Post-colonial African theory and practice: Wole Soyinka's anarchism

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael Echeruo


Nigeria, postcolonial, Soyinka, Wole

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Political Science


This study identifies the organizing principle behind Wole Soyinka's writing and politics and demonstrates its manifestation in four aspects of his work: his philosophical and theoretical comments upon culture, politics, art, and literature; his conception of the "post-colonial crisis"; his conception of the responsibility of the artist; and a select number of his artistic works. I represent anarchism as the primary foundation upon which Soyinka has developed all his work and, consequently, as the primary interpretive criterion by which his writing and politics must be examined if it is to be fully understood. By the term "anarchism," I imply the simultaneous deconstruction of both individuality and community intended to recuperate the "primordial origin of existence," i.e., the realm of existence that operates beyond any one particular ideology as Soyinka represents it in his philosophical works.

Soyinka, in my view, idealizes primordial culture on the grounds that, because it is supposedly devoid of social, economic and political distinguishing characteristics, it constitutes the abode of "liberating" forces. On the other hand, he contests the prevailing ideologies (whether they originate from "the left" or from "the right") on the grounds that they are too narrowly delineated to account for human existence in its entirety and that they are, consequently, "dictatorial" and "repressive." He envisions humanity's ideal society (what I term "endogenous" society) as one whose foundation--what he terms "the ritual archetype"--contains built-in mechanisms through which the individual, working on behalf of his community, routinely breaks beyond the boundaries of the prevailing ideologies and reclaims his primordial origin. He believes that the prevailing crises are rooted in the confinement of the "modern" individual and community within the boundaries of specific ideologies and therefore in their alienation from the "cosmological totality" of "primordial culture."

The solution to the prevailing crises, Soyinka believes, lies in the recuperation of primordial culture through the elevation of the individual to what he terms the "the fourth stage"--the psychological manifestation of primordial culture. The importance of "tragic" (or "ritual") drama, he believes, lies solely in the role that it plays as the primary medium through which that form of "liberation" is negotiated. The "revolutionary artist" is the artist who advances that political objective--i.e., the artist who facilitates the deconstruction of specific ideologies. The "key departures" which Soyinka undertakes away from Nietzsche in his essay "The Fourth Stage" arise from Soyinka's realization that Nietzsche's interpretation of "tragic drama" is too narrowly delineated--because it is too much confined within "the self" (the subjective manifestation of the prevailing ideologies)--either to account for reality in its entirety or to function as the foundation for "truly" liberating forces. Nietzsche, I argue, is a "nihilist": the foundation of his interpretation of tragedy--the so-called "Apollonian-Dionysiac dialectic"--is, as Soyinka demonstrates in the essay, confined within individualism despite his (Nietzsche's) protestations to the contrary. Soyinka transformed "Nietzschean nihilism" into anarchism, first, through his deconstruction of Nietzsche's individualism, and, second, through his transformation of tragic theory into a sociological, action-oriented revolutionary movement. His preference for "circular" and "metaphysical" modes of creativity reflects his overall desire to break beyond the limitations that are inherent in the "rigid" parameters established by the prevailing social, economic, and political order and imposed upon the African intellectual through colonialism and neocolonialism. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)


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