The Intertextual Motif of “Africa” in Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Personal Matter

Güven D. Ç.

Turkish Studies - Language and Literature , vol.17, no.1, pp.67-85, 2022 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)


Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Personal Matter depicts the protagonist Bird’s severe identity crisis following the birth of his child with a head abnormality, which would inevitably cause the cancellation of his trip to Africa he had dreamt of making for years. He even attempts to have the baby killed in order to be able to go off to Africa to which he has always been attached with a fetishist obsession. At the end of the narrative, however, he decides to take responsibility both for the child and his life. The novel makes intense references
to Africa, which infuriated Yukio Mishima who made the following highly offensive ethnocentric statement: “In world history, we, Japanese people have never been so weak to long for the barbaric vitality ofunderdeveloped tropical countries; hence [Ōe’s] longing for Africa must definitely be enabled by the agency of Paris, which has been greatly weakened.” In the novel, the motif of “Africa” functions as a metaphor alluding to the great decolonisation of Africa whose climax occurred in the early 1960s. The pro-imperialist Mishima criticised the novel not because he did not understand this context, but because he understood it very well and, unlike Ōe, was indifferent to the liberation of Africa. Furthermore, Ōe was inspired by some narrative motifs and especially certain anti-colonialist writing techniques developed by African, or of-African-descent writers like Tutuola, Fanon, Senghor, Wright, and Ellison. Thus, this paper analyses how Ōe consciously exposed himself to the influences of “Africa” as a comtemporary politico-historical phenomenon and that of “Négritude” literature while writing A Personal Matter, by using the theoretical works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Edward Said. We hope this paper, will contribute to Ōe studies, and inspire new research focusing on the interplay between Ōe’s oeuvre and the texts of Third World literature.