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Allegories and counter-allegories of the world-system in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God

Allegories and counter-allegories of the world-system in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God
Allegories and counter-allegories of the world-system in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God
If, as Pheng Cheah has suggested, orature in non-European vernacular languages contains the potential to contest predominant conceptions of the world as a resource for capitalist modernity, the literary staging of orature in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God tells another story about the world that questions and interrupts the temporality of capitalist modernity. It is the worldly implications of Achebe's act of storytelling with which this article is primarily concerned. Beginning with a critical assessment of different allegorical readings of Achebe's novel, this essay traces the articulation of a different conception of the world in Arrow of God that runs counter to such allegorical readings. Achebe's symbolic framing of orature and proverb as verbal art forms embedded in a specific social and cultural conception of the world that is organized around the time frame of an agricultural subsistence economy interrupts the temporality of capitalist modernity and the primitivist tropes of precapitalist societies on which it depends. If Achebe's novelistic framing of orature as part of a literary system of symbolic codes gestures toward a mode of agency that counters capital's mode of production narrative, such a mode is enabled by a way of knowing the world that disfigures the ethnographic logic of colonial allegory. This mode of understanding is further articulated in Achebe's temporal framing of the yam as a sacred object that also parodies the ethnographic framing of the commodity fetish. What links the ostensibly disparate rituals of the proverb and the festival of the yam, I suggest, is a counter-allegorical register that interrupts the temporal order of capitalist modernity. To elucidate the broader significance of this register for research in literary studies, the article also draws comparisons with the trope of the ticker tape in Frank Norris's novel The Octopus and the framing of oil fetishism in Helon Habila's Oil on Water. In so doing, the article also suggests that the symbolic codes of Achebe's novel de-fetishize the totalizing idea of capitalist modernity as a world-system in such a way that has profound and far-reaching implications for a wider understanding of the relationship between literature, empire, and the historical development of capitalism on a global scale.
0034-5210
27-45
Morton, Stephen
3200c49e-fcfa-4088-9168-1d6998266ec1
Morton, Stephen
3200c49e-fcfa-4088-9168-1d6998266ec1

Morton, Stephen (2019) Allegories and counter-allegories of the world-system in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. Research in African Literatures, 49 (4), 27-45. (doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.49.4.04). (In Press)

Record type: Article

Abstract

If, as Pheng Cheah has suggested, orature in non-European vernacular languages contains the potential to contest predominant conceptions of the world as a resource for capitalist modernity, the literary staging of orature in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God tells another story about the world that questions and interrupts the temporality of capitalist modernity. It is the worldly implications of Achebe's act of storytelling with which this article is primarily concerned. Beginning with a critical assessment of different allegorical readings of Achebe's novel, this essay traces the articulation of a different conception of the world in Arrow of God that runs counter to such allegorical readings. Achebe's symbolic framing of orature and proverb as verbal art forms embedded in a specific social and cultural conception of the world that is organized around the time frame of an agricultural subsistence economy interrupts the temporality of capitalist modernity and the primitivist tropes of precapitalist societies on which it depends. If Achebe's novelistic framing of orature as part of a literary system of symbolic codes gestures toward a mode of agency that counters capital's mode of production narrative, such a mode is enabled by a way of knowing the world that disfigures the ethnographic logic of colonial allegory. This mode of understanding is further articulated in Achebe's temporal framing of the yam as a sacred object that also parodies the ethnographic framing of the commodity fetish. What links the ostensibly disparate rituals of the proverb and the festival of the yam, I suggest, is a counter-allegorical register that interrupts the temporal order of capitalist modernity. To elucidate the broader significance of this register for research in literary studies, the article also draws comparisons with the trope of the ticker tape in Frank Norris's novel The Octopus and the framing of oil fetishism in Helon Habila's Oil on Water. In so doing, the article also suggests that the symbolic codes of Achebe's novel de-fetishize the totalizing idea of capitalist modernity as a world-system in such a way that has profound and far-reaching implications for a wider understanding of the relationship between literature, empire, and the historical development of capitalism on a global scale.

Text
Morton Achebe Arrow first final draft 3 - Accepted Manuscript
Restricted to Repository staff only until 6 July 2020.
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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 7 January 2019
Additional Information: Winter 2018

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 428936
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/428936
ISSN: 0034-5210
PURE UUID: e80aeba4-102e-46b2-bfc2-0d59b02431a0

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Date deposited: 15 Mar 2019 17:30
Last modified: 01 May 2019 16:30

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