‘No One Knows What He is Until He is Told’: Audience and Personhood in a Colonial African Diary
The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Taylor & Francis
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Watson, R. (2016). ‘No One Knows What He is Until He is Told’: Audience and Personhood in a Colonial African Diary. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 44 (5), 815-832. https://doi.org/10.1080/03086534.2016.1229262
This article explores questions of audience and personhood in the diary of Akinpelu Obisesan, a Yoruba man who lived in colonial Nigeria. In particular, it examines how Obisesan wrote between the genres of autobiography and biography so as to generate a sphere for self-fashioning in the colonial context. After introducing Obisesan and exploring briefly the relationship between autobiography, diary writing and the self, I show how Obisesan’s diary narrated a deeply relational form of personhood, which he both generated as a writer and consumed as a reader. The article analyses this narrative, exploring how Obisesan constituted various real and imagined audiences for his diary, while simultaneously claiming his privacy and ‘archiving himself’ into a tin trunk. In the final section of the article, I present a close reading of sections of the 1927 diary, to show how, when writing his diary, Obisesan projected multiple audiences into his text. He used these audiences as a foil for enhancing his own sense of self, thus constituting his personhood and legitimating his precarious social position in colonial society.
This article is based on an earlier paper presented at the ‘Biographies Between Spheres of Empire’ conference at the German Historical Institute London, in May 2010. My thanks to Silke Strickrodt and Achim von Oppen for organising the conference. I am also grateful to Wayne Dooling, Isabel Hofmeyr and Silke Strickrodt for their helpful comments and suggestions. This work was supported by a Research Leave Award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number 113102), which is gratefully acknowledged.
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03086534.2016.1229262
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/254210
Attribution 4.0 International
Licence URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/