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calamityschild's picture

I liked the note that Anne left me on my last post about Appiah's "[refusal of] the binary that structures Said's calling "overdone" the conventional contrast...between 'rootless cosmopolitan' and the rootedness of traditional societies." I picked up The Ethics of Identity from the library and I've been flipping through it to find some thought-provoking quotes:

"By freedom from unreal loyalties is meant that you must rid yourself of pride of nationality in the first place; also of religious pride, college pride, school pride, family pride, sex pride and those unreal loyalties that spring from them." (Appiah, 222)

"In a recent satirical fable, the writer George Saunders assayed thte subject of 'fluid-nations,' citizenship of which depends not on geographical contiguity but on 'values, loyaties, and/or habitual patterns of behaviour' that traverse geo-national borders...thte patent arbitrariness of the ways human beings sort themselves out." (Appiah, 238)

"What's troublesome about cosmopolitanism--that it sometimes puts the abstract demands of a categorical identity (in this case, a shared humanity) above our rooted, Blut-und-Boden loyalties-is just what's troublesome about nationalism. If national allegiances are reasons for actions, they will sometimes interfere with the reasons presented by more local, and 'thicker,' allegiances." (Appiah, 239)

I'm also going to look through Americanah for some passages that feel relevant, but *right* now I'm thinking about the one that Anne left in another comment about choice: "would not understand the need to escape form the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happend in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty" (p. 278). I'm thinking that Obinze's leaning towards America and England might represent some sort of yearning for cultural contrast that he believes will enrich him, something that is echoed in his inclinations for Western literature and entertainment-as well as Kayode's trips to Britain and worldly experiences. I haven't quite gathered my thoughts into any pretty organized sentences yet but I'm thinking that Obinze's attempts to assimilate into Western culture is a result of the colonial relationship between Nigeria and Britain. Obinze, as a post-colonial subject, still feels pressured to acculturate himself into the dominant culture-in this case, the ones that have amassed global prestige and wealth as a result of a period of colonial rule-for his own benefit. 

The idea of leaving Africa and joining the West for a better life is a common theme throughout the book. Aunty Uju literally flees Nigeria for a chance at a more secure life in America-although it costs her. Ifemelu and Obinze go abroad and meet with other African immigrants who have, more or less successfully, made new lives in the West. I think a lot of the characters in Americanah who have left Nigeria feel disillusioned with their lives in Western countries. Think about the pain Ifemelu goes through hiding her accent and her natural hair texture just to fit in in America. The transition is clearly a hard one-full of growing pains that, I think, come with much "sadness" and are capable of creating those "unhealable rift[s]...between a human being and a native place"

I'll say more in our next meeting but it's midnight and I better post this! 


Anne Dalke's picture

we’ve talked since you made this posting, and I heard your very interesting idea—I think now a working plan for your paper?—that you might read Americanah as a critique (perhaps a patent refusal?) of what Appiah celebrates as cosmopolitanism, and that you could construct such a critique by focusing on Ifem’s experiences in moving to the US, then back to Nigeria, with Obinze’s experiences abroad and home as intensifiers to this story. The line you trace here to the colonialism that (surely) underlies Obinze’s desire to live abroad is a very important one (is this something Appiah also considers?), and one that suggests that the way we “sort ourselves out” isn’t arbitrary @ all, but dictated (or @ least very much directed) by history. So interesting, this work; I'm eager to see more as it evolves.