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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cultural 'Other' in "Ritual and the Political Unconscious"

Adebayo Williams criticism of Wole Soyinka’s story “Death and the King’s Horseman”, attempts to highlight the “arrogance and cultural chauvinism of Western imperialism” (188). In doing so, Williams states that “Soyinka exposes the absurdity inherent in all assumptions of cultural superiority” (188). After reading Donald Hall’s article on Postcolonial Theory and Race in his book Literary and Cultural Theory this notion takes on a new and fresh meaning. Here, Hall describes the issue of ‘the other’ when making a race or postcolonial analysis. Continuing this theme throughout his analysis, Williams describes “Death and the King’s Horseman” as being a “besieged culture, fighting a desperate battle against the cultural ‘other’” (194). For this story, the battle lies between the Yoruba culture and that of the Westernized world. This clash of cultures for Williams lies in the history and tradition of these opposing societies. For the Yoruba tribe, the ceremonial suicide serves as a passage, allowing the King guidance into the afterworld. Designated as the guide, Elesin is responsible for maintaining and preserving the socioeconomic culture of the Yoruba tribe.
Without full participation of this ritual, the Yoruba culture and social universe will be thrown out of tilt. But it is this same ritual that Pilkings and other westerners find to be unnecessary and absurd. In fact, as the ritual begins to come full circle, it is interrupted by Pilkings and other ‘Westerners’. Williams would label this intrusion as the arrogance of Western assumptions, as Pilkings and the others do not understand the cultural importance and implications of the ritual. Like most, Pilkings has come to accept Westernized ideals of death, in that it is scary and terrifying. While for Elesin and the Yoruba community, this ritual is both a necessity and an honor. Still, as Williams accurately analyzes the issue of ‘the other’ in relation to the opposing cultures, I feel as if a few key elements went missing. Williams states that this story represents “the return of the repressed” (187). With that said, I feel as both Jane and the African officer were both being suppressed by the force of Pilkings. Ultimately, while this is a story of the repressed returning to fame, I feel as if individuals remained idle in their oppressed lifestyle. I would have liked Williams to address these relationships when analyzing both the ritual and the issue of ‘the other’.

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