GUEST POST — Seeking the Centre with Nella Cotrupi


I am really looking forward to our conversations about these important books and hope you are also getting fired up for the exchange. Chinua Achebe’s novel begins with a quote from Yeats that I will repeat here as it brings us immediately to what I suspect may turn out to be an important focus for our talks:

thingsfallapartTurning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

– W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming


In 1959, when Achebe published Things Fall Apart, he was responding to novels, such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that treat Africa as a foil for Europe – as primitive, socially backward, and as a virtually blank slate as far as culture, civilization and the arts were concerned. In a nutshell, Achebe wanted to give voice to his land, to his culture and to his people and their aspirations.


Pondering the dynamic of centre and circumference is an interesting and important exercise that resonates for me not only because of the many influential thinkers who have pondered this relationship both before and after Yeats, but also because it lends itself to destabilization, to shaking up long entrenched, dangerously comfortable positions, whether these be political, literary, social or even personal.  Where or what is the centre? Who defines it? What is at stake?

One of the things I hope we will be doing in our meetings and discussions is challenging each other and our notions of centrality. I hope we will allow these three  powerful books to shake up our comfort zones and move us to try out different perspectives and novel sight lines onto our world, and perhaps, even onto ourselves.

As a sometime political activist, lawyer, educator and humanist, I consider these questions to be far from academic.

I look forward to sharing this path (and maybe even getting a little bit constructively lost) with all of you in July.

For more information on our Toronto Pursuits seminar, An African Conversation, click here.


Nella on the Camino, cropped  P1020764Nella Cotrupi is a lawyer and educator whose work has focused on the social and ethical engagements of literature.

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