Towards the Theory of Revalorization: Revolutionary Aesthetics in the Works of Olu Obafemi and Ahmed Yerima

Yemi Atanda

Kwara State University, malete, Nigeria

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


This study focuses on the revolutionary aesthetics of Olu Obafemi and Ahmed Yerima in The New Dawn and Attahiru respectively. For Olu Obafemi, the aesthetics of his drama relies principally on Marxist ideology, while Ahmed Yerima’s dramaturgy is rooted in Hegelian critical theory.  The reason for the intellectual debate between the ‘idealist’ and the ‘materialist’ signifies the roots that anchor the dramatist oeuvre of the radical/social playwright and the critical/liberal playwright is purely ideological. The idealist situates everything on the praxis of consciousness and that ideas control the world, while the materialist says that man’s existence is on the primacy of matter as reflected in the works of the two playwrights and this ambivalence flourishes in the understanding of nature and life. The link between the  two ideological divides is that social realism and critical realism have their roots in revolutionary aesthetics. This revolutionary aesthetics of both the social realism and critical realism is what I term as dialectics of revolution. The import of these divides in the  body of African literature is that  man is at the epicentre of these debates. African playwrights may have to rely on history, culture, socio-political, and economic situations of their society in their dramaturgies, and some factors such as personal visions, periodic essence, ideology and  socio-economic and political realities may be considered by African critics as they evaluate African play-texts. Dialectics of revolution, therefore, is the dramatic search for a just society, it remains a veritable source of criticism in order to understand the inherent values in any given ideology. This study, therefore, projects that the application of dialectics of revolution developed in the theories of Revalorization for literary criticism will help to advance the course of humanity.

 Keywords: revolutionary aesthetics, realism, revalorization, African, Olu Obafemi, Ahmed Yerima

 The Concept of Revalorization

Theory of revalorization is the inherent values derived from historical and social theories as found in the dialectics of revolution in Nigerian theatre. Considering the dimension of the subject and the focus of this paper, the need arises to tread the path of Marxist sociological theory to externuate what the theory of revalorization is . Doing this,  I shall rely on George Lukacs’ Marxist sociology of  literature (Lukacs, 1972). His theory is a fusion of Marxist sociological theory and Hegelian aesthetics.

Marxist sociological approach to the study of literature is concerned with relationship between the economic base of the productive and the superstructural forces of the non-economic, (such as literature , law and others). In practice, the ‘economic’ sphere includes the social relations of people, and the ‘literary’ is marketed and bought like any other product (Haslett : 2000). Goerge Lukacs’ views, as a corner stone in modern literature and the Marxists’ theory of art, talks about the extreme partisanship of literature where a writer becomes ideologue. He stresses that literary works consist a world-view or ideology, and system values of human typical characters, concrete situations and multi-dimensional reality. In this direction, literature, according to Lukacs (1963, p.3) “portrays life under capitalism and exacerbates individual’ egoistic tendency and isolation”.

 The approach of Lukacs emphasises content above the form of  literary works, because it is not really concerned with the aesthetic style of a work of art but rather what the writer’s intention is about life. Fischer(1970) posits that the content of society is on the axial production and reproduction of life, ranging from  the fact that human beings are fundamentally concerned with what to eat, drink, and be clothed and housed, to the vast array of modern tools, machines, and productive forces. So, Marxist sociological theory of literatue may arise from a new set of subjects, new form of expressions, a new style, as they evolved as a result of changes in social content. Marxist approach to the study of literature insists on criticism of judging a literary work and its value on the framework of historical-materialist perspective (Bamidele, 2000, p.23 ) that is rooted in socialist theory of a class-struggle society.

The Marxist sociological theory posits that literature, as earlier said, is  a part of the superstructure of which the state of economic development is the base. Consequently,  literature relates and reacts with other elements in the social consciousness, while the other elements also influence literature reciprocally. Literature is rooted in man’s social consciousness and shaped by the society in historical and dialectical materialism.  It reflects and recreates reality through the processes of cognitive, constructive and regulative ambience.  Literature, being the product of human thought in society through the periods of history, grows with man in social development. This growth, however, does not move in tandem with the level the society has attained on- a- one- to- one- basis. Its height may supercede that of soceity, or fall below it. But each period of historical development produces the type of literature that accounts for the civilization such a society has attained. Each phase of the literature of a society, signifies and retains the strands of the past as a sap of the present to invigorate the future in continuum. The theory stresses the relationship between form and content of a work of art, that form and content cannot exist separately, unlike the bourgeois idoelogy which raises formalist approach above content ( Lukacs, 1964, p.95).

From the foregoings, there are the lapses from the Marxist sociological theory: first, the approach raises critical point on the quality of work for its attempts to indoctrinate the mind in the service of literature and art; its effect is narrow in critical scope. Second, “the quality of work produced through marxists prescription is often seen as overtly propagandistic in tone and texture” ( Bamidele, 2000, p.16). In its dialectical approach, the theory posits that elements in a thing or a process exists both in unity and opposition to one another and that the conflicts that arise from these are responsible for changes and development. It recognises that the elements in something or process do co-operate with one another but it does not uphold the fact that the complementary nature also gives rise to changes and development. This draws the instance that the bourgeois ideology of the feudal lords in a society are in opposition to the masses. This point becomes relevant in this paper when one considers the relationship between the ruling class and the masses in  a postcolonial state,  and it may not be too different from what the people of the old colonies experienced in the hands of their colonial masters.  Lastly, the narrowness of the Marxists approcah to the sociological theory emphasizes its concern for content above form.  In other words, the Marxist approach to the study of literature considers no aesthetic pleasure in literature, because it concentrates on content analysis at the expense of form.

Hence, theory of revalorization elicited from the analysis above forms the background for the dialectics of revolution. Dialectics of revolution here means the evaluation of the inherent values of the opposing ideologies considering the essence of progressive change they offer in a given society. The concept of dialectics elicits the argument between the thesis and antithesis and the associated gap that is called synthesis is not as only from the outside of it as Haslett (2000) says. It is neither as what Hegel (1977) terms as inherent, but from both (within and without), to arrive at what is termd as dialectics of revolution- the continuous change as the progression of history in its contradiction.  I posit, therefore that change is the ultimate hope of bringing about the theory of revalorization. The change as the kernel of the theory defines the process of giving the new value to the order of things in a society. The theory of revalorization sustains the position in counter discourse in the paradigmatic essence between the radical/social realist and the critical/liberal dramatists in Nigeria. In this dialectical relationship, I elicit that this ideological difference strives towards positive change (revolution) is based on the theory of revalorization. The precept of the revalorization goes thus:

  • Man conceives in abstraction which has formed the basis for the diatribe between the two opposing ideologies like idealism and materialism.
  • The link between the two ideological divides is that social realism and critical realism have their roots in the aesthetics of dialectics of revolution.
  • Man, being a product of his environment, is at the epicenter of the revolutionary aesthetics and the debates emanating from various ideologies.
  • Revalorizing concept is the inherent values in each ideological enunciation that situate social realism and critical realism in revolutionary aesthetics.
  • African playwrights may have to rely on history, culture, social-political and economic situations of their society in their dramaturgies.
  • Factors such as personal visions, periodization, ideology, socio-economy and politics are the ingrains of the revalorization theory.
  • The search for a just society remains a veritable source of the revalorization theory to understand the inherent values in any given ideology for a better change in society.


Olu Obafemi’s The New Dawn

The New Dawn has multiple settings; it transits fron the  Central African Republic to Nigeria. In the first snap, children are enjoying their moon light plays, suddenly, soldiers fake their attacking motion, and round up the screaming children. This exposition leads to what really happens in Central African Republic under the Emperor in the second snap. Here the Emperor positions himself as the second in command to God. The youths confront him and his government, as the children experience in first snap,  in his fury, Emperor, uses his might to suppress them.

The play aesthtically communicates its message in dialogue with blend of the folkloric form of music, song, dance in cinematic style. The New Dawn is a play that calls for a rejuvenated society rising up from the level of individualized to collectivized struggle against the ruling class that dehumanizes them.

The New Dawn is a reflection of time in motion.  It reflects time in the past, when the nationalists (the native bourgeoisie) merely poise themselves for the positions that are naturally kept for the colonialists. The dreams of the elite are to occupy the positions of the colonial higher civil servants, doctors, barristers, traders, merchants, military officers, Para-military officers, and of course the politicians in Africa, and in Nigeria especially.  There is the constant attack of those foreigners, the policies and the government. In some cases it is violent. The play in its fluidity moves from Central African Republic to Nigeria, to reflect the “growing consciousness” and the “dreaming state” to ascend the prevalent power in the emergent nations of contemporary Africa that Mayomi (2005 p.52) in his “Prefatory Note” to the play calls “mecrophilism”. He goes further to say that the play not only in the flight of imagination of the playwright, but in his stark experience, “attempts to show the gains of independence as a negation of the conceived bonhomie which political freedom had earlier signified” (p.52).  But so soon in the present, the realistic essence of time reflects a gory state.  The political pugnacity began at the base of tribalism, ethnicism, religious bigotry, administrative naivety, and lack of purposeful leadership that resulted into pogrom in the north, the massacre, the wild, wild west, the revolution of the agbekoya in the west, the Tiv’s revolt and finally the Nigerian Civil War.

The time in future, therefore is the new dawn; the beginning of the new era. This new era marks the new process for “a rejuvenated society” of new values, or new order which the theory of revalorization projects. The play begins in Central African Republic, where children at the dawn of their lives are murdered at the Emperor’s order. In Nigeria, the play is set in a palm wine grove. The characters of Tayo, Dele, Aina Funke and Alade, in their intellectual verbiage articulate in their debates the need to rise gainst the ruling class by creating sense “of revolutionary opposition to a brutal neo-colonial regime” (Shittu, 2000 p.182), but without translating it to a concrete action. Alas!, the youngsters  demonstrate courage to face, protest and fight against the unjust on the part of the rulers, who arrogate to themselves the power of life and death, drain the economic resources.

The aesthetic in the  dialectics of revolution in this play by Obafemi, in his Marxian ideology, draws the class struggle between the ruling class, the native bourgeoisie on the one side and the antagonism of the peasants on the other side. The ruling class uses all the state apparatus and the state power- the guns and the soldiers; the class monopolies all the economic superstructure as doctors, nurses, civil servants, professionals, professors, politicians and contractors to suppress the base- the proletarians. The materialist understanding of life is based on the man’s cognition of nature and his social consciousness for the development of historical and economic processes. This understanding gives insight into historical and dialectical materialism with prism of logic of such processes from feudalism which was confronted and replaced by capitalism, and capitalism was in turn supplanted by socialism.  This general theory of historical process is the historical materialism that becomes the dynamo of Obafemi’s revolutionary aesthetics. He consciously builds on and deals with the concrete events in his society to fight against corruption, suppression, harassment, intimidation, incarceration, assassination by the dominant class.

The playwright is critical of the elitist individuals who profess Marxism in thier willful thinking,  dreaming about socialism as a way for an egalitarian society; yet, it is like they talk in mere revolutionary cants without concrete actions.  This motif is reflected through the characters of Tayo,  Dele, their wives- Funke and Aina and Alade who is drafted into the ‘revolutionary’ group. The venue of their formation is at Alade’s drinking spot. In this formation, they intend as a group to rouse and ignite the consciousness of the base-the peasants and proletarians against the superstructures like the Emperor, the ten percent collectors, the contractors, the military officers and their cohorts- politicians and high ranking civil servants…Full Text PDF

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