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The negritude footprints of Francis Abiola Irele (May 22, 1936 – July 2, 2017)

BY OSA AMADI

Francis Abiola Irele and Eckhart Tolle share similar thoughts about the relationship between human success and temporal affiliations. In his Stillness Speaks, Eckhart talks about the “inner alignment with now”. The thought processes, he wrote, confines us to spend all or most of our lives in the past or future, leaving little or nothing for the now. Tolle argues that the past or future are thought forms and mental abstraction and as such illusory. Past and future can only be remembered in the now. So the only thing that exists is the NOW.

Therefore the sooner we become friendly with the NOW and learn to live with it, the better for us. Similarly, Francis Abiola Irele, a Nigerian academic and worldwide notable Africanist literary scholar, believes that African progress is in the present and not in a romanticized past.

Francis Abiola Irele was Edo. He was born in Ora, Nigeria, but moved to Enugu early in his life from where he learned his first language, Igbo. In 1940, he came to Lagos and began to speak Yoruba. Irele went back to Ora with his mother after a fight between his mother and father in 1943. In 1944 he returned to his father in Lagos.

After his graduation from the University of Ibadan in 1960, he travelled to Paris where he studied French and did his PhD in 1966 at the University of Paris, Sorbonne. He taught at the University of Ghana, University of Ife, and University of Ibadan. In 1989, he moved to Ohio State University in the USA as Professor of African, French and Comparative Literature.

He served as a Visiting Professor of African and African American Studies and of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. Later he was appointed Provost of Kwara State University, Ilorin, Nigeria.

Irele, through his article, What is Negritude? featured in Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson’s African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, helped to expand the frontiers of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s concept of Négritude. He defines Négritude as “the literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals, which took form as a distinctive and significant aspect of the comprehensive reaction of the black man to the colonial situation…”

In his collection of essays Négritude et condition africaine, Irele explores the question of African thought and rejected the notion of ideological difference between Anglophone and Francophone Africa.

Among his published works are The African Imagination: Literature in Africa and the Black Diaspora, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology, “Négritude: Literature and ideology” in The African Philosophy Reader and The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature which he co-edited with Simon Gikandi.

 


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