- This year's winner of the Broadband Orange Prize will be announced the following day, on Wednesday 6 June.
- Image courtesy of the author.
Writings of the general word's body
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007
Excerpt from Chika Unigwe's story, The Invention of Football and Other Truths...
As the oldest of the four and the most widely traveled, Titi is believed to have the most encyclopedic knowledge of all of them. It is from her that they learnt that in a certain part of China, the mirror signifies re-union. It is also from her that they heard that former president Sani Abacha died on top of an Indian prostitute and that in Cuba, cigars are rolled on firm virginal thighs. She is aware of the latest fashions, not just in Lagos, but also in New York and Paris. It does not matter that none of them, not even she, has ever been to the places that she names. It is enough that she knows. She commands their attention. Her voice rises above the clashing and the goat smell of the kitchen, and the occasional groans and yelps from the sitting room.
“You know, football was invented by a woman.”
He was told by a charismatic lieutenant with a fondness for Julius Ceasar: "If you do not want to fight or help, that is fine. But you will not have rations and will not stay in this village ... This is your time to revenge the deaths of your families and make sure more children do not lose their families." Beah's life became a series of violent spells where killing was "as easy as drinking water". As he takes us through a life of battles, promotions and unfathomable acts of cruelty, we almost forget he is only a boy. It is only when he writes that "we all wanted to be like Rambo; we couldn't wait to implement his techniques", that the horror and despair of his situation, the mix of innocence and maturity that is a child soldier, hits home.
What is it about child soldiers and Rambo fixations? Agu's lot also wanted to be like Rambo. Unlike Stallone however, they don't have the benefit of illegal growth hormone. Nuff said.
Interestingly, Iweala (son of Nigeria's former Finance Minister & recently chosen as one of Granta's 'Best Young American Novelists') - writes from a decidedly 'Western' viewpoint. Hear him...
In telling his story of how war erodes consideration and thoughtfulness for others, Beah challenges us in the west to question our glorification of it. We assume that the struggles we fight are ideological compared to the savage civil conflict that destroyed Beah's childhood. We assume that killing with laser-guided missiles is somehow more humane than slitting a man's throat. But in addition to its emphasis on the beauty of human resilience and hope, a central message of A Long Way Gone is that war, hatred and violence consume everything in a society, especially children. Even more important, it admonishes us to think of young people affected by war who should occupy far more of our news pages and television screens.
--Read the review in full
The Saturday's Review section had a half-page review of Soyinka's You Must Set Forth at Dawn (newly published in the UK) by Margaret Busby.Fast forward to today, and Soyinka is on the cover of The Guardian's G2 section. Inside is a profile by Maya Jaggi.
An excerpt that touches on tomorrow's inauguration of a 'new' Nigerian President...
Tomorrow's inauguration of Nigeria's new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, is, for Soyinka, such a throwback. Along with international observers, he deems last month's presidential elections "no elections at all", so baldly were they rigged. "In some states there were no votes," he says. "We have videos of police commissioners carting off ballot boxes, and police looking on as thugs carted them off." Though the outgoing president, Olusegun Obasanjo, ended military rule in 1999, Soyinka sees his rule as "civilian dictatorship". He has now "made himself life chairman of the ruling party to dictate policies", he says.
On the situation in Darfur...
Soyinka presided as chief judge at a mock trial last November when Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir was found guilty in absentia of crimes against humanity in Darfur. For the playwright, poet and novelist, who is also an actor-director, the symbolic court was "play-acting, but of a very serious kind". During the tribunal set up by Genocide Watch, Soyinka heard searing testimony, he says, from "witnesses flown out from southern Sudan, people whose families had been killed, or who had been raped or seen relatives raped or maimed - some broke down. They testified to the war crimes of the Janjaweed [the government's proxy militia], saying they raided villages and killed Nuba at any time."
Soyinka quoted a Yoruba saying, "Sooner death than indignity" (iku ya j'esin) to underscore his belief in dignity as the basis for human freedom. There's much to nod along with WS on, as always. But he still lets Tony Blair off too easily, in my view.
- Soyinka who was also in discussion with Helen Oyeyemi courtesy of The Telegraph recently, will be giving the first ever South Bank Lecture in London on 7 July.
After the workshop - Prof. Osundare and Nana-Esie Casely-Hayford, a writer of Ghanaian extraction who on arrival, greeted the Nigerian poet in Yoruba.
L-R: Ray, Osundare and I. I told Prof. Osundare that I had never been to Leeds before but I had to come as I couldn't miss this unique opportunity to see him. "And when you're dealing with a 60-year-old man, you have to seize the moment!" he quipped good-humouredly. Osundare greeted Ray in the extra warm manner of 'omo wa ni' (he's our child), and as I later found out, Ray is from the Congo.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Niyi Osundare and Malawian poet Jack Mapanje in Leeds in 12 May. Mapanje revealed for the first time his role in the 1986 Commonwealth Poetry Prize, where he had to defend Osundare's book which was Africa's entry for that year. Osundare only heard the behind-the-scenes story at the reading in Leeds, and he joked to Mapanje, "You are a very wicked man! All these years, you never told me how it came about." Mapanje (who teaches at the University of Newcastle and introduced Osundare to his student, Nigerian Peter Adegbei; top right) also praised the Nigerian poets efforts in campaigning for his release from imprisonment by the Malawian authorities. Osundare's reply: "The effort we made to get you out; it wasn't me, it was you."
Osundare’s Tender Moments in the UK
By Molara Wood
Poet and scholar Niyi Osundare breezed through Britain earlier this month, making links with readers and writers, on his first visit to the country for several years.
Sandwiched between appearances in Huddersfield (Friday 11th May) and Plymouth (Sunday 13th May) was the city of Leeds, where Prof. Osundare studied for his Masters degree during 1973-74.
He spent Saturday 12th May as the guest of Peepal Tree Press (a publishing outfit devoted to Caribbean writing). The day was packed with activities including a workshop, reading and talks, as well as media interviews - organised by Kadija Sesay, literary activist and publisher of Sable Litmag of New Writing. Sesay first met Osundare when she chaired his reading at The Commonwealth Club in London in 2001. The poet featured on the cover of a 2003 edition of Sable.
First on the agenda in Leeds was a workshop with the Inscribe Writing Group, led by Osundare. Inscribe provides support for writers of African and Asian descent. Among those taking the workshop was writer Rommi Smith who had introduced Osundare to his audience in Huddersfield the night before.
In attendance for the evening reading was Malawian poet Jack Mapanje, who paid tribute to his Nigerian counterpart. Mapanje was chair of the Africa panel when Osundare was up for the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1986. "I want to show off about it, that’s why I came," joked Mapanje, who had to defend Africa’s entry, when it tied with Vikram Seth, the contender for Asia. "I said, ‘There’s no African poet using orality who is as good as Osundare. This poet is going to go far in Africa.’" The Commonwealth Foundation raised the cash prize to £6,000 that year, so it could be shared between Osundare and Seth.
After Mapanje’s arrest by the Malawian authorities in 1987, Osundare served as his contact in Nigeria. "He got me on the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) who adopted me as their prisoner of conscience." 62-year-old Mapanje reminded Osundare that "he is not the only one" who has recently turned 60. The Malawian’s fifth collection was ‘The Last of the Sweet Bananas’ - so called because "I thought it would be my last." But he has surprised himself, and another collection, ‘Beasts of Nalunga’ - will be published in June. He presented an advance copy to Osundare, saying, "There are seven of us in Africa who belong to the so-called 3rd Generation who use orality - and [Osundare] is the best of us."
"This is a historic trip in many ways," Osundare told the audience, recalling his days at Leeds University. His links with the city have been kept up through Professor Emeritus Shirley Chew. Also in attendance, she edits the journal, Moving Worlds. Osundare has a long association with Peepal Tree, whose books are on his teaching lists. "The first batch of books I got after Katrina took my library was Peepal Tree titles sent by Kadija." He praised the "great facilitator" Sesay, telling her, "Immediately after Katrina you were the first person to talk to me from the UK, and I think our voices were tear-laden. Next time we talked, you said a computer was on the way." Peepal Tree is to publish Karen King Aribisala’s novel, ‘The Hangman’s Game’.
Mapanje laughed when told that he was "a very wicked man" for keeping the inside story of the 1986 Commonwealth Prize from Osundare for two decades. Then it was on to the reading, which the Nigerian poet said should be a two-way process. So the audience sang the chorus as he performed a piece from his volume, ‘The Word is an Egg’ - title derived from a Yoruba saying. "I took it from orality, of course not forgetting the written and electronic tradition."
Osundare discussed Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in August 2005. "Katrina came, saw and nearly conquered. It threatened me and my family with two kinds of death - material and physical." He lost all his possessions. "We didn’t see the American government; till now we haven’t seen the American government." The American people, however, have been wonderful. "I came out of my house with only shorts, no shoes. The Red Cross gave us clothes." The second poem rendered, ‘People Are My Clothes’, means so much more, post-Katrina.
‘Letter from the Editor’ touched on the dilemma of the African writer seeking recognition in the West. "Many African writers have ended up the kind of writers they never wanted to be, in order to be published Europe," Osundare observed. "In the end, they don’t make it here and they will not be read with any respect back home." Osundare is "old fashioned" in the sense that he believes art should have a purpose. "Growing up, my parents, though uneducated, used to say, ‘It is book we didn’t read; we read our inside’ - which relates to wisdom."
The poet is concerned that morality has become "a dirty word" - often dismissed as sentimentality. He recalled a writers’ meeting in the US where the Americans had "pretty poems" about nothing. They insisted that they had no issues. Right outside was a soup kitchen where the hungry waited on a long queue to be fed by charity. Osundare told his fellow poets, "That is a long issue!" This anecdote led to another poem, ‘The Large Heart’.
‘The Battle of Hastings’ is one of few surviving poems written for Jack Mapanje. "Katrina took all the poems I wrote for him," Osundare informed. ‘Waiting for the Rain’ (taken from a Hugh Masekela song and devoted to the singer) followed. "I never went to South Africa all the time it was under the Apartheid yoke. I couldn’t stomach it." However, the poet reminded that people like Ruth First show that it wasn’t just a black struggle.
Osundare’s new book, ‘Tender Moments’, is his first post-Katrina collection. It surprised many who see him as a political poet. But he insists, "I have a lot of love poems - written first in longhand - Katrina took them all." Afterwards, "I had nightmares, trying to remember the poems I lost. I had parapsychologists writing me to say, ‘We’ll make you remember.’" The healing process came naturally, and ‘Tender Moments’ is the result. Osundare read ‘Breaking Bread’ from the collection.
The poet’s home was submerged in nine feet of water during the Katrina. "I was there when my shelves were falling one by one." In the aftermath, all his books were buried in mud. The cover page of one of his collections was floating on water. Another book had swollen to four times its original size. "I felt the book was talking to me," hence the inspiration for another poem read in Leeds. ‘The Weeping Book’ is rhymed. "I don’t often rhyme," he said, "but when I am touched, I do."
Music (including Yoruba songs, Blues and Jazz) is a huge source of inspiration for Osundare, who comes from a singing family. He loved American popular music as a young man. "Otis Redding had a particularly strong impact on Nigerian youth in the 60s and 70s. He had such fantastic control over his voice. When we heard he had died in plane crash, we celebrated his life and mourned his death." Osundare ended the performance with his "favourite poem" - the one he wrote for Redding.
Asked how much lost property has been replaced since the Katrina, Osundare revealed that he and his family live in "a sort of dormitory." But, "It’s the books, the manuscripts and letters" written to him by students all over the world - that are the greatest losses, "because they cannot be replaced." Osundare had moved his manuscripts from the university to his home for ‘safekeeping’ prior to the devastation. "The university escaped the flood. Water has its own logic." He wrote many poems about Lake Pontchartrain, all now lost. "I wrote the poems for the lake and the lake came to take her poems away!"
It was a life-changing experience, one that needs to be written about. But the detail is proving very difficult in prose; poetry has been relatively easier. Osundare confided that, "I am learning about the process - on how poetry and prose play on the mind." Jack Mapanje is in a similar situation. "I still haven’t finished my prison memoirs in prose," he said.
Prof. Osundare discussed his recent birthday celebrations in Nigeria. Most touching were his students who raised an organising committee around the events. "In March, I was commandeered to come to Nigeria to celebrate my 60th. I know it wasn’t me they were celebrating, but the fact of survival." The poet was moved. "These are the people who are my clothes."
- Osundare's Tender Moments in the UK - piece published today in the Sunday Independent, Lagos, Nigeria.
- Leeds images by MW.
Next to Mapanje at the ALA Conference in California in 2002 (picture taken by Kadija Sesay and featured in a 2003 edition of Sable Litmag for which Osundare was the 'spotlight' writer) . Osundare recalled the occasion, "I was afraid to sit next to this man - Africa's most famous prisoner after Mandela!"
Saturday, May 26, 2007
BY MOLARA WOOD
On the day that news broke of Nelson Mandela's withdrawal from public life, his country's greatest female singer, Miriam Makeba, was holding court in London with a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Given the circumstances, the giant bust of the Madiba that stands at the entrance to the venue acquired an even greater poignancy.
The concert reached its peak with the infectious township beat of the hit song, Pata Pata. There was spontaneous dancing in the audience but no one, it seemed, enjoyed it more than Makeba, who danced joyously onstage, turning round and round as she sang. By the time the song ended, we were all on our feet where we remained in a standing ovation as the singer took a bow with her seven-piece band. She thanked the audience, the sound men and "the ones who lit us."
- Published as 'A Wonderful Night With Miriam Makeba' in The Guardian, Lagos - on Sunday August 1, 2004.
- Miriam Makeba announced her 'retirement' the following year. She comes out of retirement to headline Africa Day on Trafalgar Square, London - on Bank Holiday Monday, 28 May 2007.
- Makeba publicity photo from the London Mayor's website.
More Festival info here.
There will be a screening of the film 'World Social Forum' - held in Nairobi in January - including interviews with the Mau Mau; Poetry by Princess Emmanuelle; and special guest speaker is Samia - daughter of Kwame Nkrumah.
- You can now pick up this leaflet (right) at some stations on the London Underground, alongside tubemaps and other information about where to go and how to get there. African London lists Africa-related events/festivals; exhibitions; museums hosting African art collections; conferences; dance; workshops; theatre; shopping; arts & crafts; and of course, restaurant & bars. 'Imported' Nigerian Guinness gets a whole page ad in the leaflet.
- Not to be missed: African London lists 'Africa Day on Trafalgar Square, Monday 28th May, 12pm - 7pm.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Sick and awkward, Mamo believes “he was doomed to die young.” He measures his survival in the face of encroaching mortality, taking “long walks to kill time.” Iliya paces, “measuring time with each step.” As for Lamang, he ends up rambling, “as if he were trying to make up for lost time.” Ultimately, it is the weak Mamo who must be strong.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Palorine & Simon look on as Khadijah Ibrahiim (middle) makes a point during the workshop.
Writer Rommi Smith (whose poetry collection, Mornings & Midnights, is published by Peepal Tree) seen here with Osundare.
The workshop was facilitated by Kadija Sesay, publisher of Sable Litmag. Osundare praised her as "a great facilitator". After the workshop, the poet gave a performance @ the same venue. He also made appearances in Huddersfield & Plymouth.
- Photos by MW.
- Pics from Osundare's evening reading in Leeds @ the next blog update.
Word From Africa - a London-wide celebration of the languages of Africa - takes place @ various venues between 2 - 10 June. There's some 2000 languages spoken on the African continent apparently (I'd hazard there's more). But don't worry if you don't speak 1, 2 or more of these languages. All are encouraged to come along anyway, because events will be in English or in translation or with commentary.
As for Music, organisers are confident it won't need translating.
Word from Africa kicks off with a full day of free events @ the British Museum on 2nd June.
- On 2nd June, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o (a passionate advocate of writings in African languages; and he has put his own writing/books where his mouth is) will give the keynote speech. Very appropriate.
- Poetry from Sudan & Somalia
- Music from Zimbabwe & Cameroon - and a talking drum performance by Nigeria's Ayan Ayandosu
- Helon Habila & Chuma Nwokolo will be discussing how their native languages influence their writings. It's a pity the programme records both writers' native language as Igbo. Incorrect. Nwokolo is Igbo. Habila isn't.
- 4th June - and there'll be a Zimbabwean Writers' Evening @ Borders, Islington. Valerie Tagwira will be reading from her novel, The Uncertainty of Hope [title reminds of 'The Redundancy of Courage']
- And London-based Ghanaian Nii Ayikwei Parkes will host an African Writers Evening @ The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden - on 8th June. Ayikwei Parkes will be keeping company with giants soon on the London Underground. He is one of 6 African poets whose work will be read on tube trains during June. Others include Wole Soyinka, Leopold Sedar Senghor & Niyi Osundare. Giants, yes.
And so on and so forth. Lots more writers & artists including Wangui Wa Goro & Blessing Musariri.
More information on Africa Beyond.
Rain does not evade the path of the runnel
Frogs do not decline the call of streams
The sponge will not refuse the voice of the river
Salt will ever heed the glad eyes of the sea…
The needle does not decline a tryst with cloth
The road does not complain at the tread of feet,
When young love meets the moon it blossoms
When eyes meet with beauty the face is glad
Let those who love this land be safe
Let those who hate this land be swallowed
And when the children lift their voices,
Let all of those who hear be glad,
Let all of those who heed rejoice.
Glory does not kill the morning
Splendour does not slay sunsets
Love for a child does not kill the mother
The praise of fathers does not kill their sons
When a bride kneels before her groom she's blessed
Whenever a daughter is born we know we shall not die
Whenever a son is given there is joy
Let all the daughters of this land be fruitful
Let all the sons of this land increase
And if from east or west there should be anger
If from north or south there should be rage
Let all the rage and anger dissipate
Like smoke in the breeze
Like dogdream when it comes awake.
What words we have spoken let them cleave
What hearts belong to us let them not grieve
Let our words find us prepared
Let all our dreams find us prepared
And our land, our country, our earth
Let them find us ready at our end.
© Tade Ipadeola
- Reproduced with permission.
- Top Pics - Wearing the hat, is Dr. Abayomi Ferreira of the Democratic Alternative (DA);
- a member of 'Friends of Africa' who organised the event, poses between Ferreira & Baba Omojola of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) - both organisations were at the forefront of the struggle against military dictatorship in the 90s. The late Ubani worked with both organisations.
- In the denim jacket is Tokunbo Oke who raised laughs by recalling that Ferreira had him expelled from the Nigerian Labour Party in 1989 for Trotskyism. Oke said only Chima Ubani could bring "two giants of Nigerian politics" (Ferreira & Omojola) to the same London venue at the same time.
- Bottom Pics - Dapo Awokansire (a former member of the Civil Liberties Organisation - CLO) poses between Baba Omojola & Hauwa Shekarau of Nigerian FIDA.
- Dancer/writer Funmi Adewole is between Dr. Paul Okojie (who gave a paper at the tribute event) and Dr. Ike Okonta.
- In another pic, Okonta chats with the man he greeted with the words "legend' - Omojola.
- Standing alone is poet Dike Chukwumerije who read 2 poems in tribute at the event.
*Photos by MW
Staying with theme of Slavery in the year of the bicentenary, the October Gallery presents an exhibition of works by 4 artists exploring the notion of 'Voyage'.
The artists - Tapfuma Gutsa (Zimbabwe), Julien Sinzogan, Gerard Quenum (Benin) & the late Pierrot Barra - will pay be looking closely at what the gallery calls the "most laden of historical journeys", the forced movement of enslaved Africans during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Voyages, Crossing the Lake of Fire is @ the October Gallery, London - from 17th May till 16th June.
ANA Oyo State Chapter
cordially invites you
to its LiteraryBATIK
Dedicated to YINKA OWOLABI who passed on in April 2007
LiteraryBATIK is comprised of readings, performance, interactions, jokes, munching etc.
Guest Writer: Odili Ujubuonu (Winner, 2006 ANA/Jacaranda Prize)
Host: Ibadan Cultural Studies Group coordinated by Prof. Dotun Ogundeji & Dr. Ademola Dasylva
Venue: Educare Trust Exhibition Centre, Goshen Superstores Building, beside Coca-Cola, Sango, Ibadan.
Date: Saturday May 26, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
A special reading-cum- meeting of all creative writers resident in Lagos, under the aegis of Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos Branch (ANA Lagos), holds next week, Saturday, May 12, 2007. The reading is dedicated to the fond memory of Ebereonwu, a poet, playwright, movie producer/director and member of the State Branch of ANA who passed away in the first week of April, 2007.
Writers and aspiring writers are expected to read copiously from his literary works, which include:
- Suddenly God Was Naked (1995)
- Cobweb Seduction (1997)
- Insomniac Dragon (2000)
- Unpublishable Poems (2004)
The up-and-coming ONILEAGBON Theatre, that recently celebrated the first anniversary of the troupe’s foundation, will also be around to add colour to the great event.
Chairman, ANA Lagos
Excerpt from Uwem Akpan's My Parent's Bedroom - narrated by nine-year-old Monique, who unfolds a horrific tale set in Rwanda in 1994, yet manages the feat of not once mentioning the word 'genocide'...
I don’t understand why Maman is saying she wants to be with me when she won’t even look my way. I see dirty water dripping down the white wall beside me. It is coming from the ceiling. At first, it comes down in two thin lines. Then the lines widen and swell into one. Then two more lines come down, in spurts, like little spiders gliding down on threads from a branch of the mango tree in our yard. I touch the liquid with the tip of my finger. Blood. - Read on.
Excerpt from EC Osondu's Jimmy Carter's Eyes, in which a blind girl suddenly sees better than anyone, in an old-style fable for a globalised world...
One day a little girl went missing in the village. Sometimes children would go missing but they would normally be found within a few hours. This was different. No one had seen the girl. When a child went missing, the mother of the child would tie her headscarf tightly around her waist and go around the village crying and asking Who has seen my child? It was generally believed that by the time she lost her voice, the missing child would be found. By the second day the child was still missing. The mother had lost her voice but the child was not yet found. When the mother walked past the woman frying bean cakes, crying and screaming, “Who has seen my child?”, the blind girl spoke for the first time.
“I know who stole the missing girl.” - Read on
EC Osondu's A Letter From Home (also published in AGNI) has been revealed as one of the Notable Stories of 2006 in the Million Writers Award. A cursory glance at the longlist also shows Crispin Oduobuk (for Maiduguri Road) and Petina Gappah (for Something Nice From London - published in Per Contra & in print in Farafina vol. 8). Gappah recently placed second in the SA PEN award, judged by JM Coetzee.
Excerpt from Monica Arac de Nyeko's Jambula Tree...
Sanyu, after all these years, I still imagine shame trailing after me tagged onto the hem of my skirt. Other times, I see it, floating into your dreams across the desert and water to remind you of what lines we crossed. The things we should not have done when the brightness of Mama Atim's torch shone upon us - naked. - Read more excerpts here.
Chimamanda Adichie and the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina will be teaching a creative writing class in Lagos in July.
The class will be run as an informal workshop and will meet for a fewhours every day to discuss assigned readings as well as the writing ofthe workshop participants. The idea is to encourage and promote reading and imaginative writing. To apply, please send a sample of fiction or non-fiction to udonandu@gmail. com No poetry please.
You will be notified by e-mail if you are selected as part of the workshop and will receive further information about the dates and venue. Entries must be pasted in the body of the e-mail. No attachments please.
Deadline for submission is June 15. Notifications will be sent by July 10.
- Osundare also appears in Huddersfield (May 11) and @ the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, on May 14.
That today is yesterday’s tomorrow
When my nostrils ran
And I licked the dripping mucus
While you suckled on Eszhiiokwum’s nipple
You were both the canoe and the paddle
And I was the diver who stayed afloat
Defying turbulent waves…
The sea brought you an eel
And I found a shell ashore
Troubled by the glint in your greedy eyes
I stretch my worn hands
If only you’ll take it
And look upon me as your undying shadow
Secure in muted appeals
Yearning for your contentment!
© Patrick Iberi
- Alter Ego is taken from Patrick Iberi's forthcoming poetry collection, Echoes of a Desolate Voice. Used with permission.
- Iberi is the Art Editor of Sentinel Poetry Online.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Obi Okigbo was only 2 years old when her father, the great poet Christopher Okigbo, died in the Biafran war in 1967. Now an exhibition of her 'conversations' with her father (including poetry, paintings and installations) is on show at the Brunei Gallery @ SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG.
- Obi Okigbo will give free gallery talks @ 1pm on Thursday 21 & Friday 22 June.
Broken Walls is a new play by Wole Oguntokun. In a collaborative production with the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital (Yaba Psychiatric Hospital) , there will be a performance at the Agip Recital Hall of the Muson Centre, Onikan-Lagos on Sunday the 13th of May.
Written & directed by Oguntokun, Broken Walls explores the travails of the mentally ill, and the effects on their families and community.
- Cocktail reception @ 6pm. Play commences @ 7pm
BY DAMOLA AWOYOKUN
“The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms.” - Antonio Gramsci
“You, who was born for poetry’s creation,
Do not repeat the sayings of the ancients.” – Anna Akhmatova
“The will of man is beyond surrender.” - Wole Soyinka
“Why is the first window that opens out on this fictional world the consciousness of an idiot?” - J.P Sartre on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
A writer’s business is to voyage into and take up commands at the threshold of consciousness; and report back freely the news of what is there. This is why the writer in any society being a freelance explorer of spiritually dense zones gains a certain license to behave differently from other people, to be eccentrics in order to fulfil the singularity of his/her vocation in the society. The definition of madness is arbitrary and at most political. The term madness fixes limits and could be exploited for alienating and repressive use; the frontiers of madness define who is ‘Other.’ The exemplary writer is a broker in madness because therein lies the powers of the new. And so when a writer accuses the other of being mad, we should ask what is his definition of madness? In the service of what idea is this definition and in whose interest is this idea?
I read with dismay Odia Ofeimun in his poem Anarch of Hubris (Sunday Mirror, 25 June 2006) deeming Chiedu Ezeanah, a younger poet, a mad, drunkard, morally irresponsible individual who mortgages resources for his wife and daughter to red-light captains simply because Ezeanah self-assertively queries Ofeimun in a soki poem, The Spinner of Dialectics (Sentinel Poetry, #43, June 2006) on why Ofeimun had to release larger doses of himself into his private life. Interestingly, their use of poetry as such flows from the tradition of the neoclassical poets: John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, William Congreve and such use had spun brilliant masterpieces like The Rape Of The Lock, MacFlecknoe, The Dunciad. Had I not reckoned the physics of paradigm shift and boundary maintenance, I would have disqualified my mind and pen from the fray. The godfatherly overstretch is a figuration in the process the older generation employs to pollute the progressive conditions that make vigorous, serious and necessary literature viable. The new Nigerian writer even before s/he is born or converted to one is already encumbered with the triple tropes of sleaze: enfeebling tuitions, philistine criticisms and standards, and insidious paternalism.
Unfortunately, Ibadan has yielded reluctantly its esteemed place as the capital of Nigerian literature and literary criticism to Lagos which unlike the days of Ibadan, is too considerate, obedient, compliant, kabiyesi-ish, worshipful, offensive to life of significant contentions, germane to received and comfortable positions and attitudes, and more about literary politics and self-posturing than critical vitality and qualitative literary tradition. In fact Lagos is an Absurdistan where to write and to line up are synonymous verbs; whereas continual rebellion is the driving force of aesthetic dynamism. Ever since this change of seat, there has being just one man, a Don, who does not entertain questioning, whose over dozen year dictatorship coincides with the inevitable loss called ‘the lost generation’ and his own inevitable literary leanness.[U1]
Says Helon Habila: “Odia Ofeimun was probably the most influential and the most visible poet in Nigeria. He was something of a cult figure among young poets, and few poetry books were published in Lagos during the 1990s without his name among the acknowledgements.” (Granta 80: The Group). He later adds: “Some of my friends advised me to get close to Odia Ofeimun, because in Lagos he decided who won which competition.”
Undeniably, Ofeimun cannot ‘blind himself to putrefying carcases in the market place pulling giant vultures from the sky’, nor can one refute that The Poet Lied is not a cherished addition to the Nigerian canon, nor that Ofeimun in Postmodernism and the Impossible Death of An African Author is not of obese intelligence, nor that Ofeimun of Imagination and the City is not a superb literary archivist. Chinua Achebe offers a good paradigm in Arrow of God where the people of Aninta set fire to and crush their god because he refuses to serve them and in its place installed another god. More pertinent here is the Yoruba mythological paradigm of Atunda, the first insurrectionary grand iconoclast. At the birth of time, his revolutionary initiative of rolling a stone over his master Orisanla (god of purity and father of the gods) disintegrating him - the original godhead into countless debris so that there is not just one god but many gods. That action liberated humanity from the divine tyranny of theism and monotheism. It inaugurated continued gustiness, revolution, fragmentation, individuality vis-à-vis heterogeneity and their other polysemic significations which in the Ibadan days of actively progressive scholarship were the impelling credos not only in spirituality but also the choice of literary teacher, mentor, critic, muse, discipline, genre of fiction or type of literature, worldview and epistemological system.
The scene changes to a venue of the Lagos readings of Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come in October 2005. From the floor came a comment from the chairman of a big publishing house: that some days before he was terribly disgusted to see someone deliver a public lecture with a laptop. He was alluding to Dele Olojede, the Pulitzer Prize co-winner who rendered a lecture during NLNG award ceremony. The question is: what is bad in the new possibility of giving a lecture from a laptop? How come this ‘experienced mind’ in literature obstinately persistent in things of the past, whose interest is not magnetised by a dosage of custom-bending features which is what imagination and creativity is all about be a juror of literary prizes? Even more. His company feeding on past glory has not discovered any new writer in the last 20 years. The textbook publishing that is their staple is a process of recycling annually old textbooks that are long overdue for revision. The company like all others (Macmillan, Heinemann, Longmans, Evans, University Press) are yet playing notorious roles in keeping the WAEC and NECO literature curriculum reading lists caked. To mention a few. For African prose, on WAEC’s syllabus, the newest title is Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys Of Motherhood (1979) and on NECO’s (founded 5 years ago) Animata Sow Fall’s A Beggars Strike. For African Drama, on WAEC’s is Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972) and on NECO’s, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Micere Mugo’s Trial Of Dedan Kimathi (1976).
Students are in all directions fed cognitively with information, themes and atmospheres that history has overtaken and left museum caryatids. Whereas when those books were enlisted, they were refreshingly and contextually relevant. When Odia Ofeimun first appeared in Idoto, the University of Ibadan English Department journal in 1975 and was again included in Wole Soyinka’s Poems of Black Africa (1975), the curriculum quickly accommodated the young poet as the latest happening to literature worth studying. Can the embalmed syllabus do the same today to bombs like Rotimi Babatunde, Kunle Okesipe, Tolu Ogunlesi or a Chimamanda Adichie?
Charles Nnolim’s essay, Contemplating Contemporary Nigerian Fiction (Guardian Friday, 5 August 2005) wherein he abducts new writers into a ‘flesh school,’ upbraids their works as flattering debauchery, corruption, irreligion and lacking fidelity to any serious theme or ideological commitment unlike the first generation of African writers (he broadens to Africa) who had as their theme: “the fight against apartheid and colonialism.” For the second generation, the fight is “for social equality, for feminism.” For the third, (he narrows to Nigeria) there is “no clear thematic focus. If anything they depict a people adrift, hedonistic, cowed…people lost in the imbecility of futile optimism, hoping that materialism and the pursuit of dirty lucre will compensate for the nation’s soul.” Nnolim discloses himself as a puritan like the Victorian critics who treat literature like a branch of moral argument. Any critic is entitled to his own wrong judgment, but certain lapses of judgment indicate a copious sensibility deficit. And they are not just isolated mistakes of judgement, but are proposing standards that call for assent.
Literature is special; it accommodates any level of language, any plot, any style, any ideas, any information. In short, it is open and free. Politics is ideological. Religion is dogmatic. Why should literature be stimulated along some predetermined patterns or goals even when the goals are considered desirable for the health of the society? Why should the fluid operations of the creative mind be constructed around certain frameworks of ideological intent or around the exigencies of engagement?
The responsibility of writers is to make an ingredient out of their immediate surroundings. Quality comes from the creative processing of this fund of ingredients, his speculative - probing relationship without declaring at once in advance ideological relations to this fund. To enlist literature at the service of an interest or ideology, in effect is bound to impose an intolerable strain on the imaginative faculty.
It is inaccurate to sum up the outputs of the first generation as motivated by a predetermined commitment; they were just prima facie interested in how the colonial encounter has shaped the culturalscape for good or ill. Ditto for the second generation. The honour of literature is its capacity to pay attention to and develop a quarrel with(in) the social order and this is the unifying sensibility at work in writings across the genres and across the generations in the trajectory of Nigerian literature. A body of literature from diverse writers historigraphically unified only by time is insusceptible to easy summaries and categorizations. It is replete with complexities, tensed with (sub) thematic contradictions and every of its walls are unavoidably fluid. The critic must have those in mind as an operational background.
The figures of this different generations have not stop writing. And more, many have published works in generations not designated as his/her own. Flora Nwapa, Gabriel Okara, Buchi Emecheta, J.P. Clark, Chinua Achebe, Festus Iyayi, Tess Onwueme, Femi Osofisan, have published works up till the later generation(s) and the have concerned themselves with realities, visions and anxieties of these later generations. This makes the man-made partitions of generational grand themes shift about and crumple making room for the project of intertextuality, collective dialogue across time. Such that when Nnolim says that the first generation burdened itself with ‘the fight against apartheid and colonialism’ it is easy to look at their later works and see no such fights but the current zeitgeist. When he says the second generation press their work as vectors of ideological theories, social justice, and feminism, it is easy to look at their later works as see no such thing but the status quo. And so when he says the new Nigerian writing is replete with hedonism, corruption and idioms of debauchery, it is easy to recognize the older works’s ‘grand themes’ resonating similarly. Ejike Eze’s dalliance with Ndidi in Omo Uwaifo’s Fattening House (2001) is no less debauched than the adultery involving Adisa and Obofun in Festus Iyayi’s Violence (1979). Chim Newton’s otherwise mediocre imitation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Under The Cherry Tree (2003) is no less about debauchery than Mongo Beti’s Mission to Kala (1958), or Matei Markwei’s 1964 poem, Life in our Village. Maik Nwosu’s Alpha Song (2003) is no less about a country adrift, prurience, and inveterate beering than Soyinka’s The Interpreters (1965). In fact J.P. Clark, a first generation eminence, started off his non-fiction narrative, America, Their America (1964), “a book that established him as an able journalist, a keen social observer and critic,” with an account of himself, a willing participant, in bed with a call girl.
Alpha Song, the monstrance of Nnolim’s observations can be better assessed as a ceaseless quest of a deeper meaning to life than that given by the instincts and superficial affections alone or read as some allegory of a gnostic conflict of the spirit and body, the depletion of the possibilities of life of the mind by those in power whose day policies not only enlarge the army of the night but also lengthen night itself.
Soyinka in 1972 was part of the jury together with Lewis Nkosi and Martin Esslin that commended Jagjit Singh’s play for BBC African performance, Sweet Scum of Freedom, for “daring to [put] a prostitute into the centre of a play without moralizing about it,” and for “successfully point[ing] out that flesh seems to transcend the basic superficial prejudices.” The life of a whore is the most radical metaphor for the act of lending oneself to others. The ultimate the armed forces, the politicians, the religionists with the omnipotence of their God, the human rights and democracy activists at home and abroad, and the concerned international community could not execute to forestall the impending doom General Abacha was dragging to the nation, prostitutes did it. They offered liberation to a nation of 130 million people! The deed of course becomes a metaphor; a revalidation of the role of red light activity in the society and hence an asset to the literary imagination.
Charles Nnolim is a professor of authority who moulds young minds and he happens to be a judge of literary prizes so he matters. The coy self-textualization of the ravaging impact of the cancerous mushrooming of churches on himself is obvious when he urged on his view against the new literature in the final peroration with which his essay concludes. “In spite of the proliferation of churches,” he writes, “God is dead in recent Nigerian fiction, completely edged out by materialism and Epicureanism… No major character in new Nigerian fiction goes to a religious service on Sunday and none kneels down to pray for God’s intervention in moments of crisis.”
This ghastly religious newspeak criticism deserves a little ancestry. In Nigeria, every minute is being reworked into a Sunday and a Friday. A weirdly increasing number of offices devote enough time at mornings to praise worships. Once you dissent, you are linked to hubris and any failure in that office. Yet in these alternative religions – Christianity and Islam inhere the most powerful and most organized force for anti-intellectualism and ecumenical philistinism. Not in their fanatic varieties since no distinction is evinced between the mainstream and the fringe when it comes to their catechesis on matters of thought and the cultural heritage. While Islam proposes alarmingly growing limits to the influence of literary imagination and places veto on impermissible thoughts, Christianity proposes rigid moralism and spiritual correctness. According to the prevailing Christian diagnosis of the Nigerian socio-political and economic condition, the decay started in 1977 when Nigeria hosted the Festival of Black Arts And Civilization (FESTAC 77) and from far and near “we allowed evil spirits and gods to be brought and worshipped from all over. So God has decided to punish us.” The native mode is always divined to be in sinful competition to God, the disseminator of evil spirits and maledictions. In 2001, Obafemi Awolowo University Ife hosted the 7th World Congress of the Orisha. Barely a week after, different Christian groups comprising lecturers and students mobilized for a mass crusade to sanitize the campus of all horrendous principalities of cosmos the congress had invited, to prevent students’ deaths, secret cultism, exam malpractices, and all evils that allegedly blaze the heels of such gatherings. One of the neo-textual by-products of this prowling irrationality in the field of literary criticism is Nnolim’s charge. Again says he: ”even with the proliferation of churches, God is dead in…no major character in new Nigerian fiction goes to a religious service….none kneels down to pray for God’s intervention in moments of crisis.”
This is equivalent to a piece of cheap proselytizing for a mere metaphysical possibility. None in Nigerian literature has done such and there is nothing wrong in never doing it. Because in life and literature, the budding generation does not will to bend or kneel down and commune with an almighty, Prof Charles Nnolim like Papa Eugene Achike in Purple Hibiscus’s opening spark “flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère” just because his irreverent and irreligious son, Jaja “did not go to communion” on Sunday.
The intellectuals, military, politicians, civil servants, and business gurus who ravaged Nigeria and set a standard of thorns for the young actively grace churches and mosques yet do not reckon any sin in wrecking the country and to distract, they employ godot tactics by urging the masses - their victim, to call on God, a force outside of history for solution. Toni Morrison’s Nobel acceptance lecture captures the emerging fire precisely: “Our inheritance is an affront. You want us to have your old, blank eyes and see only cruelty and mediocrity. Do you think we are stupid enough to perjure ourselves again and again with the fiction of nationhood? How dare you talk to us of duty when we stand waist deep in the toxin of your past?”
Much of the continued authority of prevailing literary standards is devoted to upping the threshold of what is terrible. The 2004 maiden edition of the NLNG prize could not be awarded because the judges discovered that all their shortlist was complete with errors. The shortlist is included in the matrix of fiction Nnolim’s essay chastises for lacking ideological focus et al. Though the judges still noted that the plagues of the previous year were active, Gabriel Okara’s The Dreamer, His Vision emerged as a co-winner. It was praised for having “a moral and spiritual meaning,” and “does not shy away from making political statements on the civil war and the devastation in the [Niger] delta” [my emphasis]. With its extant engaged standards, neither Shakespeare, nor Kafka nor Garcia Marquez’s Love in Time of Cholera, nor Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, nor Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Compliant (a story strong on some details of masturbation and other sexual adventures) nor any book with anything homosexual no matter how splendid it is treated can win the NLNG Prize. And we wish to have a respectable literary tradition?
The Pat Utomi Prize states that no work that has won any award elsewhere should be tabled in order to help other writers - financially of course. If a book has won £1000 commonwealth prize, or a N30, 000 ANA third place prize, or won a non-cash Farafina Online award, it cannot win the Pat Utomi N1million prize. By saying that, the prize has little or nothing to do with fostering literary excellence enhanced by comparative evaluations that is the purpose of judges. All things being equal, even if all judges are geniuses, they are prone to subjectivities. That a French book wins the Goncourt does not imply the Prix Novembre is its. More if the intention is to make easy room for younger writers, it is ruinous. Every distinguished writing career started as a personal quest to beat the status quo.In the UK, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005) trounced established writers like Nobel Laureate J. Coetzee and Salman Rushdie to the shortlist. Adichie’s trounced heavyweights like Margaret Atwood to the 2004 Orange Prize shortlist. If a book is really great, it deserves to garner all the prizes available. This enriches standards. Other writers should submit themselves to self-punishing tutelage and harder work. The architects of the Pat Utomi prize can create grants, sponsor advances and fund writers’ resorts instead of the current magun (don’t climb) practice. It spells a greater peril. A prize should be designed chiefly to boost the readership of a book rather than enhance the financial station of the author.
Deola Bello, an emerging voice of the Yahoo generation continues the narrativization of this new sensibility in her poem The Quest (Farafina Online, January 2006) which is not expressly an endorsement of an ideological vision or the valences of cultural exocentricity but of the quest for irreligion, creative autonomy, free education, and liberation from the seductive shackles of prizes. The Quest, a statue of liberty, is worth full quote:
If it is true that I am a weed without roots
Flowing on the river with the whims of the wind
If to the beat of Bata I won’t dance
But instead sit at the sides and observe
Then let me be
In peace leave me.
The bat that refuses to fly except at night
Must have a reason for keeping malice with Sunlight
Tarry with me a little longer in a little madness
And I will show you the wisdom of folly.
If it is true that I refuse to make a sacrifice
Of three wraps of pap sprinkled with palm-oil
And placed in a calabash made of mire
To gods I know not who tarry at crossroads.
I will rather eat my food late at night
And go to bed with a full belly
After sacrificing to my stomach
But what about that calabash and the pap
That I saw at crossroads
It is most disgusting, I refuse to touch it
This is the reason why I sit in your midst
Telling you a parable, the story of my life
Like a sword, I assure you its sides are two
For come nightfall the little dancer will surely dance
To the fine rhythm of a choice Samba by night
Gather round folks, let’s make merry
For here, behold the quest ends.
The new Yahoo writers must not allow themselves to be captured by critics demand to express engaged, seminary or Sunday school literature or refrain from writing ‘blemished’ or ‘debauched’ works. Since great works are the best resources for a revolution –literary, intellectual or political, the new Yahoo writers should resolutely stand for literary and intellectual beauty in wherever spheres their imagination can see it achieved. They must will to be vigilant against all species of philistinism masking as political, moral or religious values as indices of literature. They must decidedly project an eternal antagonism towards the forces that wish to normalize repression and popularize censorship. They must defend the nobility of free thought. Like charity that must first start at home, the new Yahoo writers must get rid of the inner censor. Dissent is an asset.
In his gusty poem, The Spinner of Dialectics, Ezeanah lacing strong accusatory vibes in his 14-line couplets suggests that Ofeimun is fond of just rising up and leading the side of those who matters; that he enters himself into any discourse, spit vituperation on everything in order to meet a vituperative need (which is not dissimilar to Nnolim who spits Christian tirade against the new because he must meet a Christian need); that everything to Ofeimun is about a power game, a power show;that he would ‘gossip’ and ‘meddle’ in his tender marriage whereas he squeezes juices out of oranges and toss the remains into the trash can.
Ofeimun in his 143-line Anarch of Hubris scores a direct hit on the refusenik and attempts to cut him to shape. He saturates the verse with significations of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Rimbaud who were alcohol laureates and severe eccentrics:
Neither love nor charity can save him
from the night that takes his mind
When frothing malady spirits him
To the vomitorium….
Poet of hubris, fallen angel of clap-trap!
Not for nothing is he the self-flagellator
who, to blind the sun overhead, throws werepe
up the skies unready for his stem’s collection
of body-scratches until, squirming naked,
he break-dances into market-squares.
Comparing Ezeanah’s stint in the bank and accommodation problems to Rimbaud who abandoned versification for gun running and slave merchandise in the jungles of Africa:
he turns love of poetry, so often betrayed,
into a licence to kill, sell a little daughter
to jungle alleys…
Poe and Rimbaud we must recall are each a genius of the word. Unlike others, the stories of their severe eccentricities could only live because of their everlasting contribution to language. When he harks back to when Ezeanah together with other progressives worked for Arishekola Alao, an Abacha goon and eventually succeeded in getting shot during the ferocious anti-Abacha riot in Ibadan on 1st May 1998, Ofeimun of the barricades rightly carries placard:
he turns love of poetry, so often betrayed,
into a licence to kill,…… dance to nation-wrecking,
taste blood with wolves in comradely toast
Setting forth with the highly emotive, highly pitched pronoun, ‘I,’ and the syncopating jolt resident in it so as to facilitate a sense of terrific pride and indeed grandeur in his affairs with oranges, coyly suggesting they could be held accountable for his literary leanness, Ofeimun begins the second section of the poem:
I was a poet before politics
set the women at the pump
to braid my hair…
they steeled my muse
to temper time and ward off hogs
muddying the healing waters
I remain the poet who stood
with the women at the pump…
…my solidarity endures
with the women at the pump
who taught me to see…
The third part of Anarch of Hubris is typically repetitive and deservedly insipid but it is not without its jewels. First, Ofeimun tries to be contrite but with celerity changes his mind. An act of contrition is a product of grace, of humility but not of self-abasement. It does not diminish; on the contrary it confers integrity. It also carries with it the burden of avoidance of the initial error, of greater caution in negotiating the Southern Lebanon that originally blew up in one’s face. Second, in terms of speed, rhythm, and assortment of images, this lean section arrives at a sombre steadiness. Third, in the preceding section Ofeimun alerts us to significance of ‘women’ and ‘pump’ in his career graph. In this sombre section he illustrates the leanness. God forbid the ageing Ofeimun suggesting he wants to persist sitting like the poem at the middle of page with an abundance of unused spaces all around it. Ezeanah tactically hints that his contemporary relevance as a ‘writer’ rests on ‘tons of dusty manuscripts,’ not even manuscripts of poems or prose but just manuscripts. Wole Soyinka foresaw this tendency of leanness in the then talented young promise. In My Tongue Does Not Marry Slogans, published in Mandela’s Earth and other poems (1989), he derides Ofeimun whether it is ‘a passing inhibition’ or ‘an overdose of reality’ that ‘stuns the mind and beggars lyrics.’ Soyinka insinuates further that maybe it is his ‘brain’s fevered contest with the world.’ That world no doubt includes his Mandela-ing of the Lagos literary politics and other things.
Ofeimun drops a reference that can be taken as his diagnosis of Ezeanah. He toss the line ‘He’s at war/with himself’ under the overarching line ‘never ask me why’ – which together with ‘I will raise a fist to your guts’ are the shield and sword of his dictatorship. Of course we have to ask you why and raise fists to your gut. How could Ofeimun take liberty with memory, with history, with epistemology? How could he prefer to forget that this war with oneself is the primordial ordeal that made Ogun, our shared comrade, brother and ancestor, the Him of creativity? That it was from this inner conflict, this tragic symptom of creativity that the world itself came into existence as Soyinka delineates in The Fourth Stage. Has Ofeimun now truly forgotten the process of inspiration to production? Every creative work of art is a blast of an artist’s war with the inner self, the abyss of dissolution, those caves of the collective psyche. To be there, it requires high voltage courage outwardly called madness. The madness of the brave is usually the wisdom of life. Walter Benjamin theorized on the concept of Hashish - a series of protocols of drug experiments to achieve a depth psychology or chemical exploration of consciousness to re/illuminate experience, provide alternative coordinates of perception, interpretive/interpretative perceptives, and to catalyse the powers of language in which the creative mass usually or occasionally indulge. To take up positions at the frontier of consciousness, couple the infinite aspect of being to the chthonic abyss, and survive its terrors, Ezeanah has had profound ordeals with green daemons of froth. Ogun, under the influence of alcohol, [perhaps because hashish and tough chemicals were alien then, trust Ogun would have spontaneously subscribed to them] murdered friends and foes alike in the Battle of Ire. This uncancelled error enriches earth and myth because Ogun is compelled in atonement to visit earth annually bringing the seasons of harvest.
Can’t an artist choose to fervently subscribe to the Surrealist’s faith in the access to wider consciousness afforded by alcohol, dreams, drugs, sex, and asocial behaviours? I am not conceding absolute authority to the irrational but apprehensively conceding legitimacy to it being a sure route towards a new necessary mental planet. This planet gives light to new truths, new awareness and new conceptions.
Character Chiedu Ezeanah is a multimania no doubts. In this atmosphere of consensus, of phoney characters, Character Chiedu is a rare real thing. He is a connoisseur of indefinite expansion of the possibilities of freedom, of pleasures. Like Nietzsche who has been mad before he became mad, or Nikolai Gogol who lived his short life as a long psycho-illness, the obligation Nigerian literature requires from Character Chiedu is to invent trophies from his experience. Michel Houellebecq is variously described as ‘a zombie back from the dead telling us what he likes,’ chemically challenged, a bore, a severe drunk, a Fela with women, a reactionary, nihilistic, repulsive, funny, melancholic, but no one accepts him as dull. He is the star of French literature, the best contemporary French writer. Houellebecq said until he met fellow writers the most interesting people were inmates of mental hospitals.
So numerous are memorably interesting characters, great citizens of literature with grossly weird possibilities of themselves common in other world literatures that Nigerian literature lack but myriad in its reality. Think of Cervantes’s Knight Quixote and Sancho Panza, Saul Bellow’s Moses Herzog, Vladimir Nabokov’s Hubert Hubert, Gunter Grass’s Oscar Matzerath, Nikolai Gogol’s Chichikov and Aksenty Poprischin, Albert Camus’s Caligula, Garcia Marquez’s Femina Daza, Zadie Smith’s Samad Iqbal. Characters like these are priceless, sociologically, they are amunludun, without which existence will be bore or sore. How could writers of the new sensibility then be blind to literary possibilities of an ace like Character Chiedu Ezeanah and hence defend its right to exist?
Oh yes there is a fresh impulse and a new sensibility that fits well into and add to the theoretical framework of Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence. An ominous disposal of ‘fathers’ in emerging debut fictions are evocative of the new wave’s poise to belt fresh energies into the literary tradition come what may. Fathers or godfathers that lays down magun or embody ideas or fixes conditions with suppressive weight on the flowering of the new are necessarily murdered. I speak of Agu’s father, Commandant, and Luftenant in Uzodinma Iweala’s Beast of No Nation (2005). The young hero, Agu, lost his parents when rebels of extraordinary brutality led by Luftenant and Commander raided his village. Agu is recruited like other children as soldiers. After Faustian ordeals, the child soldiers revolt and shot the fearful commander and a child prostitute knifed Luftenant to death. They became free. In Everything Good Will Come (2005) Sefi Atta makes the self-assertive protagonist Enitan call her father a liar, packs out of his house before getting rid of his existence ultimately.
And more: the murder of Eugene Achike in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (2004). The arrival of Purple Hibiscus marked this overdue materialization of the new Yahoo impulse and concurrently it is its first harvest. Eugene Achike has a domineering spread in the entirety of the novel. In him reside the polarities of progressive humanistic sentiments and retrogressive coagulants. He is a widely adored philanthropist, he wins a human rights award, only his newspaper stands up to the corrupt, repressive and brutal military government of the day. To his wife and children at home, he is religiously glitzy and a chauvinist; he despises his delectable father, Papa Nnukwu as ‘a heathen’ because he sticks to his indigenous Igbo religion. In the end Adichie obliterates the household tyrant to allow his wife and children to freely breathe and ‘for the new rains [to] come down soon.’
To mobilize the regenerative energies for the new rains to come, genuine giants of Nigerian literature and their achievements are never considered impediments to emerging voices’ aspirations to originality or qualitative outputs as Bloom’s theory posits, only the poseur figures of speech are. Their insidious authority clenches its fists around the minds of the young.
Now that the forces of conformism and fatuous acquiescence to authorities have certainly been strengthened by the introduction of bosomy literary prizes (the NLNG, Pat Utomi, Soyinka Prizes), the Yahoo writers and critics should sponsor scepticisms, formulate questions and construct counter-statements to reigning pieties. They should will to bravely and maddeningly symbolize and defend a higher standard of literature. The Yahoo generation should no longer allow Nigerian literature respond to Mathew Arnold’s notion of culture that defined arts as the criticism of life (understood as propounding and referencing with moral, political, religious precepts) but as the extension or reinvention of life (understood as representing clamorous modes of vivacity). There is no necessary denial of the role moral evaluation. Only that the scale must change. It should become less gross, and what it forfeits in discursive explicitness, it profits from subliminal power. It is a move toward Kafka, that is, a move from the phenomenal, to the nuomenal, to the plane of regard. This is perhaps why Kafka’s works has been squeezed rightly into diverse philosophical and theosophical movements. I see his works as telling the time before the clock strikes. J.P. Sartre claimed them for Existentialism. Albert Camus claimed them for Absurdism. Max Brod claimed they are elaborate quests for the unreachable. That is the essence of literature: to be many things and nothing else since it is not subordinate to anything.
--*[UI]Are you now visiting the sins of the sons upon the father?
- Damola Awoyokun, formerly an Associate Editor of Glendora Review & a former Managing Editor of Farafina Online - lives in Ibadan, Nigeria.