The Scope of Autobiography in Ezekiel Mphahlele's Afrika My Music

F-K Omoregie, English Department University of Botswana

Autobiography takes within its scope, a broad range of issues, which slip through the conventional disciplinary boundaries of

1. Politics:

a. I have always believed that the democratic ideal should accommodate political dissent. (p.8)

b. But what Israel was to do to the Palestinians appalled me. It poisoned the memory of those three months. (p. 88)

c. Even as I mumble to myself, I am aware writers don't make revolutions . . . creators of serious imaginative literature are engaged in a middle-class occupation . . . it does not matter if we write about the concerns of the common man . . . we are not read by him. Politicians and financiers run our world, not people who play with images and symbols . . . yet we keep writing . . . it is a therapy for ourselves, it is no use deceiving ourselves that the world will be saved by poetry or the arts in general. If a writer wants to promote a political revolution he must go out among the crowd as a man, go into action. Imaginative literature should revitalize or keep alive a language and experience, it should increase our capacity to feel. (pp. 130-31)

2. History

a. Kenyan independence. See pp. 83-84

3. Anthropology and Sociology

a. Down there (SA) you learned to lie to the white man in order to survive; anger and bitterness, running and fighting and running again, these seemed like vital compulsions. In Nigeria, or in Ghana, you had to stop running . . . Rebecca and I expected opposition and tough words whenever we met whites. None. The crutch that had given you identity back home ­ anger and all ­ had been taken away. You had to move under your own steam . . . the people of Nigeria were generous, so the condition of being an outsider, a person without a British education, was not burdensome. (p. 22)

b. We reckoned that a child conquers his environment through language. And the best medium was that which dominated their learning environment at school and in the street. (pp. 138-139)

c. Africans readily learn the language of their milieu, the language they need for upward or horizontal mobility. (pp. 139)

5. Cultural studies

a. You're all right if you understand that your friendship or acquaintance with them (French) will go as far as the café or bistro, and rarely into their homes. Not because you're black, people will tell you, but because they keep that area of their lives secluded, even in their relationships with one another . . . they have a streak of cruelty, too, the French . . . I don't know to what extent, if any, the traffic in any big city reflects a national character. To see drivers skirt round a blind man crossing the street (rather than wait) appalls me . . . deep down in the French psyche it is expected that you, the outsider, should allow yourself to be sucked into its 'superior' culture, into a language that is the ultimate idiom of gentility and aesthetic enlightenment, one that you can't possibly resist if you are tuned into the charm and wisdom of western civilization. It is expected that you should know that this assimilation is only possible on the Frenchman's terms. Deep down in such a psyche lies a calculating racism. (pp. 75-76)

b. By the same token, the British with their studied aloofness . . . lead you to believe that you're all right with your indigenous culture, as long as you learn enough English to understand that it is the idiom of a superior culture with a long and rich literary tradition. There's the rub: you can't learn a language without assimilating its thought systems and therefore its culture. Thus the aloofness implies a racist mind: you can't make it to our level, the Englishman is saying. (p. 76)

c. I consistently refused to chauffeur my boys to their dates. Africans never entered courting relationships their children are involved in, until they have developed to an unmistakable seriousness . . . American parents, on the contrary. Like to get involved in their children's amusements, in their dates. (pp. 141) d. Sowetans like to hear you talk about your misfortunes and failures. Not about your successes or triumphs . . . They just enjoy hearing that someone else is in the same mess they are in. (pp. 253-254)

e. Urban ghetto folks look down on rural folks, because they (urban folks) reject the political concept of 'homelands' ­ the rural areas. So we write off a whole rural constituency from which we could learn something of the art of living. Because out there may be a culture of poverty, but it is by no means a poverty of culture. (p. 255)

6. Psychoanalysis:

a. There are acts and words that express white racism that no one can verify or prove as they are happening or being said, but which we the 'people of color' all over the world have a finely tuned instinct to detect. (pp. 76-77)

7. Gender studies:

Postcolonial Web Rupublic of South Africa OV Africa OV Mphahlele

Last modied May 2000