Modernism, African literature, and the Cold War

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37 Scopus citations


Modernist concepts, especially aesthetic autonomy, were fundamental to the literature of decolonization in anglophone Africa. An archival examination of Black Orpheus, Transition, the Transcription Centre, and the African Writers of English Expression conference at Makerere in 1962 shows that many African writers were drawn to modernist principles of intellectual freedom and writerly detachment. Figures such as Rajat Neogy, Christopher Okigbo, and Wole Soyinka, all strongly associated with these emerging cultural institutions, repurposed modernist versions of aesthetic autonomy to declare their freedom from colonial bondage, from systems of racial discrimination, and even from the new postcolonial state. In the geopolitical context of the Cold War, modernist ideals of aesthetic detachment also gave these writers a language of ideological neutrality. The literary histories of modernism and of anglophone African literature became intertwined through avowals of Cold War neutrality from the first generation of postcolonial writers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-368
Number of pages36
JournalModern Language Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by University of Washington.


  • African literature
  • Cold war literature
  • Decolonization
  • Modernism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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