ABSTRACT

Ngũgĩ’s first five collections of essays were written while he was most actively engaged in writing novels, and Jacqueline Bardolph has argued for their symbiotic relationship with this creative work. However, while Ngũgĩ has acknowledged that his early novels and the essays in Homecoming “have been products of the same moods and touch on similar questions and problems” (xv), the essays are not contingent on the novels. The essays are not merely diagrams for the novels’ stories, or, still worse, “answer keys” to the issues raised in the novels, of the sort that Achebe famously deplored in “The Novelist as Teacher.” Moreover, their concerns go well beyond the often narrowly defined national focus of the fiction, so often fixated on the cataclysmic Mau Mau period in Kenya and its insufficiently historicized and unresolved legacy, though this has recently changed in dramatic ways. As Ngũgĩ asserts in his most recent volume, all of his work may be considered an engagement with the “aesthetics of decolonization” (Globalectics 8), considering cultural work vital to liberation. However, while the early essays were often written to respond to contemporary events or for particular public occasions, or even to satisfy academic degree requirements, they do return again and again to core values and key autobiographical events by way of illustration. In addition, over and above the obvious focus of Writers in Politics on cultural engagement, Decolonising the Mind on language, and Moving the Centre on diasporic identities, there is a certain amount of repetition as some of the collections readily admit, and Ngũgĩ has been an inveterate reviser of his own work. Ngũgĩ’s three most recent works, Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams; Something Torn and New; and Globalectics are each more focused on particular subjects, partly because they were all delivered as separate series of lectures. Penpoints, in particular, tackles performance and the state, Something Torn examines Modernism’s incestuous relationship with colonialism, and Globalectics advances a new, global, planetary theory. Moreover, these three recent works all engage with memory and the future as well as with African spirituality.