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In an essay titled “Christopher Okigbo and the Postcolonial Market of Memories,” Maik Nwosu responds to earlier critical assessments of Okigbo’s work, often in a critical and corrective manner. In so doing, he makes the following points:
- Okigbo’s work should be seen not merely in terms of European modernism or in terms of native African traditions but in terms of a kind of third option that somehow mediates between the other two or that actually creates something new. As Nwosu puts it early in the essay,
Okigbo creates a third signifying field via a conjunction of two signifying systems (the native and the colonial) not merely into a state of hybridity (not wholly African or European) but a new state of consciousness rooted in a traditional African mythic code.
- Okigbo’s work should not be seen simply as a pale imitation of the works of such Euro-American poets as T. S. Eliot.
- In approaching Okigbo’s works, some critics are guilty of “Marxist reductionism.”
- To fully appreciate Okigbo’s work, critics must be alive to a multitude of potential influences. His poems are not simplistic, and critics should not treat them simplistically.
- Ikigbo did not romanticize black African literature, and so romantic approaches to his own writings are inappropriate.
- Any attempt to understand Okigbo’s work by interpreting it in the light of only one cultural tradition will inevitably fail to do justice to his work. As Nwosu says at one point,
The deep structure of Labyrinths is that of a dialogue-across-frontiers by a poet-priest who acknowledges and incorporates signs from an alien religious code but does not forsake his own shrine.
- Multiple religious traditions are as important in Okigbo’s work as multiple literary traditions. Failure to appreciate this fact will result in simplistic interpretations of his writings.
- Okigbo’s work goes above and beyond his various influences without ever losing contact with them. As Nwosu writes at the very end of his essay,
Okigbo's postcolonial globalization is neither the excluding submission to colonial influences nor the occluding recuperation of traditional Africa. Its historical sense points to a new state of consciousness in which the African Africanizes the entire range of his experiences within a global market of memories (activated by world-scale capitalism or colonization) into a new spiritual state. While Okigbo never ceased to be an Igbo/African poet, he was unwilling to conceive of himself within a state of cultural-ideological closure.
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