconstructs as unique pictures whatever seems attractive to him, and can especially be admired by the post-modernists so that they may catch the eyes of the global observers. The pictures are wonderful and terrific: the constant struggle between the fractions and tribes and the incessant ebb and flow of the prejudgments and hostile viewpoints. Even though everything is vague and ambiguous, this doesn’t lead to transformation, because everybody has got used to everything. In a world which the images create, truth and untruth, good and evil, beautiful and ugly have only a local and limited existence. This local identity can have two-sided impacts; lead to both sympathy and alienation and misunderstanding.

However, neither that sympathy nor the feeling of alienation can be of any use for the society which does not intend to extricate itself from the bonds and scaffoldings that have tightened its hands and feet, and doesn’t know where to start from.

Perhaps it’s because of this very reason that the new generation of the African story-writers and poets try to consign to oblivion the bitter memories of the past, and review the current realities of their own society with a new eye and try to portray the individuality of the people who want to enjoy the opportunities of their life. Although these opportunities might have been hidden among the warp and woofs of a society that has neither completely eschewed its traditional structures nor has established completely new structures.

The protagonists of these stories try to grab something hard and robust with a lot of enthusiasm; however, they only see the ghosts which escape them before it’s time to take over them, and so the protagonist will remain astounded in an atmosphere of intoxication, perplexity, tension and turbulence while observing the destruction of the moral links and affective links and the disappearance of his dignity.

Will a new deportment born out of such an atmosphere?


* This article has been published in the special issue of " Hatef Weekly magazine " -publishing in north of Iran - on African literature in December 2012.