After reading Chimamanda’s recent essay, It Is Obscene: A True Reflection in Three Parts, I concluded it shouldn’t be called just an essay.
Often we expect literature to be fictitious, having unreal characters and locations. We hardly consider that the writer of fiction is trying to share with us a part of them that they think might offend, disavow ideas we hold dear, or affect others in ways that a fictitious story might not.
Her note exposes how much danger one might subject themselves to when you offer to mentor, tweet your opinions, train, or teach, especially for a Nigerian market. I won’t say so much about Africa because I am not sure this applies across the board.
When you choose to teach in Nigeria, you open yourself to a lot of unexpected outcomes. Subtle hate, hostile hate, full-blown hate, cynicism, and disregard. If you happen to be famous, your name and image will be used with or without permission. The moment you accept to mentor or teach, you are expected to be at the bequest of your protege. If they wish, they can treat you like a wet rag today, and tomorrow attach your name to their CV.
I would ask that we read Chimamanda’s thoughts to understand how our social culture is shifting, what it takes to build an African literary ecosystem or any ecosystem – the thankless job that is, to become aware. There are truly nefarious people out there in the world. Your good intentions don’t always matter. There are people who by their actions, and social activities seek to hurt others. There are those who do this fully without restraint and then there are snakes and leeches.
Restrict access to yourself as you grow. This isn’t about locking doors. It’s about protecting the things that are sacred to you, your private space, from those who simply wish to benefit from whatever you have built. They take, and without remorse.
The world is not as innocent as some of us like to paint it to be. And as much as I hate to say this, Chimamanda is suggesting that “watching your back” is not just a figurative expression.
Chimamanda’s note starts here: ” When you are a public figure, people will write and say false things about you. It comes with the territory. Many of those things you brush aside. Many you ignore. The people close to you advise you that silence is best. And it often is. Sometimes, though, silence makes a lie begin to take on the shimmer of truth.”
I started writing because I hated the constraints to thought and expression that I had grown up to know as a Nigerian. I have come to realize that vigorous debating without hatred, properly considering opposing views, is lacking in most of our spaces. Literature cannot evolve fully from spaces where we all have to watch our steps every time we hold an opinion or position.
What we would have at best are echoes of sponsored rhetorics, a need to sound like what grantmaking bodies like to hear, and a disrespectful attitude to anyone who doesn’t pander to our lifestyle or actions.
I liked a word in that essay. Bathos – (especially in a literary work) an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous.
I love that our approach to conflict or resolution is void of “violence” and not “weaponized”. That words are becoming the greatest outlet for angst. It’s important that we keep it this way and this is one reason that Twitter debates, literature, and storytelling must become fully rooted in our everyday. So, I hope to see a robust response from the other subject of Chimamanda’s thoughts, maybe another email?
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