Forget the Muse, think only of the (Decentered) Subject?

Biodun Jeyifo


This essay involves an exploration of complex and fascinating acts of decentering and re-centering of writers in relation to
traditional Muses as institutionalizations or sedimentations of artistic and intellectual inspiration in cultural tradition. Using the
specific example of Wole Soyinka’s much discussed appropriation of Ogun, the Yoruba god of war, metallurgy and creativity as
a point of departure, the paper gives what is intended as a far more complex and even more contradictory relationship between
Soyinka and this chosen Muse than what we typically encounter in the criticism and scholarship on the Nigerian dramatist’s
writings. This is done in two distinct though interlocking interpretive, discursive moves: first, by reading Soyinka’s positive
appropriation of Ogun against Derek Walcott’s disavowal of the Muses of both Europe and Africa in the play, Dream on Monkey
Mountain and in one of his most important essays, “The Muse of History”; and, secondly, by critically excavating Soyinka’s own
scathing and revisionary critique of Ogun as a Muse in his first major play, A Dance of the Forests. Building on these readings
of Soyinka and Walcott, the essay ends with a plea for paying as much attention, in the postcolonial Nigerian and African
context, to re-centering as is given to decentering in Western postmodernist discourses, always with an eye to the interpenetrations
and exchanges that take place among the diverse literary and cultural traditions of the world. Key words: Muse; a-muse;
avant-garde critical theory; decentering and recentering; the Subject of traditional humanism.

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