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 today. 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. The book begins with Fante anti-colonial worldliness in pre-nationalist Ghana; moves through efforts to systematize Shona philosophy approaching Zimbabwean independence; elaborates the Ugandan novel Kintu as a treatise on pluralistic rationality; and arrives, finally, at the turn to “philosophical suicide” by recent southern African writers. As it charts philosophy’s evolution from a dominant to a marginal presence in African literary discourse across the past hundred years, the book develops novels’ treatment of philosophical individualism as a tool for assessing the push-and-pull of social experience and conceptual abstraction.

Click here to see the book discussion forum in the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, with responses by Cajetan Iheka, Bruce Janz, Simon van Schalkwyk, Ashleigh Harris, and Magali Armillas-Tiseyra. 

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

The African Novel of Ideas shifts focus away from preoccupations with the interrelationship between the philosophy of individualism and colonial history, offering instead an approach capable of remaining sensitive to individualism’s specifically African trajectories, to Africa’s counter-individualisms, but also to individualisms that have developed apart from Europe entirely.” —Joseph Hankinson, in Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation

The African Novel of Ideas, which draws impressively on literature from all Anglophone regions of sub-Saharan Africa, is an important study not only for those of us who think with African literature but also for those who are invested in a more thoughtful comparative method.”—Yuan-Chih (Sreddy) Yen, in Research in African Literatures

“And of course, part of the way that we get to that richer understanding is through accounts like Jackson’s, which take us knowingly and confidently across diverse countries and ideas. And her literary answer to philosophy’s failure—that these disciplines disclose to us not how to save the world but what makes the world worth saving—is a valuable contribution to preserving the value of the life of the mind, even after we know that seemingly wonderful thoughts can create viscerally terrible worlds.” —Avram Alpert, in Philosophy and Literature

“Jackson is a muscular, masterful critic who strikes many blows, and strikes them with pinpoint accuracy.” —Timothy Wright, in Comparative Literature