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Hunting Expedition Makes My Mind Lighter- Soyinka

Wole Soyinka
Posted: Jul 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Internet Has Paralysed Mental Faculties Of Most Youth
The 82nd birthday of the revered wordsmith and first African Nobel laureate in literature, Professor Wole Soyinka has come and gone but not without certain characteristic references. The vintage and relaxed Kongi in this interview with some select group of journalists shared some of the fundamental principles of his philosophies, interest in the fight to liberate humanity, literary exploits among others. YEMI ADEBISI was there. Enjoy it:

Sir, do you feel frustrated that we have not seen more African writers winning the Nobel Prize in Literature?
First of all, please let’s not talk about Nobel Prize; it’s just too much problem. One should just write for the sheer love and drive and fulfillment. If one feels fine, that’s great. So, I don’t feel frustrated at all about positive prizes and, in any case, Nigeria has had, when you look at the African Continent, and you look at the prize we could get in terms of nominations and actually winning the prize, more than her fair share of the entire continent. So I don’t feel frustrated about Nigeria writing at all. Those in other countries might feel frustrated and it’s very likely they’ll even say, “why is Nigeria always in the final list? They just won this or that prize.”

The list of Nigerian writers winning prizes globally is very impressive and a lot more are willing or pushing to become great writers like your good self. What learning will you want the young African writers to imbibe?
First of all, they must read a lot. Reading for the sheer pleasure of it actually stimulates thinking and stimulates ideas. I don’t believe that any work of literature really stands entirely alone on its own. There are subconscious influences one is not aware of, there are ideas, which you actually think about, lodged in your subconscious and stay there for any number of years. Then one day, it comes up, you’ve forgotten where the idea was post-implanted in your mind. So, literature is a socialised event in that it is almost a collective activity in that sense because it asserts that no single work can actually say I stand-alone, that there is absolutely nothing which has gone into it from other sources. It doesn’t even have to be a work of fiction. It could be a biography; it could be reading a scientific or technological pamphlet and the idea springs to mind. So, reading for me, is very essential. Reading also enables one and challenges one, because if you start writing and you say: “wait a minute, haven’t I seen this idea somehow, somewhere” and you know you want to pay more attention to what seems original to you and that gives a very refreshing writing. Now, of course, you must have your priorities. If you really feel you want to be a writer, you have to give up a lot of other things. And so you have to be disciplined. You need to decide on what is your rhythm of writing. Are you the kind of person that wants to sit, get up in the morning, drink coffee or tea or whatever and then sit at a desk say “I am not getting up from here until I have covered a number of pages.” I don’t do that. I’ll just wait until the idea, which is formed in the mind, becomes overwhelming. You know you are incapable of doing any other thing or enjoying yourself or participating, let’s say in sport or anything. You’ve got to get it out of your system. At that point, you’ve reached what I call the critical creative max and you have no choice than to just sit down and get it out of your system.

It’s like there is a contradiction. It has been often reported that the standard of education in Nigeria is falling, yet Nigerian writers are doing well locally and internationally. What do you think is responsible for the rise?
First of all, we have the advantage of size. We should be ashamed and disappointed if, with this immense size, we do not lead other countries. It means there’s something wrong either in the opportunities or even the economies of the publications. That affects creative writing, you know. When people can’t get published, they get frustrated and they move in other directions. Also, we have a plurality of cultures; there isn’t one single Nigerian culture. Many people try to pretend. They think it’s patriotic to say Nigerian Culture. There isn’t such a thing. In fact, if you talk about the Nigerian Culture sometimes, I think about it in a negative sense. When people say, hmmm!…that must be a Nigerian; it means somebody is making trouble somewhere. So, I enjoy the plurality of cultures. I enjoy veering up slightly to introduce into my writing, something which I’ve observed in let us say NUPE culture to Itsekiri culture. So, that variety produces creative fecundity in the minds of people.

What would you say helped you in life to develop your spirit of fearlessness?
Well, I don’t know about fearlessness, all I know is that, basically I like to live at peace with myself, and I have a kind of temperament, which cannot and does not permit me to keep quiet when things are going wrong. If I see something drastically wrong, I will address the issue. It doesn’t matter at what level, whether at the basic community level, domestic level, a victim of abuse of some form or the other, or at the very highest level of governance in any nation, it goes even beyond our own national borders. Sometimes I say it’s a kind of perverse laziness and it takes too much energy to walk away from something with a disapproval than actually to intervene in it. Ultimately, it’s just a question of wanting to be at peace with myself.

What is your biggest regret, particularly about the inability of Nigeria as a potential giant to live up to expectations?
That is a very elaborate question, which I cannot answer in just a few seconds. There are many. Talk about leadership; of course, this is part of our problem. Then you wonder whether it’s a leadership which affects the followership or vice versa. I talked about Nigeria of course, people expect me to take the lead in creative writing. When you look at how many young Nigerians have applied the ‘internet’ which anybody would think would make them just pick up a pen and write. That praiseworthy and enabling facility called internet is the doom of the mental faculties of many of our youths.
The few times I am compelled to take note of something on the internet, I just wonder; what kind of sub-humans, what kind of sub-mental people inhabits the internet. The internet supposed to facilitate discussions about exchange of ideas and so on. The number of those who use it for that purpose is shrinking, shrinking and shrinking all the time. I am totally overwhelmed by the sheer weight of garbage that goes on there. And so, Nigerians excel in one direction, it excels in another direction and it’s a very sad thing.

Your life has been a phenomenal success and we are proud of you. But if you were to do it all over, what is that thing or those things that you would like to change?
I think the only thing I might change is what I call my avoidance strategy. I would avoid a lot; I mean a larger section of humanity than I’ve allowed myself to be involved in so that I can have more leisure to myself to pursue all kinds of interests. I mean not just only in literature.  I am interested in music, architecture, even in the sciences; in the latest technologies. I’m intrigued by the sheer brilliance of the human mind, the ability to penetrate the cosmos to demolish all kinds of superstitions which hold down humanity. I am interested in the fight to liberate humanity to the absolute fullest to what I feel inside of me so I can have a companionship constantly when in private. I move out of myself, a companionship liberated and that includes across genders. I would certainly avoid the kind of mentality, which discriminates against…I don’t even spend so much time trying to reform people who are extremists, especially in matters of religion. They are malformed towards the reasoning of others so I’ll leave that task to others. I’ll leave it to the Psychologists, leave it to Clerics, leave it to Sociologists, and mind my own literary, creative interest.

How do you unwind, considering your extremely tight schedule?
I unwind by taking a walk sometimes if it’s just a short period of time I have. But when I am able to save a day, two days or three days, I disappear into the bush hunting. With that, I unwind completely; I come back rejuvenated, lighter in mind. I’m very close to nature instinctively.