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Struggling with the African Bildungsroman

Ralph A. Austen
Research in African Literatures
Vol. 46, No. 3 (Fall 2015), pp. 214-231
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/reseafrilite.46.3.214
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Page Count: 18
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Struggling with the African Bildungsroman
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ABSTRACT The term “bildungsroman” (novel of “formation,” “cultivation,” or “development”) has, since the 1980s, come into wide use among critics of African (and more general postcolonial) literature, although usually in very critical terms. The genre, in its classical European forms, is alleged to put forth a model of individualist development and ultimate sociopolitical integration that is inimical to both the collectivist values of Africans and their understanding of both themselves and their position within the modern order of nation states and global capitalism. However, such critiques misrepresent both the role and trajectory of the European bildungsroman and the nuances of self-representation within its African versions. The African bildungsroman is not, any more than its European predecessors, an ideological instrument either for or against a specific form of modernity but rather a reflection on the possibilities of self-formation—through inherited culture, formal education, and more autonomous Bildung—within a specific set of historical contexts.

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