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Taban Lo Liyong

Taban Lo Liyong

 

 Is [Tutuola] ungrammatical? Yes. But James Joyce is more ungrammatical than Tutuola. Ezekiel Mphahlele has often said and written that African writers are doing violence to English. Violence? Has Joyce not done more violence to the English Language? Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is written in seven dialects, he tells us. It is acknowledged a classic. We accept it, forget that it has no “grammar”, and go ahead to learn his “grammar” and what he has to tell us. Let Tutuola write “no grammar” and the hyenas and jackals whine and growl. Let Gabriel Okara write a “no grammar” Okolo. They are mum. Why? Education drives out of the mind superstition, daydreaming, building of castles in the air, cultivation of yarns, and replaces them with a rational practical mind, almost devoid of imagination. Some of these minds having failed to write imaginative stories, turn to that aristocratic type of criticism which magnifies trivialities beyond their real size. They fail to touch other virtues in a work because they do not have the imagination to perceive these mysteries. Art is arbitrary. Anybody can begin his own style. Having begun it arbitrarily, if he persists to produce in that particular mode, he can enlarge and elevate it to something permanent, to something other artists will come to learn and copy, to something the critics will catch up with and appreciate. — Taban Lo Liyong

Beautifully put! Liyong who is currently the Acting Vice Chancellor of Juba University in South Sudan wrote this piece way back in the day. It comes from an essay titled “Tutuola, Son of Zinjanthropus.”

I got a chance to read it last week. Liyong’s essay on Tutuola is probably as fun as African literary criticism could ever be. It’s effortlessly brilliant and funny. I couldn’t stop laughing at his witty quips and one-liners.

If you’re interested in the many controversies surrounding the works of Nigerian fantasy writer Amos Tutuola, this text is a must read. You can find it in Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola, a collection of essays edited by Bernth Lindfors.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

3 Responses to “Errrr…But James Joyce is More Ungrammatical Than Tutuola” Subscribe

  1. Samuel Okopi November 11, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Hmmm…this reads like poetry! I love how his criticism is sharp and objective, and touches on the larger issues surrounding literary criticism. Simple, unambiguous words he uses, too. Where is Taban from again?

  2. Alex November 12, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Yes, sounds like the Liyong I know.

  3. Ladipo Titiloye November 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Language! Can it ever conform to a standard. If it can, the poems are not worth reading, Tutuola is a serious waste of time, and one should totally discard Soyinka. The use of English in literature is a matter of style and reading and rereading Tutuola’s makes me marvel at such a wonderful high level of imagination.

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