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Fall 1999


However, in the context of contemporary late capitalist society, especially in the United States and Western Europe, there would seem to be obvious difficulties in bringing the Igbo experience of being, as described by Achebe, into the interpretive horizon of a dramatically different First World orientation towards social reality.4 Still, I would insist that meaningful and benign experiences of collective being have by no means been wholly eradicated from contemporary existence in the West, uncanny though they may be. Here, I would cite Jameson's pertinent observation that oppositional scholars today need to reappropriate an authentically dialectical concept of ontology, or collective social being, an observation which he draws from the writings of Raymond Williams, Ernst Bloch, and Jean-Paul Sartre.5 I would also cite Martin Heidegger's key hermeneutic concept regarding thefacticity of Being, or the notion that "even if we ask, 'What is 'Being'?, we [nevertheless] keep within an understanding of the 'is,' though we are unable to fix conceptually what that 'is' signifies" (Being and Time 24-25). In "The Writer and His Community," Achebe himself has argued that while cultural differences should be respected, they should not be emphasized to the extent that one falls "into the trap of seeing the differences as absolute rather than relative" (59).6 Thus, while Achebe has consistently attacked the universalizing impulses within colonialist criticism and discourse, he nevertheless recognizes that totalizing philosophies of difference are both dogmatic and counter-productive insofar as they dismiss hermeneutic understanding altogether. In this sense, we may also reread Appiah's concern about the way in which African artists seem to be recast into the role formerly assumed by alienated modernist artists-namely, to be productive "otherness machines" for a vacuous First World marketplace-as a parallel rejection of the "post-structuralist" insistence on non-identity wherein the possibility of sameness is absolutely rejected. Instead of focusing upon the disintegration of the basic psychic coordinates or mechanisms of Achebe's Igbo,7 in the following essay, we will focus upon the emphatically historical question of pre-European Igbo being in Things Fall Apart, especially as it pertains to the larger objectives of contemporary post-colonial theory. In this regard, I will suggest that Achebe's description of Igbo community life functions not only as a Fanonian "negation of a negation" (or counter-weight against previous literary distortions of Africa),8 but it also functions as a prophetic affirmation of post-colonial Africa's future by offering a teleological vision of a postCartesian or collective subjectivity. Achebe's depiction of the pre-European Igbo may therefore be brought into alignment with more recent efforts by post-colonial theorists like Abdul R. JanMohammad, Edward W. Said, Fredric Jameson, and many others to introduce a uniquely post-individualistic and collective subject-position, symbolically located at the "other end of historical time" (Jameson, "Imaginary and Symbolic in Lacan" 110).

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© 1999, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Igbo (African people) in literature; Nigeria--Race relations

Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart

Geographic Coverage