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35 pages 1 hour read

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1986

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Chapter 4Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “The Quest for Relevance”

Ngũgĩ reflects on the previous chapters through a discussion of “the great Nairobi literature debate” that began on September 20, 1968. In response to the university’s proposal to revitalize the literature department, various professors responded with the radical counterproposal of completely reorienting the English department by placing a commitment to the study of African literature at its center. Rejecting the idea that Africa was a mere extension of the West, the professors posed a fundamental question to the university’s leaders. In Ngũgĩ’s words, the question was, “[I]f there is a need for a ‘study of the historic continuity of a single culture,’ why can’t this be African? Why can’t African literature be at the centre so that we can view other cultures in relationship to it?” (89).

Ngũgĩ explains that the real point of disagreement was not whether the English department should focus on African languages, but rather which language would serve as the primary foundation on which the department would be structured. What began as an innocent suggestion turned into a larger and heated debate over the future of Ngũgĩ’s English department. The eventual outcome of this debate, at the time of Ngũgĩ’s writing was still unsettled. Some proposals were accepted while others underwent revision.

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