A DECONSTRUCTIVE READING OF WOLE SOYINKA’S DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN AND THE ROAD

A DECONSTRUCTIVE READING OF WOLE SOYINKA’S DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN AND THE ROAD

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ABSTRACT

African literary elites have responded to the call by Africans to free the continent from all forms of colonial and slave mentality. While others have responded overtly, Soyinka does so covertly. As a result, over time, critical commentaries on his works have been on the mythical presentation of the Yoruba world as a microcosm of the entire African continent and the post-colonial experience. While these commentaries cannot be totally erased, this research exposes the pitfalls, the blindspots and the aporias that characterize most African writings. Consequently, this research discusses Soyinka’s two plays; Death and the King’s Horseman and The Road as Soyinka’s unconscious hatred for the West. Clearly, African writers in an attempt to counter Western perception of Africa as being uncultured unwittingly enter the same conceptual web. To foreground such instances this research deploys deconstructive method of reading to bring to the fore some of the biased presentation of the Western world in all its fauna and flora. Although, deconstructive approach is “esoteric”, it is distinct in pointing out binary oppositions and how such binaries work to undo any artistic creation. Consequently, this research is premised on the following assumptions; that there is a biased portraiture of the Western world; that Africa’s position as the Other in Western metaphysics has been reversed to take the privileged position while the West becomes a negation. What Derrida calls supplementation. This research stresses the creative freedom of the reader as well as the attempt to participate in and observe the play of possible meanings to which the texts give access.

CHAPTER ONE:

INTRODUCTION

1.0 Background

This thesis espouses and identifies gaps in critical comments made about the subject

matter of Death and the King‟s Horseman and The Road. Consequently, the study analyses

the various positions taken by critics concerning Soyinka‟s Death and the King‟s Horseman

and The Road. Most importantly, the study sought out the binaries that operate throughout

the plays so as to unequivocally bring to the fore some of the prejudices that informed these

plays. While the world view that Soyinka presents in these plays gives us a better

understanding of the trilogic „essence‟ of Yoruba culture (the world of the living, the death

and the unborn) - what most critics believe to be his underlying thesis, this tripartite

relationship works as a form of higher truth (transcendental signified); the philosophy that

unsettles the Western view of Africa as the other.

Therefore, in order to achieve the set objective this research evaluates Wole Soyinka‟s

two plays; Death and the King‟s Horseman (1975) and The Road (1965) from a

deconstructive standpoint. Precisely, the research pits these plays against Soyinka‟s

submissions in his polemics i.e Myth, Literature and the African World. The polemics

presents Africa as a fount-head of all its culture. Besides, the study looks out for instances

where Soyinka‟s language occasionally spills or slips from his control. To this end therefore,

this study evaluates the typologies enunciated in these works. It therefore follows that the

main trajectory of the discourse in this study is not simply what Soyinka says but how he uses

the same tool of the “adversary” as Professor Yakubu Nasidi (2002:7) would say, to create a

supposedly African world where African plays reflect an ontologically African reality

different from the West. Deconstructive criticism interrogates philosophical empiricism, and

1


unmasks claims of totalizing metaphysics such as inscribed in Death and the King‟s

Horseman and The Road. In Derrida‟s phrase:

The Nietzschean affirmation, that is the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and one of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of the world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation.(Writing and Difference 1978 p.292).

The term, play in the above excerpt implies the Derridean notion of undecidability. Binary

oppositions are reversed in order to elevate the “inferior” term of the opposition so that the

constative becomes the performative and vice-versa. This “explodes” the initial arrangement

as Derrida puts it in Positions (ibid: 45). This “explosion” or reversal of hierarchy is not

intended to invert the value systems implied in the initial opposition but to confront one

interpretation with another interpretation. By so doing, the construction of a new hierarchy is

refused or, avoided. At this juncture, interpretation affirms free-play. The aim is to oscillate

between critical comments on Soyinka as a romanticist on one side and, the other view which

sees his work as about clash of culture.

Deconstructive approach to the study of Soyinka‟s Death and the King‟s Horseman

and The Road opens up an important argument hitherto in vogue especially by critics like

Nasidi (2002) in his book Beyond the Experience of Limits which serves as the mainstay of

this study, because it combines insights from philosophy, literature, culture and anthropology.

Nasidi (ibid) through a kind of rhetorical critique undermines Soyinka‟s text Myth,

Literature and the African World as having coherence, unity and meaning and shows that it

does not represent the truth it so claims. It does so by playing with language in a way that

teases and delights. Example of other works used in analysing these same te


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