Mental Freedom & Great Literature

Ben-Okri-580_35108a

According to author Ben Okri: ‘We should not be expected to write about slavery, poverty or racial injustice. The greatest literature comes not from the heaviest subjects but from freedom of thought’.

A mental tyranny is keeping black writers from greatness – by Ben Okri

Living as we do in troubling times, we look to writers to reflect the temper of the age. The essential thing is freedom. A people cannot be great or fulfilled without it. A literature cannot be great without it either. The basic prerequisite of literature is freedom. And the first freedom is mental freedom. For it is possible to be free in the world and unfree in your head. The most striking thing about great literature is the strength of freedom that flows through its pages.

Yet an anomaly of perception is often brought to black and African writers. They tend to be considered only important for their subjects. We read Flaubert for beauty, Joyce for innovation, Virginia Woolf for her poetry, Jane Austen for her psychology. But black and African writers are read for their novels about slavery, colonialism, poverty, civil wars, imprisonment, female circumcision – in short, for subjects that reflect the troubles of Africa and black people as perceived by the rest of the world. They are defined by their subjects.

The black and African writer is expected to write about certain things, and if they don’t they are seen as irrelevant. This gives their literature weight, but dooms it with monotony. Who wants to constantly read a literature of suffering, of heaviness? Those living through it certainly don’t; the success of much lighter fare among the reading public in Africa proves this point. Maybe it is those in the west, whose lives are untouched by such suffering, who find occasional spice and flirtation with such a literature. But this tyranny of subject may well lead to distortion and limitation.

It is a curious fact that the greatest short stories do not have, on the whole, the greatest or the heaviest of subjects. By this I mean that the subject is not what is most important about them. Rather, it is the way they are written, the oblique way in which they illuminate something significant. Their overt subject might seem slight but leads, through the indirect mirror of art, to profound and unforgettable places. The overwhelming subject makes for too much directness. This leaves no place for the imagination, for the interpretative matrix of the mind. Great literature is almost always indirect.

Read further @ The Guardian

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~ by eneryvibes on 1,June 3, 2015.

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