Feminist Imaginings of African Futures: Counterfactual Mythmaking in Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix and Who Fears Death

Joseph Michael Kwanya

Abstract


This paper discusses how the African speculative fiction genre makes a strong claim for orality as a counterfactual space, with writers like Okorafor invoking traditional African storytelling techniques in their narratives. I consider speculative fiction a form of myth(making) and argue that Okorafor creates alternate worlds that offer a richness of possibilities for interrogating the shortcomings of dominant histories and narratives sanctioned by patriarchy. I use the notion of counterfactuality to argue that the possible worlds that Okorafor creates in her novels Who Fears Death and The Book of Phoenix allow her to disrupt archetypes and find new ways of understanding the subjectivity of Africans in general and black women in particular. She reimagines the subjectivity of African women by making elaborate feminist proclamations through strong female characters who take on powerful patriarchal forces. In doing so, these characters are able to envision alternate worlds where dominant histories, gender relations, and other oppressive structures are contested and radically dismantled.


Keywords


Counterfactuals; Afro-futurism; African Speculative Fiction; Africanfuturism; Nnedi Okorafor; Mythopoesis

Full Text:

PDF

References


Achebe, C. (1994) Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin Books.

Attebery, B. (2014) Stories about Stories: Fantasy and the Remaking of Myth. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Barthes, R. (1977) Image, Music, Text: Essays Selected and Translated by Stephen Heath. Fontana Press.

Bisschoff, L. (2020) ‘African Cyborgs: Females and Feminists in African Science Fiction Film.’ Interventions, 22(5), pp. 606-623.

Bryce, J. (2019) ‘African Futurism: Speculative Fictions and “rewriting the great Book”.’ Research in African Literatures, 50(1), pp. 1-19.

Burnett, J.Y. (2015) ‘The Great Change and the Great Book: Nnedi’s Okorafor’s Postcolonial, Post-Apocalyptic Africa and the Promise of Black Speculative Fiction.’ Research in African Literatures, 46(4), pp. 133-150.

Christ, B. (2011) ‘“If I Were a Man”: Functions of the Counterfactual in Feminist Fiction.’ In Birke D., Butter M. and Köppe T. (eds) Counterfactual Thinking - Counterfactual Writing. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, pp 190-211.

Clynes, M.E. and Kline, N.S. (1995) ‘Cyborgs and space.’ In Gray, C.H., Figueroa-Sarriera, H.J. and Mentor, S. (eds) The cyborg handbook. New York: Routledge, pp 29-34.

Dannenberg, H.P. (2008) Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Haraway, D. (2017) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In Latham, R. (ed) Science Fiction Criticism: An Anthology of Essential Writings. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 306-329.

Hills, M. (2003) ‘Counterfictions in the Work of Kim Newman : Rewriting Gothic SF as “Alternate-Story Stories”.’ Science Fiction Studies, 30(3), pp. 436-455.

Hills, M. (2009) ‘Time, possible worlds, and counterfactuals.’ In Bould, M, Butler, A.M., Roberts, A. and Vint, S. (eds) The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 433-442.

Kristeva, J. (1941) Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, C.D. (1997) ‘The Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness.’ Anthropology of Consciousness, 8(4), pp. 144-159.

Lebow, R.N. (2009) ‘Counterfactuals, History and Fiction.’ Historical Social Research, 34(2), pp. 57-73.

Lorde, A. (1984) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Millett, K. (2000) Sexual Politics. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Okorafor, N. (2010) Who Fears Death. DAW Books.

Okorafor, N. (2015) The Book of Phoenix. DAW Books.

Omelsky, M. (2014) ‘“After the End Times”: Postcrisis African Science Fiction.’ The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, 1(1), pp. 33-49.

Panaou, P. (2015) ‘“What have they done to you now, Tally?”: Post-Posthuman Heroine vs. Transhumanist Scientist in the Young Adult Science Fiction Series Uglies.’ Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, 53(1), pp. 64-74.

Du Plooy, B. (2005) ‘The cyborg in Africa of any use for African feminisms?’ Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, 19(65), pp. 130-136.

Tetlock, P.E. and Belkin, A. (eds) (1996) Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tutuola, A. (1952) The Palm-wine Drinkard And his dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town. Faber and Faber.

Wax, E. (2004) ‘We Want to Make a Light Baby.’ Washingtonpost.com, 30 June 2004. [Online] [Accessed 23 July 2021] https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16001-2004Jun29.html


Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


Copyright (c) 2022 Joseph Michael Kwanya