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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Response to Adebayo Williams

First off, I would like to begin by saying how I find it intriguing that Adebayo Williams begins his criticism by establishing a universal belief that the form of the play is noteworthy, “Critics with a formalist bias have hailed its superb characterization, its haunting beauty, and above all its lyrical grandeur…” (Williams 187). But Williams does not stop there, he goes on to discuss how another critic, Biodun Jeyifo, also recognizes the splendor of the form, but finds it lacking equality with the content. Although the representation of post-colonial, oppressive themes may have been unintended, the form works to facilitate comprehension and discussion these themes even further.

Williams goes on to discuss the influence of Western culture on a traditional African society, “Death and the King’s Horseman represents an attempt to confront on a creative level the arrogance and cultural chauvinism of Western imperialism... Soyinka exposes the absurdity inherent in all assumptions of cultural superiority” (Williams 188). This claim made be Williams is certainly agreeable, but with the specific criticism that he is going against, one would assume that he would provide backing for it. For instance, although he does cite the conversation between Olunde and Mrs. Pilkings, there is a comparison of culture within the dialogue. Trying to prove that the power of the oppressor is indeed a sham, responds to Mrs. Pilkings statement of “The ship had to be blown up because it had become dangerous to the other ships, even to the city itself. Hundreds of the coastal population would have died,” by responding with, “I don’t find it morbid at all. I find it rather inspiring” (Suyinka 41-42). While the action of the captain is considered honorable, as he is on the side of the oppressor, Elesin’s suicide for the sake of the village from evil spirits is considered abominable by the imperialists.

There are also a couple of other failings within the article that one cannot help but noticing. I found it particularly aggravating that the author, Williams, kept trying to get into the head of Soyinka or explain his motives when Soyinka has clearly stated, whether done factually or to simply avoid conflict, the play is meant to be interpreted from a metaphysical standpoint and not political. Yet, it is precisely politics and authorial intent that Williams attempts to use within his article. Discussing Soyinka’s possibility of “[surmounting] the overwhelming historical and social” opposition, Williams states, “That the playwright fails to recognize this fact demonstrates the extent to which his own imagination has been colored by the lingering efficacy of the ideological apparatus of the old Yoruba state” (Williams 190). By writing this play, one about cultural conflict and oppression, Soyinka does exactly that. He creates a beautifully written play that captures that attention of the audience and exposes them to the specific themes. To make this statement, it only takes away from the validity of Williams’ previous claims.

Something interesting that Williams and not many other critics that we have read so far chooses to do is to explicitly identify the theories in which he is going about his criticism so that his audience has a better understanding as to the impetus for his claims. Williams states “It is paradoxical that a Marxist critic should slip in the bourgeois notion that history and literature are no more than the study of the acts of great men. A genuinely materialist aesthetics must not be fixated on great personalities” (Williams 190). This insight into theory seems to immensely strengthen his argument against critics like Jeyufi, who seem to focus on the specific historical and economical aspect of Soyinka’s work. By negating their work, especially on the basis of theory in which they make their claims, Williams solidifies his own.

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