Comparative Perspectives on Utopia - Proceedings of Synapsis: European School of Comparative Studies XI
Edited By Florian Mussgnug and Matthew Reza
Utopia, Village, Nation-State
← 68 | 69 → NEIL TEN KORTENAAR
It may seem strange to speak of utopias in African literature, for literature by Africans features some of the most compelling dystopias ever imagined. Dystopia is what African writers do. No one does it better. Since, however, dystopia must be measured against a vision of the world we want and do not have, it is possible to examine African dystopias for what they imply of utopia.
African literature registers two divergent utopian pulls: backwards towards a vision of precolonial collectivity and social harmony, and forwards towards a revolutionary, explicitly modern egalitarian social order. The two tendencies are already prevalent in Western literature about Africa, where there is a long line of Western anthropologists seeking happy societies in Africa, usually not among black African populations but among other indigenous peoples – for instance, Colin Turnbull among the Twa or pygmies in The Forest People,1 and Laurens van der Post among the San or Bushmen in The Lost World of the Kalahari.2 There is also a tradition of Westerners finding utopias under construction among nations fighting for their independence: the hero of David Caute’s novel News from Nowhere (1986) glimpses it in the armed struggle against Rhodesia; and Thomas Keneally found it in Eritrea in his novel To Asmara (1990). All these utopias are set in the present but in a space apart – the desert, the forest, or the bush – which feels like a time apart, where the vestiges of the past or...
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