Single Story


The authored talk under study could be seen as a coherent program of rethinking the long and well established recipes that have underpinned open society as well as literary criticisms. The classic obsession with elegant and simple theories or normative implications has come into question at many levels. The present report aims to show how the authors personal experiences and recollections can prove so transferable as to accommodate a variety of micro- and macro-level setups in which politicians compete with fiction writers and philosophers over who is to set frames and agendas.
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Greater Africa

Adichies informal yet comprehensive account seems to fit just squarely into the popular perceptions of Africa at large. For centuries, the continent has been depicted as a backwards place to be (or a model of Dutch Disease), a source of cheap slave labor not fit for much else and in fact foretold to end up hovering amid sheer fiefdom and serfdom. Never mind that this has largely followed the rationale of a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the land being plundered and labor-drained by the seemingly benevolent attempts at bringing in some missionary and statehood traces that the indigenous populaces were allegedly not capable of securing. In a sense, it should come as little surprise that the author positions herself as a feminist, keeping in mind that a similar vicious circle is what women had long been trapped inside, by being denied access to education and suffrage on the speculative premises of not being advancedi.e. educated and endowed with enough responsibilities to exercise. What holds for women by and large, may or may not have applied to African women in particular, as the less hierarchic primordial societies may have shown more of an egalitarian make-up early on. In other words, it is rank and not order per se that the newcomers have sought to usher in anywhere they would reach out to. Africa may well have found itself plagued by abject and aggravating poverty throughout its recent historydespite its being the conjectured origin of the humankind and of the early technologies for that matter. Not least, some of this retarded development may have lent itself to adverse natural and climate conditions, even though the prevailing cultures may have posited education as a somewhat privileged lotindeed something out of the ordinary as a distinctive feature of tribal healers and shamans. On second thought, Africa could be seen as one of the early origins of speech and systems of writing, be it Canaanite, Swahili, Phoenician, or Ethiopian to name a few and to let the Egyptian legacy stand alone. And yet, it is the indiscriminate and naive aggregate of African civilization that has been portrayed as a secondary developmental path, downright inferior to anything white Caucasianwhich is consequently posited as the single story, or even the sole privilege to decide what each particular narrative should be. Now, it goes without saying that the very myth of African coherence should be debunked first and foremost, prior to going any further. For one thing, there is no such thing as the African pathway of development, if only because the continent has shown to be very fragmented culturally as well as ethnically, let alone heterogeneous socioeconomically. There is a semi-Christian Africa, a mostly-Islamic Africa, and a slightly authentic Africa that should not have been expected to get rid of its pagan legacy any more than, say, Brazil or the US have managed to. In fact, these borderlines are as fuzzy as the are shifting, with the ISIL and Nusra herds nowadays demanding allegiance intermittently where they were either uninvited or challenged by moderate and competing institutional stories. Not least, there are regions in the Sub-Saharan neighborhood that have been unfortunate to confront the dual issue of epidemics stemming from poor water availability, with even superior baby nutrition formulas being of little help for lack of adequate sanitary standards. It would appear that the US also has infamous stories of once-thriving regions that have fallen into oblivion in the aftermath of de-industrialization and recent crises as jobs have been relocated away to low-cost economies back East. In other words, the flagship areas out West might well face complexity as well as turbulence far at odds with the expectations and the mainstream path.
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Southern Africa & Elsewhere

What holds for Africa on the whole may partially carry over to Southern Africa, keeping in mind its long-mixed legacy of segregation. In a sense, SA has long fared on a dual model of competing and non-overlapping trajectories as manned by two sub-populations whose encounters have been frowned upon and penalized. Although it is unclear whether the racist founding fathers had a complete vision for what was supposed to have evolved in either case, and over how long a haul, still it would be safe to presume theirs was a single story denying any merit to alternatives. Sadly enough, it would not be an over-exaggeration to extend this rationale to the Western stance on what a missionary design is supposed to be. The once-bipolar world torn apart between left-wing socialists and right-wing conservatives would at one point crash the gate of a Fukuyama style end-of-history paradise, with all narratives extinct but the one that allegedly had come to dominate. The initial euphoria may have been so intense it urged an all-out rebuilding of the remaining institutional legacies that had been left unattended. At this rate, market democracy was to see a global spillover in ways unparalleled within the original milieus. The response to a shocking transition may, too, have come as a bit of an overreaction, as the formerly moderately leftist states such as those across the Middle East and North Africa would gradually pick up traits of extreme Islamic presence within the local governance structuresmore so following the US led assaults on the Afghan and Iraqi oppositions to Western rule. Irrespective of who was the unscrupulous and evil player in these setups, the outcomes were catastrophic for all the parties involved, with the US Neocons embarking on an increasingly intransigent agenda, extra-territorial jurisdiction, and exceptionalism when it comes to unqualified support for the allies and own interests. It is all the more ironic that such support and allegiance on the part of the worlds champions of democracy has gone so far as to overlook the more extremist Wahhabi initiatives as sponsored by Saudi Arabia in the region as well as beyond. As one outcome, the scenario for the depressed and once-prosperous regions alike has collapsed to controlled chaoswhich is to say a singularity case as a degenerate single story, or as a stick and iron cage for those unwilling to follow a single narrative that has been designed for them. In fact, this plot does not amount to much and is reasonably one-size-fits-all, in that one presumes transparency of governance (meaning staying prone to staged riots as the flip-side of not being flexible to the outer seeing eye), a package of reforms (possibly aimed at preventing the competitive edge from denying special perks to the global multinationals), and entering no coalitions or blocs with the wrong lynchpin nations. To cut the story short, only the single story can be right, and woe unto those desperate to tap into alternative quests or questioning.

Modernity & Post-Modern Narrative

In a sense, it is ironic that the global rescuers have denied much merit to modernity or post-modernity (i.e. change and evolution which may wipe out some of the cheap and dirty means or institutional solutions that have been posited as outright superior). On the one hand, it is no wonder that Adichie as a fiction writer implicitly dwells on these pillars that have grown so natural over the past century or so they may not need any mention within standardized discourse (again a hint at a single mode of story-telling). To some extent, it could be argued that the author in question has not said anything radically new or drastically at loggerheads with conventional wisdom when suggesting another application for diversity, there being no neat classical narratives or central lines of reasoning and the like. On second thought, she has indeed pointed to some of the more relevant personal experiences that could be taken to utmost generality in carrying over to subcultures, nations, and cross-legacy travel or conflict management. Whereas the US Neocons and their UK likes may choose to nudge people, domestically as well as overseas, into the right perceptions and choices, those selfsame audiences might need ways out of this frame-setting trap. In this respect, African natives might turn out particularly vulnerable, because they have not been taught how to listen to cheap talk without buying into it. As the flip-side, pan-African nationalism could be seen as just another singularity story amid the insider audience having little to choose frommuch the way it is the case out West.

Nkali as Power to Set Frames & Agendas

Among other things, the author draws upon the notion of nkali, which could roughly measure up to the unique power or authority to inform narratives or even reverse their sequencing. The biggest threat might lie with how this could superficially lend itself to the modernistic facility at rearranging the exposition. However, in that event, the audience is free to be involved in the interpreting of the authors line without having to just look up to whatever has been set in stone. Not so with the sort of nkali or soft power in agenda setting which powers-that-be have been known to enjoy. This amounts to more than day-to-day policymaking as based on nudging. In essence, this is all about telling nations what they are or should be, at the threat of others mis-representing them to their disadvantage. Worse yet, this may extend far beyond boycotting, sanctioning, or make-believe showdowns, as any nations history and credit may come into question and end up stigmatized amidst other nations infamous episodes going rethought and lauded. For instance, to some, knowing Abe Lincoln as an author of Southern blockades would be more of an awkward experience compared to praising his oratory or emancipation niceties. A somewhat similar critical stance might be taken on Kiplings fine poetry that bordered on a finely crafted cultural racismwhich issue Adichie may have bypassed delicately in a manner hinting at the context of the discussion. The silver lining, though, would be about there being more than a single story outlining either posture. And then her own account of her happy and rewarding years back as a child steps in, which would at first deny any introspective empathy to anyone who has only heard other peoples stories which may or may not be true. Specific to African self-identity, reports linking academic achievement to overall social integration may have to be scrutinized as to whether it is higher intelligence that shines through in empathy, or an accomplisher attitude that borders on willingness to get along rather than just going it aloenot least when it comes to profiling authors like Adichie. As a special application of this faculty, she has shown to be able to rethink her own experiencesindeed to tell another story of herself. Along these lines, Wenske  has argued for continuity in depicting the African with an eye on duality and circularity, which cannot possibly be attained via any single-shot effort or by mediocre mind.


The grand program could be one way of getting rid of stereotyping, oversimplified narratives that really neither explain nor keep things simple at the end of the day. In this light, each character, be it individual or group, can be showcased in a more complete fashion such that the conventional wisdom turns out to be a pitfall rather than a solution. If people learn how cruel dictators may have garnered popular support by fostering development and authenticity, they may get to appreciate how their as cruel liberator challengers may indeed have acted in good faith, without being either omnipotent and omniscient to have staged every single coup or smart enough to calculate their own long-term costs of keeping all people bark it the right way. That said, the audience should not push the other extreme of falling prey to nihilism, wholesale denial, or an ad-hoc approach to comparative setups. Overall, it appears that Adichie has come up with a criterion equally applicable to grand narratives and small identities alike, as long as this cut-off being proposed does not turn into an eclectic mode of denying any narrative on pragmatic and well intended grounds.