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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adebayo Williams: Ritual and the Political Unconscious

In my opinion, this article attempts to reconcile Soyinka's contention that Death and the King's Horseman is not political with the unyielding reality that such a work cannot possibly escape from some level of political analysis. Essentially, Williams delineates these three methods to examine this play politically: the conservative approach, a leftist/Marxist approach, and a "middle ground" which Williams appears to endorse. I think his analysis is correct, if for no other reason than it most closely agrees to what Soyinka intended.
Leftist criticism opposes the ideology of this play because it reinforces the political structures present in Yoruba society. The ruling classes have created the rituals of suicide and use them to perpetuate the myth of royal immortality (Williams, 192). According to Williams, the play "does provide metaphysical rationalization for a patriarchal and feudalist code", and this gives some merit to a Marxist reading (193). However, this kind of reading is incomplete. While a Marxist approach often makes use of class struggle as a tool for analysis, this must be balanced with a look at the utopian elements in the work. The rituals in Death and King's Horseman go beyond class—they unite the entire culture as a whole (193). On the other hand, Williams notes that a conservative approach with a "fixation on the utopian impulse" goes too far in the opposite direction (194). The ritualistic values may extend past class differences but they are still unique cultural phenomena. Additionally, class differences still do exist in the real world and in every culture—this utopia is only of the afterlife.
Given the failure of these approaches, Williams describes a superior approach which he is what he claims Soyinka accomplished in this play. Rather than attempt to beautify the admittedly imperfect Yoruba culture or side with the Europeans, Soyinka "couterpose[d] the dominant culture of the ancient Oyo kingdom against the equally hegemonic culture of the white invaders" (194). In other words, Soyinka made a political stance by not taking sides at all. This falls in line with the authors stated belief that a "clash of cultures" implies cultural superiority—something he finds abhorrent (188). This is also echoed in the words of Olunde, who challenges the Western notion that African civilization is inferior, while not unduly promoting it. If there was a political analysis that Soyinka would agree with, I think this would be it.

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