things fall apart

this will be a short one, definitely. i have very little i feel like “exploring” or analyzing about this book. i have a question instead, which i sort of mentioned during seminar, but allow me to elaborate for a little while.

while reading this book i found myself thinking of trouillot and his discussion of silence–specifically silence within historical documents.

what would he think of chinua achebe’s things fall apart? 

is it, in it’s own right, a historical document (an exercise in preservation/representation?), despite its obviously fictitious/novelistic qualities, and if so, what silences might it perpetuate? surely they would differ from the silences we’d expect from a more formal, academic text.


and if we’re looking at this book as a potential response to books such as heart of darkness which may perpetuate the idea that certain people are “primitive,” passive, or even inhuman– if this book is attempting to provide a fuller and more honest perspective of a certain culture or people, then perhaps we should be paying close attention to its silences?

(one such “silence” might be the choice to write the book in english.)

and this is a bit of a connection (and a bit of a stretch) to my last (and basically only other) blog post, but if you haven’t read it, don’t worry – 

both wollstonecraft and orwell appear to agree that there is such a thing as “bad novels/novelists,” and such a thing as harmful fiction, but the ways in which they cope with that fact, and the way in which it influences their writing is vastly different. wollstonecraft condemns novels in favour of political treatises and orwell writes largely allegorical, politically motivated works of fiction. 


while wollstonecraft and orwell’s respective goals and tactics cannot be easily compared (due perhaps to the different circumstances in which they are writing) they can both be seen as pursuing reform of some kind.

perhaps, then, within this progression towards reform there is room for both authors and both methods.

so perhaps within this pursuit of recorded history and its contingent identities, there is space for a linear, informed, historical text, cited, and based with evidentiary support within “reality” (such as haiti, state against nation, one of trouillot’s other books) as well as room for a work of fiction which draws from a subjective experience of a culture. (such as things fall apart)

possibly the silences in one work could provide us with clues about the silences in another?

and in that case

does the discovery of silences and their implications help us form more accurate perceptions of history?



3 thoughts on “things fall apart

  1. I think Achebe’s reason for writing in English is indicative of an even deeper historical ‘silencing’:

    Given what the book also says about the role of language in Ibo culture, I find this fairly disturbing. I think, but am not sure one of Achebe’s criticisms of Heart of Darkness was that he denied the Congolese language, this provides some context for what motivates that criticism.

  2. hey! thanks for the link. john paraphrased that during lecture, so I had that in mind while writing this.

    & i agree with you that it is disturbing. (“there is nothing you can do with it [standard version] to make it sing.” — this statement alone is haunting)

    i think that possibly what i was getting at is the idea that one “silence” — perhaps conrad’s denial of the congolese language– or even in a larger sense, a culture which “silences” the complete subjugation of a land and a people by refusing to find fault in itself and its practices — may lead to or provide context for other “silences.”

    john mentioned that some people may have found this book an “easy” read due to its seemingly simple narrative structure, it’s colorful, almost poetic language and its use of proverbs.

    someone may look at this book, then, especially when contrasted with conrad’s, as fraught with silences, pauses, or superfluous language.

    given what achebe has to say of conrad’s work, and even of the english language (and the bastardized, standardized Ibo you linked me to) it seems that he may have made his narrative choices, his silences, with conrad’s (or any other text that perpetuates colonial expansion/denial of African identity/agency really) in mind, perhaps even to draw attention to them.

    i think i am trying to say the silences can be linked.

    and hey, thanks for the response, i was starting to feel like i was shooting blanks into the internet void.

    is everyone just scrambling to get participation marks?

  3. I like the idea of silences that can be linked between texts, but wonder if you can think of concrete examples. Achebe does seems to be trying to speak to the silences left by Conrad’s text. But you are asking an important question: Trouillot tells us that speaking involves silencing. In saying something, we forgo saying something else. So, we do need to talk about the silences in Achebe’s own text.

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