This chapter begins with the deceptively simple question: what is African literature? The question immediately begs another: African literature from which region? ‘African literature’, after all, already conveys a fiction of homogeneity that smacks of ‘sanctioned ignorance’ (Spivak 1993a: 279); as if the vast literary and cultural diversity of one of the world’s largest continents could be arrogantly reduced to a single classificatory term. And another: African literature in which language? For African literature-as a body of texts written by authors of African origin, as well as an object of academic study in Africa and various parts of the so-called First World-largely means literature in English, French and other European languages, along with a smattering of the large corpus of vernacular works often little known outside of Africa, and many of which remain untranslated for a Euro-American audience unlikely to be conversant with any African language. This suggests the view of African literature as primarily an export product, aimed at a largely foreign audience for whom the writer acts, willingly or not, as cultural spokesperson or interpreter. This view is of course simplistic, overlooking as it does the geographical complexities of audience formation (local, metropolitan, trans/national, diasporic, etc.), as well as the intricate nexus of related historical reasons for the primacy of European languages in the development of African literature as a recognised literary/cultural field. These reasons would have to include-at the very least-the predominance of local oral traditions across the African continent; the specific role played by European missionaries and, to a lesser extent, government teachers and administrators in setting up and promoting print culture; the more general ideological importance of literature and the literary text for the colonial enterprise; both the short-and long-term effects of European-language education on African writers and thinkers, who now comprise by and large a cosmopolitan, internationally trained intellectual élite (Appiah 1992); the historical function of English,

among other European languages, as a regional interethnic lingua franca, as well as a status-enhancing inter-or transnational medium of communication and exchange; the deployment of Europhone African literatures as ideological weapons in the independence struggles and in the continuing critical reassessment of African national cultures in the post-independence era; the emergence of African studies as a viable subject in the Euro-American academy, often presided over by African scholars who have left-in some cases, have been forced to leave-Africa for fairer politico-economic shores; and perhaps most of all, the yawning disparity in material conditions of production and consumption between Africa and the post-industrial First World, especially Europe and America-a situation that has led to metropolitan publishers and other related patrons (commercial sponsors, institutionally based reviewers and accreditation agencies, and so on) being granted a virtual stranglehold, not only over the distribution, but also to some extent the definition, of African literature as a cultural field.1