Oral narrative mnemonic devices and the framing of the Zambian novel in English: a study of selected Zambian novels
This study, which focuses on the role that oral narrative mnemonic devices play in framing the Zambian novel in English, argues that images in the novel do not form an unbroken continuum from oral narratives. This argument is based on the assumption in both African and Zambian literary theory and practice that the presence of oral narrative images in the novel creates collective cultural identity by evoking an indigenous precolonial culture lost during colonialism. A number of studies on Zambian novels in English point to the relationship between oral narrative mnemonics and the novel by identifying the link between oral narrative images, languages and cultural identity. My study departs from these studies, observing that while oral narrative devices play a role in framing the novel in English, the images themselves are subject to a multicultural, dynamic, temporal and fluid context of the novel. I mainly draw on Derrida’s deconstruction of logocentric and binary thought to argue that images in the novel cannot be a linear continuation from oral narratives. The idea of oral narrative linearity creates the notion that oral narratives are a natural logocentre of meaning because orality is prior to writing (and images in the novel) and therefore closer to logocentric natural language than writing. Furthermore, this creates binary thought where oral narratives and images in the novel are considered as a binary pair and writing is viewed as the signified to which images in the novel absolutely refer and come from. The study modifies Derridian deconstruction with theoretical concepts such as Bakhtin’s heteroglossia, carnivalesque, chronotope; Bhabha’s ‘third space’ and Said’s idea on ‘othering’. I apply a critical textual approach on selected Zambian novels in English to deconstruct both logocentric thinking and binary pairs in which oral narratives are considered the logocentric signfied of images in the novel. Furthermore, I deconstruct the idea of a hierarchised binary pair in which oral narratives are preferred as more representational of images in the novel than any other aspect. I argue that images in the novel cannot be a linear continuation from oral narratives because firstly, images in novels such as Day of the Baboons (Saidi, 1991) and Patchwork (2011) are characterised by multi-cultural, heteroglossic and carnivalesque images. Secondly, I challenge the idea that images in the novel represent a logocentre such as oral narratives which is always located outside the sign. This is observed in how images in Changing Shadows (Musenge, 2014) and The Chosen Bud (Luangala, 1991) compensate for the inherent absence of the signified within the sign by instituting differànce. Thirdly, I argue that images in the novel cannot be mere replications of oral narratives because of inherent unstable time and space (chronotopic) related to the internal structure of artistic signs. This results in flexible and changeable images in novels such as Tongue of the Dumb (Mulaisho, 2007) and Quills of Desire (Sinyangwe, 2010) that affect frozen transmission of images from oral narratives to the novel and from one epoch to another. Fourthly, I argue that the absolute articulation of an absolute signified, such as oral narratives, is prevented by the fact that images in novels such as Echoes of Betrayal (Namutowe, 2019) are articulated in an unstable in-between space, which is perpetually haunted by the return of the uncanny and traces of the past and an anticipated future which always arrives too late to be grounded. Furthermore, my study of Ticklish Sensation (Phiri, 1994) demonstrates that the unstable in-between space is also a space that differentiates theory such as the discourse on linearity from reality because reality often articulates something different from the desired theoretical signification. What is produced is a sign that diverges from the theoretical signified and its attempt to be articulated as such produces something that can only be located in-between but beyond desired signification. Lastly, I argue that images in the novel cannot be linear descendents of oral narrative because subscription to such a pre-inscribed entity is similar to subscription to a term such as identity. Thus, fixed terms and discourses, such as oral narrative linearity, fail when they cannot account for all the images they purport to identify or represent as demonstrated in the Mourning Bird (2019) where pre-incscriptions of identity by the centre create margins when those that do not fit into authoriesd categories are othered and silenced. Hence, I adopt Brubaker and Cooper’s idea to drop such fixed categories of analysis such as identity. In additon, I engage in a discussion on other ‘others’ or idioms (other than the dominat discourse) that emerge in The Old Drift (2019) (and the silences and gaps in literary analysis) while our focus is on the dominant discourse such as oral narrative linearity. This is in order to suggest that there is no fixed parentage relationship between oral narrative images and the novel because images in the novel are dynamic and everchanging.