A Voice Sweeter than Salt: Toyin Falola and the Construction of Subaltern Narrative Space


Gayatrl Spivak is arguably most recognized for her 1988 intervention in the dialogue of Subaltern Studies. It is within the intellectual rift of Spiva k's "Can the Subaltern Speak?" that I explore the narrative of Toyin Falola's memoir, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt. While Spivak concludes that the subaltern cannot speak be­cause of the subaltern's placement within existing knowledge production, Fa­lola's "Mouth" articulates a formation that says otherwise. Indeed, in A Mouth Sweeter than Salt, Falola's status In the subalternlty of a decolonlzlng Nigeria depicts a powerful subaltern voice with deep implications for knowledge, rep­resentation, authorial location, multifaceted identity paradox, and most of all, the tendrils of modernity.

Fundamentally, this piece argues against Spivak by constructing a case for the relative authenticity of Falola's voice, despite its incorporation into Western intellectualism. Spivak claims that the subaltern cannot speak so long as the Western academy can only relate to the other within its own investigative par­adigm of the non-Western object. Here, I frame A Mouth Sweeter than Salt, not as a Western co-opting of an indigenous voice, but rather, as an invitation to explore Falola's memoir from the position of the non-Western subject. The work also allows us to move beyond the categories of the Western and non-Western subject to seriously engage the paradox of postcolonial existence.

In granting credence to the idea of identity paradox, a close analysis of A Mouth Sweeter than Salt reveals the complexities of African subaltern voice and its dialectic with the forces of modernity. While Spivak might argue that this formulation is tainted by the motives of the West, such an interpretation of Fa­lola's memoir also builds ground to discuss alternatives to the Western archive in the development of African intellectualism. Falola's memoir stands as a tes­tament to the legitimization of oral history, micro-historical storytelling, and the disintegration of Western disciplinary divisions between history, literature, sociology, philosophy, and a host of other imported intellectual categories. By outlining the critical duality of Falola's act of subaltern speech, I hope to build a realm in which the African intellectual voice is not artificially segmented from the historical influence of modernity, but can also open discursive space to stand on its own ground. 

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