The African Novel of Ideas

Book CoverMy second book, The African Novel of Ideas: Philosophy and Individualism in the Age of Global Writing, is available from Princeton University Press. It tells the story of the relationship between the novel and philosophy at key, under-studied junctures of African intellectual life, from the early 20th century through the present day. It is a story, specifically, of how the novel negotiates between liberal selfhood and liberal critique, unseating false dichotomies between humanistic and liberationist thought traditions. Starting with Fante anticolonial worldliness in pre-nationalist Ghana; moving through efforts to systematize Shona philosophy in mid-century Zimbabwe; developing Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Ugandan novel Kintu as a treatise on pluralistic rationality; and arriving, finally, at the treatment of “philosophical suicide” by current southern African writers, the book offers a far-reaching assessment of the push and pull of subjective experience and abstract thought.

Selected Reviews:

“Jackson’s lucid and stimulating book single-handedly opens up completely new sources to examine what the African novel does and how we might continue to productively read it. This accessible work provides an electric jolt to African literary studies.”—Ato Quayson, Stanford University

The African Novel of Ideas combines erudition with logical precision to transform the relatively homogeneous body of ‘postcolonial’ fiction and theory into a constellation of arguments that think with and through African fiction and philosophy from a strategic selection of nations and regions. Rather than uneven development in Western terms, the result is a stunning picture of different kinds and angles of perspective on global Anglophone culture that scholars will have to reckon with for years to come.”—Nancy Armstrong, Duke University

The African Novel of Ideas is generous and imaginative—Jackson shows, in one skillful reading after another, that narrative is one of the vehicles of philosophical reflection and intellectual innovation across the African continent. This unique book will help lead African studies and literary studies to a new place.”—Imraan Coovadia, author of Tales of the Metric System

“Here is the rare work of contemporary literary scholarship that speaks plainly to the question of what the novel can offer philosophy and vice versa. Jackson’s glosses of several recent African novels, particularly Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu, chart their metaphysical substance with an invigorating exactness.”—Mark de Silva, author of Points of Attack

“For too long, African writers have struggled against representations and analyses limiting their work to ethnography. This thorough and crucial intervention presents African literature, not merely as products of exotic traditions that titillate outsiders and Africanists, but as intellectual pursuits grounded in ideas. Accessible and rigorous, The African Novel of Ideas does great justice to the notion that African literature can distinctly represent both the thinker and abstract thought.”—Elnathan John, author of Born on a Tuesday

“Examining the artistic and intellectual output of five regions in Africa, this book is a much-needed redressing of the neglect of the African novel’s status as an artifact of philosophical inquiry. It challenges inherited means of reading the African writer, and offers a spirited alternative to the binaries that have come to dominate debates in postcolonial literature.”—Masande Ntshanga, author of Triangulum