Modernism, Geographical Determinism, and the Image of Africa
This chapter explores literary and cultural representations of the continent as an alternative to a world-system of nation-states. It looks at texts by Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene, each of which imagines the continent as a countermyth to the territorial nation-state. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad, drawing on theories of geographical determinism, shows Africa as a space able to undo centuries of European acculturation through its primeval landscapes and hostile climate. Nearly four decades later, Graham Greene's 1936 travel narrative Journeys Without Maps imagines the continent of Africa as a dystopian symptom of a European modernity gone global, and the sovereignty of Liberia—only one of two non-colonized nation-states—points not toward future decolonization and indigenous self-determination but rather toward a debased, failed imitation of the European national idea. In contrast to these mournful European visions, the chapter reads a series of documents authored by King Njoya of Bamum (in contemporary Cameroon), including an early twentieth-century map of his kingdom, which projects a geography that draws from both an imaginative compromise between Western notions of territoriality and indigenous spatial practices based upon the historical lineage of tribal community.
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