Udenta: I am back from literary hibernation – Part 2
Concluding part of interview with Comrade Udenta O Udenta, who released 21 books after so many years of literary hibernation.
The first volume of Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature and the Possibilities of New Materialist Direction is one of the most thought-provoking and latest works among the 21 books. To what extent is it a departure from the postmodernist debate? What’s your idea of the new materialist direction?
ACTUALLY, Crisis of Theory in Contemporary Nigerian Literature is a sustained deconstruction of the disjunctive presence of postmodernist critical thinking in the examination of Nigerian aesthetic productions.
I initially titled the essay that steadily grew into a book length study, Postcolonial Aesthetic Impulses and the Postmodern Debate in Contemporary Nigerian Literature, in which I tried to map the interpenetration of postmodernist-flavoured poststructuralist theoretical assumptions into the domain of postcolonial scholarship.
I felt convinced that the crisis of theory in contemporary Nigerian literature is a consequence of the displacement of that literature’s historical materiality that is periodised in nature but also contains synchronous ruptural flow; the foisting on that aesthetic site an ontological and epistemic indeterminacy not borne out of cultural experience; and the valorisation of globalisation by successfully hiding and deideologising its antinomies and discontents.
My idea of the new materialist direction of Nigerian literature operates at two theoretical elevations: the first, primary elevation deals with re-directing scholarly investigation of texts towards the probing of the materiality of the nation state’s metanarrative historical and cultural order; that locates material forces and material relations at the base of the postcolonial formation; that ontologises the Nigerian condition and circumstances through the heightening and radicalisation of the spirit of critical realism; and that is alert to the representable totality of a rapidly transforming social and cultural order.
The secondary theoretical elevation merges, or rather violently yokes and subordinates the ideology of material transcendence to this new state of revolutionary aesthetics to produce a concrete universal counterhegemonic thesis capable of reanimating a decadent Nigerian postcoloniality beyond the spheres of culture and aesthetics.
Enough for now as I do not intend to prejudge the considered opinions of scholars and critics who will soon be reviewing the work.
You consider Autonomy of Values a more mature work intellectually than the works you did earlier, and I can see that it is an interrogation of different forms of reality. To what extent are you influenced by Nietzsche?
A few decades ago –precisely, before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the retreat of Sovietised Euro-communism –it would have been the height of ideological and moral heresy, not to say of apostasy, for a Marxist scholar to admit that he was unabashedly influenced by Nietzsche, of all philosopher! But that was the condition of the Left in the early and mid-1990s- at least from the perspective of a Third World intellectual weaned on the Stalinist regidification of Marxism in the direction of economic determinism and pervasive interpenetration of ideological loyalty and commitment in all life’s spheres.
The emergence of Gorbachev and his poorly theorized and ultimately calamitous perestroika and glasnost constructs delinked the developing world from the world revolutionary process and disentangled her scholars from participation in mainstream global intellectual processes and movements, especially intellectuals like myself who were sound on Soviet Marxism but were wary and, thus, unaware of the procreative possibilities of Western Marxism- Georg Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness, the groundbreaking intellectual discoveries of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theorists like Theodor Adorno, Max Hokheimeir, Walter Benjamin, Eric Fromm and Herbert Marcuse, and the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser, Lucien Goldmann and Pierre Macherey.
So, aside the works of Antonio Gramsci, some Lukacsian texts, and the writings of Christopher Caudwell, Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton, as well as the tens of Soviet and East European intellectuals whose critical productions lay at the base of my own scholarship, I was in the mood to rebel, to explode in strange intellectual directions.
I found succour in the philosophy of Nietzsche and began to devour his works – Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, the Anti-Christ, Human, All Too Human, The Birth of Tragedy, The Gay Science, On the Genealogy of Morals and Daybreak. What I found enchanting about Nietzsche is his rejection of both Schopenhauer’s excess of moral determinism and infinitude of the tragic state and Emanuel Kant’s universal moral order construct. The measure of Nietzsche’s influence on Autonomy of Values is located in my attempt, in Nietzsche’s fashion, not only to account for the genealogy of morals or even the revaluation of values but in their liberation from the confines of convention and crippling orthodox assumptions, from the region of production and affirmation, to the domains of determination and reinvention.
However, Nietzsche is not the only pervasive influence in a work I truly believe is intellectually stronger than my other works given that it was basically composed with minimal intertextual references, has few quotations, no end notes or bibliography, and thus very original in nature –ideas incarnated by religion, mysticism, biotechnology and bioethics, literature and African notion of material transcendence abound in the book.
37 Seasons Before the Tornado was written at the heydays of military dictatorship in Nigeria and could pass for a prophetic offering because of the tragic deaths of Abacha and Abiola. Okigbo also was a prophetic poet. What does a poet like you have in common with a seer?
I do not know if there is a transcendent quality in the process of poetic composition, not in terms of overcoming the limitations of the imagination that derive from realms of material consciousness to project a future possibility, but in penetrating extra-terrestrial regions that can account for the future in present time.
Whatever the case might be, I wrote the poems in the collection that was originally published in 1997, between 1987 and 1989, including the title poem, “37 Seasons Before the Tornado”, a clear ten years before the deaths of Abacha and Abiola and the convulsive political events that ushered the Fourth Bourgeois Republic in Nigeria.
Aside creative works and critical works, you also have books on democratic process, like Illumination and Democratic Transformation and Social Change in Nigeria. In them, you have captured Nigeria’s struggles in politics. How has the country fared so far?
You are right. Illumination is a collection of essays I wrote between 2000 and 2014 on democracy, governance, peace practice, culture and social development in Nigeria. It is the first volume of my four volume collected essays. I hope to bring out the remaining three volumes between now and 2020.
For me, there are three standout chapters of the work, even though this is an author’s subjective judgement; the chapter on The Phantom, His Opera and Cultural Obscurantism in Nigeria, the tribute to Luciano Pavarotti and Michael Jackson in the context of the triumph of immortality, and the chapter that is a meditation on the fracturing of communal peace and social stability in my ancestral village of Mgbowo in Enugu state when elite consensus crumbled.
Democratic Transformation and Social Change in Nigeria, on the other hand, is the first of my three-part intellectual and political biography from the early 1980s to the inauguration of the Fourth Bourgeois Republic on 29th May, 1999.
Parts two and three, as well as a text on media presentations and representations of the Nigerian democratic struggle, are already in press. I encourage readers to take a peep at chapter one, which is the introduction of the text.
As for how Nigeria has fared over the intervening decades, let me just interpose that, while the realm of cultural production, particularly the creative and critical sites of aesthetics, has overwhelmed in performance from the 1930s to the 2018, without a let up in intensity, output and global quality of texts, the realm of politics has tragically underwhelmed with the exit of the nation’s founding fathers and mothers, thus placing society at the precarious crossroads of perdition and clear and present existential danger.
This situation has led to the exhaustion of the sense of nationness and nationhood and the historicist spirit that undergirds it, buffeted as the state is by an imperious wind of moral infamy, economic profiteering by a primitive buccaneering class and an insolently intolerant and spiritually repugnant illiberal political order.
I wonder how many people have paused to ponder about the miracle of Nigeria’s aesthetic realm from the generation of D O Fagunwa, Amos Tutuola, Herbert Ogunde, Pita Nwana, Abubakar Imam and James Ene Henshaw through the triumphal presence of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chris Okigbo, John Munonye, T M Aluko, Nkem Nwankwo, Zulu Sofola, J P Clark-Bekederemo, Ola Rotimi, Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara, Obi B Egbuna, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Chukwuemeka Ike, Anezi Okoro, Onuora Nzekwu, Okechukwu Mezu, Mabel Segun, Adaora Lily Ulasi, Labo Yari, Okagbue Wonodi, Kalu Uka, Isidor Okpewho, Zainab Alkali, and Eddie Iroh; and from the innovative aesthetic vision that define the works of the Second Generation writers like Femi Osofisan, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Helen Ovbiagele, Bode Sowande, Tess Onwueme, Ezenwa Ohaeto, Esiaba Irobi, Kole Omotoso, Odia Ofeimun, Emman Usman Shehu, Wale Okediran, Uche Nduka, Okey Ndibe, Denja Abdullahi, Ben Okri, Ogaga Ifowodo and Afam Ekeh to the Afropolitan consciousness of the leading lights of the Third Generation writers who command massive global recognition like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helon Habila, Chris Abani, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Helen Oyeyemi, Segun Afolabi, Sefi Atta, Kaine Agary, Uzodimma Iweala, Biyi Bandele-Thomas, Chika Unigwe, E C Osondu, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Chigozie Obioma, Ayobami Adebayo and Yewande Omotoso.
If you look at the critical frontier, the picture is the same. From the groundbreaking efforts of scholars such as Emmanuel Obiechina, Omafume Onoge, Donatus Ibe Nwoga, MJC Echeruo, Romanus Egudu, Abiola Irele, Ben Obumselu, Ernest Emenyonu, Charles Nnolim, Ime Ikiddeh, Chidi Ikonne, Chinweizu, Ihechukwu Madubuike, Jamie Onwuchekwa, Olu Obafemi, Biodun Jeyifo, Femi Ojo Ade, G G Darah, Chidi Amuta, Dan Izevbaye, Adebayo Williams, Emeka Nwabueze, Chimalum Nwankwo, Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo and Chuma Azuonye to the raging cultural and aesthetic fires lit by contemporary intellectual giants like Pius Adesanmi who, inexplicably, is no longer with us, Obi Nwakanma, Ayo Kehinde, Amanze Akpuda, Isidore Diala, Chris Anyokwu, E E Sule, Obododimma Oha, Obari Gomba, Uzoechi Nwagbara, Onyebuchi James Ile, Dennis Ekpo, Adeleke Adeeko, Samuel Okoronkwo Chukwu-Okoronkwo, Francis Mowang Ganyi, Anthony C Oha, Ogaga Okuyade and Sophia Obiajulu Ogwude it has been seasons upon seasons of ferment and profound creative and critical fecundity, breaking boundaries and conquering new frontiers of learning and knowledge formation, production and reproduction.
Conversely, with only a few exceptions, the Nigerian political landscape is a veritable wasteland, populated by ghoulish creatures of indeterminate moral and ideological orientation, completely anti-intellectual in mindset and perpetually Philistine-like in thought and performance.
Defined by the haunting spectacle of incompetence, indolence and greed, and driven blindly by emblems of moral decrepitude and spiritual aridity which reside at the core of their being, they negate all the inheritances constructed at the threshold of the nation’s founding.
With the exit of the masters of the right and centre right-left of the ideological spectrum like Zik, Awo, Bello, Balewa, Okpara, Aminu Kano and, in newer times, of Okadigbo and Ekwueme, Adesanya and Ige, Ellah and Ekpo Bassey, Awoniyi, Ciroma, Olusola Saraki, Mahmud Waziri and Shinkafi, and the rich body of thought they left behind in coherent declarations and intellectual publications that encompass the ideological force fields of African liberation, federalist imagination and constructive approaches to nation building –planks on which Zikism, Awoism and Bello’s conservative Northernisation philosophy anchor their authentic parameters in bourgeois terms –the Nigerian political stage is now almost completely bereft of thought, of an absent centre of ideas, not even to be found in disparately assembled writings of any shape or hue. But for the few who escape this harsh censure, and who I call friends and compatriots, I will celebrate you in due course.
You come across as a restless spirit having an endless intercourse with the universe, even outside the academia where you flourished. What’s the driving force?
There is a fair amount of restlessness in every soul no matter your material, financial, political, social, cultural or even intellectual station in life.
The quest to master the contours of existence, at both rudimentary and sublime levels, evokes constancy of efforts and spirited attempts to overcome odds, nurture dreams to reality, and translate promise into possibility. This is not unique to me as an individual; it’s a trait that defines humanity as a whole.