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Coming together for Things Fall Apart: 1958-2008. Reflections on reading Achebe today

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 22:20 authored by John MastersonJohn Masterson
This article considers the impact of a conference held in London in 2008 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. It focuses on the interdisciplinary nature of the symposium and the diversity of its participants’ responses to Achebe's work in order to explore how and why this seminal novel continues to make for prescient reading given our current geopolitical context. The article situates Things Fall Apart in relation to some of the most important developments within postcolonial studies more broadly, arguing that, in many ways, the text both anticipates and writes back to some of its major concerns. It makes use of interventions by Edward Said to suggest that Achebe's work lends itself to the kind of politically engaged and engaging critique that resonates beyond the confines of the academy. As such, it also considers how many of the issues raised during the conference can be seen in conjunction with thencontemporaneous debates surrounding Barack Obama's quest to become U.S. President. Whilst a discursive marriage between Achebe, Said and Obama may look incongruous, the article argues that there are a series of provocative overlaps between their respective visions, particularly when it comes to thinking about the interventionist role of the artist and/as ‘public intellectual.’ From the outset, the article maintains that Things Fall Apart invites the kind of varied and original responses that were showcased throughout the commemorative conference by writers, critics and artists alike. My own interest in the interpretative possibilities afforded by the Achebe, Said, Obama model gives a sense of how and why I feel his work continues to make for compelling reading today.


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English Studies in Africa




Taylor and Francis and UNISA Press





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