POWER AND CANON FORMATION: AN INTERTEXTUAL STUDY OF THE INFLUENCE OF NIYI OSUNDARE’S POETRY ON RECENT NIGERIAN POETRY OF ENGLISH EXPRESSION

ABSTRACT

This study examines the intertextual relationship between second generation Nigerian poets and the recent Nigerian poets from the perspectives of power relation and canon formation. The study submits that Niyi Osundare, the iconic poet of the second generation stock, exerts a lot of intertextual influence on the poetic practice of contemporary Nigerian poets particularly Remi Raji, Akeem Lasisi, Joe Ushie and Emmanuel Egya Sule who are examined in this study. The study argues that although the contemporary poets are not insular to the poetic influence of other global literatures, the core aesthetics of their poetry exhibits a visible intertextual dialogic with the poetic style of Osundare, their immediate forbear. This trend, as the study argues, instances an intergenerational continuity in the poetry genre. It also chronicles a paradigmatic shift of intertextual relations from the vertical angle where the former colonisers’ artistic practice serves as model to the horizontal where the earlier tradition within the postcolonial space serves as model. The study is a qualitative research and essentially a content analysis of both the primary and secondary data which are sourced substantially from the library. It also deploys the Poststructuralist intertextuality as theoretical framework to probe the extent of the intertextual relations. The study establishes that to fully appreciate the recent Nigerian poetry of English expressions there is the compelling need to study its history of intertextual relation. In addition to the intertextual dimension, the study proves that the symbiotic nexus of power and canon formation equally provides the ontological base for the interrogation of the aesthetic sensibilities of recent Nigerian poetry in English.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

This study examines the poetry of Niyi Osundare within the premise of its canonical status and power relations and its subsequent intertextual significance for some contemporary Nigerian poets. The study is based on the assumption that Osundare occupies a central position in the history of not only Nigerian poetry in English expression but also modern African literature. His prominence manifests in his ability to construct and sustain a distinct poetic identity which in its matter and manner exemplifies the inscription of a decidedly African poetry that privileges, as its artistic subject, the voiceless African masses, fundamentally victims of leadership mismanagement and neglect. By so doing, he succeeds in consolidating a literary canon of decolonisation which is defined most importantly from the aperture of power relations and the deep seated binary opposition between the centre and the periphery as implanted in the nerve centre of language.

The inexorable but intricate relationship between power and canon formation in literary circles is such that not only are the two analogous, but they also signify each other complementarily. Canon is invariably a discursive site of not only literary tradition but of power relations and hegemony. As Foucault argues, power emanates not only in the vertical axis of political/institutional hierarchy but also in all horizontal axis of intellectual, cultural and social discourses. According to Foucault, we think of power beyond the political domination and resistance but as a complex relation that policies and produces. Foucault (1980:29) further argues that “power and knowledge directly imply one another”. Consequent upon this, he further states, “there is no power relation without the correlative – constitution of knowledge.” As Foucault constantly emphasises, there is no “any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”Intrinsic upon any form of knowledge production, following Foucault‟s argument, is the interplay of power relations.

It then follows that power and canon – the latter a continuum of knowledge production – are two historically interrelated discourses. This is because right from “its origin in specifically textual and scriptural traditions” as Mitchell (2005:20) affirms, “canon is anything but a static or monolithic notion of power and authority.” In contemporary literary practice, canon implies the standardization of literary texts by institutions and individuals as classics that in all their aesthetic and ideological nuances epitomise the dominant culture and or tradition of their context. Linked with the inherent subtleties of ideology and power relations, canon is necessarily a fluid and contestable terrain in literary practice. Adeoti (2001:21) captures the conflictual dimensions intrinsic in canon formation.