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Analyzing Freud and African Literature

Applying key concepts of Western psychoanalysis to the prose and journalism of Africa

Although he’s a scholar of African literature, Prof. Uzoma Esonwanne of the department of English has found himself thinking about Freud a lot lately. Consider Freud’s Oedipus complex theory, a basic tenet of Western psychology, which postulates that a boy subconsciously feels attracted to his mother at a key point in his development. “This myth did not originate in Africa, so what does it mean to employ it when analyzing an African text?” he asks.

Esonwanne is co-ordinating an international project to discover whether key concepts of Western psychoanalysis can be applied to the prose and journalism of Africa. He’s curious about some gaps in critical methodology. Leaders in the field of psychoanalytic criticism hardly ever examine non-Western literature, he says, yet they assume that the theories they employ have universal validity.

Moreover, interpreters of African literature rarely turn to psychoanalytic thought. This caused Esonwanne to “question why African scholars are reluctant to examine the validity of psychoanalysis, whereas they are not hesitant to question and apply feminism, Marxism or other theories.” By initiating a dialogue, he hopes to enrich both literary criticism and psychoanalysis. “What can we learn about African literature and what can we learn about Freud himself?” he asks.

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