World Literature and the Postcolonial:
Ngugi’s Globalectics and Glissant’s Poetics
Duncan McEachern Yoon
Over a decade into the 21st century, the West is no longer the primary locus of economics, technology, and culture. With the rise of China, India, Brazil and South Africa as the largest economies within the Global South, development and exchange can often obviate the West. This multi-polar world—as many theorists of globalization have pointed out—represents an unprecedented shift in global power dynamics. How then is this multi-polarity understood? And within the cultural sphere, what kind of theory of knowledge is needed to vocalize the contemporary moment? Although Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s globalectic grows out of an amalgamation of materialism and the negotiations of a Gikuyu and Anglophone Kenyan context, Édouard Glissant’s poetics of relation emerges from a poststructural and creolized Francophone Caribbean context. However, both arrive at strikingly similar conclusions concerning the role of orality and literature in the formation of an analytic for the cultural exchanges of a multi-polar world. As a result, the postcolonial emerges as an ethic with which to articulate and engage with definitions of globalization and world literature.
Centers and Peripheries
Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s new book Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (2012) locates the beginnings of such an understanding in the shape of the earth itself:
Globalectics is derived from the shape of the globe. On its surface there is no one center; any point is equally a center. As for the internal center of the globe, all points on the surface are equidistant to it—like the spokes of a bicycle wheel that meet at the hub. Globalectics combines the global and the dialectical to describe a mutually affecting dialogue, or multi-logue, in the phenomena of nature and nurture in a global space that’s rapidly transcending that of the artificially bounded, as nation and region. (Ngugi 8)
Essential to Ngugi’s globalectic is the removal of a static dichotomy of center and periphery. At any time and in any space, one point can serve as a center and the rest as peripheries and vice versa. Center and periphery are thereby dissolved as hierarchical categories; they become merely situational designations that allows for a leveling of the cultural playing field. Part and parcel to this decentering is the importance of equidistance. The equanimity at the heart of Ngugi’s project grows out of conception of the world as simultaneously coalescing and diverging, as a mutually transformative exchange stripped of the racist hierarchies of a colonial world and its afterlives. If a bicycle wheel is meant to spin, propelling the rider forward, then Ngugi’s globalectic retains an idealistic impulse, if tempered by the experience of decolonization and independence.
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Essays in this Forum
Break out of the Prison House of Hierarchy!
by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
A Globalectical Imagination
by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
World Literature and the Postcolonial: Ngugi's Globalectics and Glissant's Poetics
by Duncan McEachern Yoon
“You Are the Prisoner, the Discoverer, the Founder, the Liberator”: Contextualizing Decolonial Paths of Afro-Hispanic Literature in Latin America, Equatorial Guinea and Spain
by Elisa Rizo
Globalectics Beyond Postcoloniality
by Carole Boyce Davies