Author Affiliation, Ana.
Peter Abrahams: The `essential' message in his literary works and artistic vision.
CriticalArts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies (Special Issue)
Date of Publication
0256-0046 (Print), 1992-6049 (Online)
One of the nagging questions the literary critic faces is the following: Does a writer have a message for his/her readership or a social responsibility towards his/her community? A propos, when we think that the liberal humanist perspective on literature – that literature has a utilitarian function beyond its aesthetic value – is outmoded, eclipsed by the celebration of postmodernist chaos and the ‘death of the author’, postcolonial writers remind us that, like the griot, the author cannot be dismissed, and art-for-art's sake is a luxury that the so-called Third World writer cannot afford, because the author is part of a community and thus embodies as well as reflects the values, dreams and fears of that community. As Foucault has demonstrated, ‘to be an author is not merely to have a certain factual relation to a text … it is, rather, to fulfil a certain socially and culturally defined role in relation to the text’ (Gutting 2005: 29). From slave narratives to postcolonial writings, one senses an urgent and earnest need not only to rehabilitate the image, but also to assert the identity and humanity of the slave, and the colonised and postcolonial subject. On the African continent and in the African Diaspora, this ‘responsibility’ or duty is quite noticeable, and Peter Abrahams’ works, while emanating essentially from his South African milieu, assume this responsibility/need that transcends his country of birth, for at the centre of his oeuvre is humanity itself. This grounding of his works might even lead us to talk about his artistic vision, rather than an essential message. The apartheid days of South Africa cannot be divorced from Abrahams’ writings, neither can his adoptive country, Jamaica, be excluded from his artistic vision, as he returns persistently to issues of home and identity imbedded in the matrix of Pan-Africanism. In what follows, I explore these themes that exemplify, I argue, Peter Abrahams’ fundamental message or artistic vision.....