Unmasking Wole Soyinka (2)

Uyo Book Club members cutting cake marking Wole Soyinka's 87th birthday anniversary straightnews
Uyo Book Club members cutting cake marking Wole Soyinka's 87th birthday anniversary

By: Israel Umoh

Otongaran  submits ”Rather, he drops hints of a leaking roof, the “plop” sound of rain on surfaces, rainwater diluting the beer the revelers were drinking, and dancers dashing off to escape the rain. He leaves the reader to fill in the blanks for his mosaic’.’

Not done, the journalist reminisces ‘’A similar elliptical design marks much of his poetry and plays. In the poem, “Massacre, October ’66,” for instance, in which Soyinka borrowed an “alien land/In brotherhood of ill” to mourn the tragedy that has befallen his people back home, he is pretty indirect in his references.

”He is in a lake in Tegel, Germany, where he “swam in an October flush of dying leaves,” an unmistakable reference to the October pogrom in Northern Nigeria.

”Why Kongi prefers the elliptical, the cryptic to the direct way of communicating with his audience I cannot say. What I can say is that he is not alone with this style (Gordimer, Rushdie, earlier referenced, and James Joyce, particularly in Ulysses).

”I can only imagine that there are readers who do not want their pleasure to be watered down through too much detail and explicit revelation.

”Note also that Soyinka makes profuse use of Yoruba myths, superstitions and metaphysics as well as the idioms of the Ogun deity to interact in the universe of his art. This is also implicated in the “difficulty” of his writing, particularly for the uninitiated.

”As said earlier the elliptical style demands active participation of the reader. A passive passage through Soyinka’s universe would yield pretty little in understanding and appreciation.’’

”I find useful in my apprehension of Soyinka’s writing the gestalt theory of perception, which holds that the most fruitful way to sensory perception is to see issues as ‘organised or ‘structured whole’ rather than as ‘parts.’

This is based on the human nature of understanding objects as an entire structure rather than as sum of the parts. So when Soyinka hints with a hand framed against a slit in the door, I see a human being. That helps to build my understanding of his art.

”Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “cold” and “hot” media is also a helpful improvisation for me in understanding Soyinka. McLuhan argued in the sixties that hot media, among which he named the radio and the novel, is superabundant in details and do not demand anything of the audience to arrive at understanding.

”On the other hand, the cold media, among which he included the television and the movie, are spare in details and require active participation of the audience to negotiate meaning.

”Soyinka’s writing for me, for the most part, is like the cold media and demands active participation of the reader to arrive at meaning, appreciation and the aesthetic pleasure that’s sometimes beyond description,’’ Soyinka’s enthusiast points out.

Dr. Ekong Sampson turns out to be another Soyinka maniac. ”Soyinka is an impenetrable writer who brings intense perspective in philosophical reasoning and interpretation to bear on his works,’’ he rings the first shot.

Sampson who is the Patron of the Uyo Book Club, notes that the Nobel Laureate uses satires, imageries and humour garnished with deep philosophies, existentialism and myths to tell Yoruba culture stories and to x-ray injustice and tyranny in the Nigerian society in no-holds-barred manner.

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To him, ”a writer must live for something. This is ‘writer’s mask’ translating him to an enigma represented by Soyinka. He is humour merchant. Every writer is a prophet. He stands for something.’’

The lawyer-turned politician remarks ”Nigeria is facing challenges in separatist movement. Nigeria needs to embrace the Soyinka’s conversation now more than ever. We must fall back on the issues canvassed by Soyinka. As the country is facing challenges on many fronts ranging from insecurity, weak economy, secessionist agitations, his life challenges us for a saner society.

”At his age, Professor Soyinka could have simply chosen to retire and enjoy his fame, but he keeps canvassing for a better Nigeria. He has not been deterred even by solitary confinement which could have broken many’, the revered scholar added of Soyinka.

”Given the enormous challenges that Nigeria is facing as a nation and with Soyinka’s age and experience, we need to celebrate him and use moments like this to compare notes on the things he has been fighting for, the courage that he has shown, his contributions to literature, education and national development.

”The Man has remained standing even at 87 and tirelessly challenges our sensibilities on human rights and justice. His writings and advocacies will vindicate him as human rights activist. Nigeria has to listen to Soyinka now because his fights which center on access to justice will open the floodgate for the nation to enjoy peace and growth.’

”As culture general, his writings help to develop and enrich Yoruba culture. I want other writers to rise to the occasion to bridge the gap created by colonial culture and our rich culture is gradually being eroded. I want to challenge our young generation to always read Mutando Oyom Namondo and The Force of Superstition to help them appreciate our rich culture. Let there be cultural renaissance.

”By my reasoning, Soyinka is the simplest writer,’’ Sampson, who is also a former Commissioner for Environment and Petroleum Resources, wraps up.

However, since criticism is the palm oil writers use to enrich their works, another group of writers rehearse discordant tune that ‘’Soyinka’s works are not simple but opaque and obscurant.’’

Effiong Johnson, a one-time Dean, Students Affairs of the University of Uyo differs from the stands and views of Soyinka’s admirers- Ebewo, Otongaran and Sampson.

Johnson, a professor of Theatre Studies, fires ”Can you tell me that I am not intelligent? I read one of his novels two times, but could not understand it. I dropped it.

”Even then, there four of his books, I cannot recommend to any of the students writing project to review because I know they will read and would not understand. I do not want any of them to fail. So, I will avoid those books because of the complexities in understanding them.’’

Martin Akpan, a one-time Akwa Ibom Chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors agrees with Johnson that Soyinka’s works are not simple to understand as portrayed.

Akpan who is also a medical doctor and an accomplished author in almost the same writing hue of Soyinka describes him as an intellectual juggernaut. He reads one of the literary giant’s works to show how complex it is to assimilate some of his works.

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Sam Akpe who holds a similar view serves the speakers a pot pourri of questions, satirising that Soyinka’s works as simple as mere make-believe contrary to the reality.

Akpe who is a journalist responded to the poser of Effiong Johnson later concludes ‘’a timely piece of fortune’’ as the event zoomed to another height.

Dr. Udeme Nana writes ”The dominant view about his literary output was that they are “impenetrable” but yesterday, 31st July at the special reading session to celebrate him, his students and enthusiasts provided perspectives, insights which opened a window to his works.

Nana who is the founder of Uyo Book Club remarks ”I welcome the guests to this event. The date of the celebration was significant. Wole Soyinka was born on the 13th of July and Uyo Book Club was celebrating him on the 31st highlighting the sameness in numbers.

”Growing up, Wole Soyinka was my role model. The Nobel laureate is a Dramatist, Novelist, Poet, Human Rights activist, good governance advocate, conscientious fighter, a man without a price tag. I wish he had the powers to make the literary icon to defy mortality.

He concludes ”Professor Effiong Johnson of Uniuyo, Iboro Otongaran, who flew in from Lagos, leading the charge to strip the masquerade so all could see the man in the costume, behold an original, untainted, principled African whose works are grounded in the existential cosmology of his people, the Yorubas of South West Nigeria.

“Why do U think that your culture and philosophy are superior to ours. WS seems to ask Europeans in some of his engagements. Some critics believe that he won the Nobel Prize in 1986 because of his prolific output, his political activism and human rights advocacy but from the window opened yesterday.

”I saw Wole Soyinka as a deep thinker, an authentic, unapologetic defender of the Yoruba /African culture, an activist who can stand alone to fight for his beliefs, a multi talented, diligent and productive artist who is grossly misunderstood. How we hurt him! How we hurt ourselves to have worked with the wrong tools all along,’’ Nana adds.

Though the session had come and gone, the parties met at a T-junction of ideas that his works as simplified by Professor Ebewo are not difficult as people believe. This serves as a rich but unforgettable memento in memory of the celebrator.

A cake was cut and group pictures taken in commemoration of the 87th birthday anniversary of Soyinka. A symmetrical note was struck that Soyinka’s works are not rocket science, but ones that need concentrated reading and deep engagement to earth and understand some embedded philosophical postulations, truths and myths to unraveling his works.