Thursday, April 27, 2006

Moments of genius

It seems to me that moments of genius arise within a culture when societies go through suffering and turbulence and acknowledge it in expressive forms. When a society goes through suffering and turbulence but shies away from it (through fundamentalist escapism, scientific dogma or other means), expressive genius is stifled, but remains potent.

This simple theory would explain St Antonym's point in his comment on my last post. Nigeria has perhaps yet to acknowledge the depths of its own suffering; the open wound of the civil war, the 40 years of rule by an elitist cabal, the brutality and brutalism of everyday experience for the masses. In contrast, the African American experience since slavery has been one of a sustained engagement with the origins of that form of suffering, resulting in musics and literatures which are part of global culture. It would explain the Polish outcrops of genius he mentions.


Nkem 10:01 am  

Jeremy, you've hit the proverbial nail on the head. Nigeria hasn't had any moment of national catharsis, a moment to simply sit still and take stock of the pains of the past. It dawned on me a few week ago when Argentina were commemorating the beginning of the Dirty War. I know there have been marches in memory of June 12, but nothing on a scale grand enough.

South Africa obviously had the truth and reconciliation committee, which has been borrowed around the world. Rwanda has the Gacaca courts where victims and genocidaires come face to face with each other.

Nigeria, on the other hand had a shambolic media driven Oputa panel which was good television in the way that people Big Brother rivetting, but also just as vacuous and devoid of cleansing.

The elephant in the room is obviously the Civil War. Nobody talks about it, especially at a when the same issues threaten to split the country. Nobody talks about Biafran flags flying in the East, or the Biafran pound being used as legal tender in certain markets.

The Civil War doesn't need to be the main point of any catharsis, but must at least be one. Somehow though I don't see it happening. Hopefully Nigeria can get its healing without any cataclysm, and this is where the arts have a part to play. But we're still making films like "Awilo Sharp-sharp, part 2"...

Anonymous,  11:23 am  

I just discussed the national catharsis subject with a friend here in the UK and his response was "national catharsis, my foot!" I asked him if this attitude was bcos his dad is a politician or bcos of his ethnicity? He couldnt give a straight answer but I wasnt surprise with such a perception of his. Ethnicity in Nigeria is used too negatively, it is regarded more highly than Nigerian nationality itself. Even the current debate about third term now seem to be getting some division depending on which ethnic group you belong to.

Nigerians (or should I say We Nigerians?) can be very false, all in the name of being diplomatic. And also, the unfortunate wide use of religious reason as a need to "forgive and forget" is so stupid today. We shy away from intelligent debate bcos its not worth it as a religious person. Even whilst I was a student in one of the most vibrant Universities in Nigeria, I remember when it was time to protest on pressing matters, the people that will most definitely be missing will be the religious ones, and that mean everyone who participate in such demonstation are sinners! However, when the aim of the demonstration is achieved, we all benefit. For heaven sake, we all can see the effort people like The Rev Jesse Jackson, aint they religious? Definitely not in Nigerian standard.

The third thing is probably poverty or the ease with which people can be bought off from their point of view - I wont bother expansiating on this. However, how many times have we read about people being paid at Polling Station during election?

Until we stop letting our ethnic backgroung, religious affliation and the 'ease of being bought off' has such great influence on us, national catharsis will only be a dream of a few.

ayoke 11:50 am  

I totally agree with Nkem. However, it’s not enough to advocate for a national catharsis or some form of transitional justice. More importantly, we need to take into consideration the modus operandi for expressing these locked-up tensions.

From my experience with the countries cited (Rwanda and South Africa), I have come to the conclusion that it’s as important to have a forum for asking and answering questions as it is important to somehow find the best means (“best” being the operative word and meaning “ the means of least damage”). I say this because I have studied the undercurrents in both countries and they are quite volatile. It makes one wonder if the TRC actually achieved its aim, or whether the Gacaca tribunals will fulfil their purpose. I’ve physically observed Gacaca proceedings and experienced the social dynamics in Rwanda. Quite frankly, I don’t commend Kagame’s approach because what we have in that country is almost a false sense of security. I visited the prisons and spoke with the mainly Hutu prisoners. They don’t call it genocide; they call it a “civil war” and go into the whole settler-native complexities (I recommend that you read Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘When Victims Become Killers’).

As for South Africa, the TRC did manage to keep tempers at bay but having lived in that country for a year, I can say with all sense of responsibility that that is one country with serious human and social issues. How can you have catharsis and transitional justice without translating it into economic justice? The whole pain invariably begins its cycle all over again and the essence of the TRC thereby becomes lost.

Nevertheless, it is commendable that these countries at least acknowledged their pasts. We have not done that in Nigeria and these embers of tension may just one day flare up into a conflagration we can’t bear.

St Antonym 2:10 pm  

Good comments. Thanks for stimulating this discussion, Jeremy.

People say Nigerians argue too much. I would say we need to argue more. There should be a never-ending contest about the meanings of the past. Slavery. Colonialism. The War. The various military regimes.

No country (or person) can hope for success without first confronting the past. Enough of sweeping things under the carpet. I really hope this will become a national conversation someday.

Kingsley,  4:59 pm  

It also explains why African Americans as a group have achieved little, whilst other immigrants (including some Nigerians mind you) have. It explains why they are what I call paranoid self-racialists, people who see every setback as part of a huge racist vendetta. A lot of African Amertican literature and art gets very boring after a while: racism and slavery, racism and slavery, on a loop.

I Thank God that Nigeria is not like that. It's bad enough as it is, who wants nagging, paranoid "creative" types?

Besides, to me, creativity is not the ability to use complicated words to say a lot and ultimately mean nothing. It is about feeding your family on an ever reducing budget and STILL smiling. It is about living in a country with so many problems and laughing all the time.

Nkem 5:50 pm  

Kingsley, I partly agree that having a "minority mentality" can be a great hindrance to the progress of African Americans, and diaspore Africans and Caribbeans. But it is also Nigerians' ability to accept their fate and deal with the situation at hand that is part of the problem.

There's no sense of altruism or of fighting genuine injustices that exist in Western communities. It tends be like you said, "about feeding your family on an ever reducing budget and STILL smiling", instead of in the long run, trying to stop that budget reducing. This is based on a premise of mild solipsism/selfishness, that regardless of events, one must survive, when it minght make sense to find a collective solution.

This spirit of individualism can be wonderful, and this is why Nigerians thrive abroad. At home in Nigeria, though, it is pointless. Nigeria is not yet a meritocracy (I use the word losely), individuals aren't given have the chance to do well on merit alone.

Crystal 7:58 pm  

I like how the Rwandans are learning from the past genocide and healing, and without that it's impossible to really move on into the future and make it a bright one. I do not know much at all about Nigeria, but from what I hear on the news there is much internal strife. Your 2nd commenter hear touches on a point that many people should take note on, the fact that Nationalism is good! America is a mix of so many different types of immigrants, but we all think of ourselves as Americans, and this brings unity and cohesiveness.

Crystal 8:03 pm  

Oh, and in regards to Kingsley--American Americans are actually doing VERY well! If you come to America you'll see that we live fine, most own cars and homes and take vacations etc. just like all Americans, and our influence on the culture here is massive. Of course, from a political standpoint my race could use some improvement (there's only 1 Black in the Senate and I don't any Black Governers here), but there are blacks in high levels of government and the Bush Administration too. I do not think that Blacks are too hung up about the past, but we don't try to pretend that it never happened either!

j 8:44 pm  

hi crystal! i think you meant to say african americans. and i would agree with you as well

grace,  9:36 pm  

In the words of Nkem, I would totally agree "Jeremy you've hit the proverbial nail on the head"

somborri,  1:19 am  

today is my birthday! i can vote! lol
sorry jeremy but this topic is way beyond my league

somborri,  1:21 am  

oh well i guess it was yesterday then (sorry jeremy for hijacking your blog)

Jeremy 4:46 am  

"I Thank God that Nigeria is not like that. It's bad enough as it is, who wants nagging, paranoid "creative" types?" Can I presume Kingsley you classify John Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Huston, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Dandicat, Sun Ra and on and on in this way?

Conversely, do you look upon the truly emancipatory and creative Nigerian radicals - Achebe, Fela, Okigbo, JP Clark, Flora Nwapa and co in a similar fashion? Creative paranoid types arguably do more to utterly transform society than any other type of change agent. Your perspective smacks of brute philistinism.

the flying monkeys 11:42 am  

Nice posts from everyone especially, Jeremy, Nkem and st antonym. Black Africa's first TV station is in the western capital of Ibadan, what does this tell us?

I am sure, our day of freedom will only come if, people like kingsley can be converted from being a philistine; a promoter of social decay. Our progress should be with the rest of humanity; from BRUTE to MAN, from PHILISTINE to GENIUS and not the other way round.

By now, we should have built a mighty-nation, but for the racial and religious rivalries pointed up by the mighty Y that is stamped accross Nigeria's face, by two great rivers.

the real grace,  3:33 pm  

From BRUTE to PERSON. The ones that would lead us out of our darkness will not be MEN.

Your time is over.

the real grace,  3:34 pm  

MAN's time is over.

caveman 8:07 pm  

"...From BRUTE to PERSON..."

The real grace, you are clearly confused.

Human beings are "phenomenally successful ANIMALS".

The Brute was a CAVEMAN.

grace,  8:41 pm  

caveman, you are clearly confused.

I was addressing obokun's use of the term "from BRUTE to MAN", which privileges men over women.

the flying monkeys 12:27 am  

Ok, that may be politically incorrect in today's society, if I sounded sexist. I believe the neautral alternative to that should be from BRUTE to PERSON. But its based on the same notion. Not everyone subscribes to being politically correct, its a matter of opinion, not a legal obligation. As long as it is consistent with the moral or ethical position. Which I think was the point raised under our host's (Jeremy's) post on "oaths"

caveman 12:36 am  

grace, you are clearly confused too.

I was addressing the real grace.

grace,  12:27 pm  

caveman, the only person confused here is the chimapanzee masquerading as me, turning my precious grace into a mindless sycophant.

i don't feel like changing my name permanently to 'the real grace' because of that mad wo/man.

caveman 12:59 pm  

gracious, you got me confused

which is the real grace?

grace,  1:32 pm  

It is not the REAL grace:
- if grace is praising a person's post on this blog without first crtiquing it
- if grace gets all philosophical and starts quoting obscure old white men.
- if grace veers off topic (except when addressing some sort of 'ism, then it certainly is the REAL grace).

It is the real grace:
- when grace is sharp
- when grace is mad
- when grace is laughing

j 2:22 pm  

earlier you referred to me as the "mad" woman masquerading as you, and that you would not want to change your name to the real grace, because of that.

now you say, you are the "mad" woman i.e. it is the real grace, when you are "mad".

This proves, you aint the real grace.

grace,  3:35 pm  

Chimp, by the 2nd "mad", I meant "angry". By the first "mad" (that is, yourself), I meant "insane".

grace,  3:37 pm  

assuming I am not the real grace. then who in fact is the real grace?

j 3:55 pm  

There's a thin line between insanity and genius, and you aint standing on it. You are grace not the real grace.

grace,  6:01 pm  

actually i am standing on it chimp. love how you know me so well, even better than i know my own self.

grace,  6:05 pm  

actually, to be perfectly direct, i find your last comment condescending. unless i misunderstood it (and i think i'm smart enough not to have) it was a putdown.

j 6:16 pm  

Grace, no slight intended in my earlier comment. But you are not the real grace and I a confident about that.

This is the genius of insanity.

the real grace,  6:17 pm  

Oscar Levant:
There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.

There is no great genius without some touch of madness.

Even love is a temporary insanity.

caveman,  6:19 pm  

Please may I interrupt, but, which of the two graces is the real grace?

caveman,  6:20 pm  

am the real caveman

[the real] grace,  6:37 pm  

i am the real grace

Monef 8:47 pm  

@crystal - Not to put down anything you said about the success of the african-american community, but I think the tragedies of hurricanes katrina and rita revealed that clearly there is a lot to be done. An alarming number of African-Americans in this country live below the poverty line. As I am sure you know, the majority of the victims were African-Americans who didn't posess the means to evacuate.

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