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Contentious Absolutism

The Public Sphere and the Imperative of Circumvention in Ngũgĩ's Wizard of the Crow

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Much as democratic virtues are crucial to the public sphere, it is not always the case that room is allowed for pluralistic alternative views. Where the space allowed for democratic participation is considered inadequate and unsympathetic to public interests, John Guidry and Mark Sawyer observe, “marginalized groups use a variety of performative and subversive methods to uproot the public sphere from its exclusionary history as they imagine, on their own terms, democratic possibilities that did not previously exist” (“Contentious Absolutism: The Public Sphere and Democracy,” Perspectives on Politics 1.2 [2003]: 273.). What results when democratic space gives way to tyranny and dictatorship is contentious absolutism. This essay explores the dynamics of resistance and circumvention of tyranny within the constructed public sphere of Ngũgĩ's novel Wizard of the Crow. The subordinated subjectivities, both individuals and groups, in the novel not only contest and circumvent the absolutism of state power but ultimately force the establishment to accept the democratic terms demanded by the ethos of the public sphere. The novel prompts recall of the rough, slow, but sure transition to democratic dispensations in many African countries today, no matter how flawed the structures remain.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2011

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