Beyond the Biocentrism of Fiction/Reality: On the Sociogenic Arrival of Ngũgĩ’s Matigari

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


In 1986, the Kenyan authorities attempted to apprehend a fictional character. Alarmed by reports of a mysterious stranger roaming the country making revolutionary pronouncements, President Daniel arap Moi issued a warrant for the arrest of the troublemaker, only to discover that this “Matigari” was merely the eponymous protagonist of Ngūgī wa Thiong’o’s latest novel, the publication of which had caused a minor sensation within Kenya’s working class. Because the president’s next move was to ban the book, this strange incident, frequently discussed by Ngūgī himself, is often used to illustrate the paranoia and heavy-handedness of the Moi regime. In this paper, I argue that the event has broader theoretical consequences than this. By showing the political and textual conditions that render the threshold between character and person permeable, the incident exposes the coloniality of our prevailing ontoepistemology of the human.
The counterhegemonic implications of this interpretation become apparent when we consider the circumstances that made it possible for Matigari to be mistaken for a human agitator. A fraught libidinal economy – fear of uprising and longing for liberation – combined with Ngūgī's rejection of European literary conventions of linear and unitary characterisation. The result was a discursive register that anxiously traversed the interstices of the episteme, charting the contingency and constructedness of the boundary separating fiction and reality with such acuity as to momentarily deborder the epistemic binary. On this reading, the Matigari incident offers a glimpse of what Sylvia Wynter calls sociogeny, the process by which humans invent themselves socially and culturally, specifically through the telling of stories – origin stories, cosmogonies, and descriptive statements that claim to reveal the essence of the human. Bringing Wynter into conversation with Paul de Man (on allegory) and Jacques Derrida (on invention), I present Matigari’s intervention as a spectral effect of the incomplete repression of sociogeny by biocentric discourses of human life and subjectivity. My claim is that the dominance of the colonial vision of “Man” can be challenged by the dissemination of narratives that are avowedly sociogenic and willing to confront the political and philosophical consequences of a form of self-invention that has been defined as impossible.
Period12 Jun 2022
Event titleThe 7th Derrida Today Conference
Event typeConference
LocationWashington, United StatesShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Wynter
  • Derrida
  • Ngūgī wa Thiong'o
  • Matigari
  • sociogeny
  • decolonial thought
  • philosophy
  • literary studies
  • postcolonialism