Bound to matter
Mudimbe concludes his essay without elaborating on how a writer is to submit to the reign of the grandmother, or how readers are to read from within her discursive field. Presumably, despite his acknowledgment of Miller’s concern over the “deafening silence” of African women writing in French prior to 1976, Mudimbe is not really insisting on hearing the mother’s voice “in her own words” through the works of African women writers-itself a risky project whose pitfalls I will shortly discuss. Rather, Mudimbe seems to imply that the “matrix of memory” is the equivalent of “African orature,” which Chinweizu, et al. claim “is important to [the] enterprise of decolonizing African literature for the important reason that it is the incontestable reservoir of the values, sensibilities, esthetics, and achievements of traditional African thought and imagination” (2). If this matrix is the site of decolonization and liberation from the false father, however, the impassioned call by Kenyan writer Ngg wa Thiong’o for African writers to write in their own African languages is the most forceful and direct demand made by any critic for the rejection of that putative and punitive father and the embracement of the nurturing tones of the mother tongue. In Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Ngugi raises issues that go beyond the plight of the individualized writer-as-artist-confrontingthe-father. He perceives that the obstacles presented by the discursive reign of the “false father” do not merely hinder a writer’s ability to establish “his” authority and identity but are deeply rooted in colonial strategies for controlling entire populations: “The domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonising nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonised” (16). His advocation of the use of vernacular languages by writers of African literatures reflects an understanding of the role of literature and the educational infrastructure in constructing knowledge about oneself and the world:
So the written language of a child’s upbringing in the school became divorced from his spoken language at home. There was often not the slightest relationship between the child’s written world, which was also the language of his schooling, and the world of his immediate environment in the family and the community… This resulted in the disassociation of the
sensibility of that child from his natural and social environment, what we might call colonial alienation. (17)
It should also be stressed that Ngg’s demand for the use of African languages as literary languages is not an attempt to return to an imaginarily pure language and time, but recognizes that African nations are deeply implicated in global cultural and economic structures. He is concerned with making literary works directly accessible to the African working class: those whose mental decolonization and subsequent mobilization can contribute the most to effect the political and economic decolonization of African nations. Finally, he recognizes that African languages are not static repositories of ancient and unchanging traditions, but dynamic and fluid media for human communication.