International Journal of
English and Literature

  • Abbreviation: Int. J. English Lit.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2626
  • DOI: 10.5897/IJEL
  • Start Year: 2010
  • Published Articles: 275


A question of the body: Colonial legacies and postcolonial imaginaries of power in African literary texts

Ndi Gilbert Shang
  • Ndi Gilbert Shang
  • University of Bayreuth, Germany.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 15 April 2016
  •  Accepted: 11 July 2016
  •  Published: 30 September 2016


This study examines the representation of corporeal difference as one of the fundamental ideologies on which the power dynamics of colonial and postcolonial polities are based. The analyses in this study are anchored on postcolonial theory with regard to issues such as power, race, centre/margin and decolonisation while the various notions of corporeality discussed here are informed by the works of theorists like Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault, Achille Mbembe and Michael Taussig. With textual examples from novels by authors such as Chinua Achebe, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Sony Labour Tansi and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the paper argues that the body is a pertinent starting point for reflection on subjectification given that (apart from its analogical efficiency) it represents the vital entity on which basic considerations of self and other are imagined and refracted in concrete political practices. Though the asymmetries between the colonizer and colonized bodies have undergone transformation in the postcolony, the realities of the postcolonial regimes are still hinged on corporeal differences that make distinctions, however subtle, between bodies with surplus power and those with a deficit of power, depending on their aggregate positionality with regard to the centres of power, especially the State. The body of the potentate becomes the incarnation of this difference, hence making it a frequent creative topos. This study comes to the conclusion that the African novel constitutes a central and critical locus in the debate of the decolonisation of the mind and the deconstruction of epistemological grounds of difference.  This is carried out through a variety of narrative structures, one of the most effective of which is the postcolonial dictatorship novel form. The textual inscription of the body underlines the consistent role of African literature as artistic intervention in colonial and postcolonial political practices, thereby foregrounding human equality as an indispensable pre-condition for a democratic and egalitarian society.

Key words: African, body, power, subject, postcolonial, hegemony, subversion.