chapter  5
19 Pages

Enlightenment epistemology and “aesthetic cognition”

These comments suggest that critical opinion about the novel is unanimous and positive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Among African critics the verdict is mixed. Perhaps Femi Ojo-Ade, whose “Still a Victim? Mariama Bâ’s Une si longue lettre” shares with the epigraphic comments above the view that the novel dramatizes the conflict of cultures, is exemplary of a dissenting view. For him, the novel is an autobiographical text which traces the life of the heroine “in a society caught between the established order of the past and the exigencies of the present.” Given such culture-conflict, tradition/modernity hypothesis, one is bound to commend (d’Almeida, Makward) or berate (Ojo-Ade) the novel, depending on the entity in the pair to which one swears fealty.4 Ojo-Ade swears fealty to tradition, thus his discomfort with the novel is inevitable. There is more to, or rather a related reason for, this discomfort. Culture-conflict criticism such as his construes Europe and Africa as self-contained, culturally hermetic entities locked, like primeval forces, in eternal combat. If binarism-past/present, tradition/ modernity-is the basic structure of this critical methodology,

metonymy is its favorite rhetorical form. Together, structure and rhetoric make for a manichean periodization of African women’s writing into a non-feminist “old guard” (Grace Ogot, Efua Sutherland, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Flora Nwapa) and a corps of rebellious young renegades (Mariama Bâ, Buchi Emecheta, and Nafissatou Diallo); the first group is “steeped in the traditions of the land” and finds refuge from women’s tribulations “in a society that has proclaimed woman the mother,” while the second is composed of traitors to eternal motherhood, the calling preordained for women and guaranteed to give them a sense of fulfilment.5