PROJECT TOPIC- EXAMINING AND EXPLICATING THE VISIONS AND CRAFTS OF THE CHOICE WRITERS BY X-RAYING THEIR SUBJECTS, ORGANISATION, TECHNIQUES, STYLE AND ORGANIC UNITY IN THE SELECT WORKS

PROJECT TOPIC- EXAMINING AND EXPLICATING THE VISIONS AND CRAFTS OF THE CHOICE WRITERS BY X-RAYING THEIR SUBJECTS, ORGANISATION, TECHNIQUES, STYLE AND ORGANIC UNITY IN THE SELECT WORKS

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1     Background to the Study

The Primacy of Vision and Craft in the production and evaluation of literary works cannot be overemphasized.  This is because literary communication in its most perfect form involves artistic representation and imaginative depiction of man in society through synergy between the artist’s vision and the various techniques of linguistic expression he brings into the work.

The artist’s communication of attitudes, expression of sensations, perceptions, themes and aspirations to entertain and move the reader do speak volumes of his creative competence or otherwise.  The relationship between vision and craft to good literary works is as the symbiotic relationship between the soul and body of man.  Bamidele puts it this way:

Writing is not merely a personal venture; it is a social act.  There is no literature for the sake of literature.  Therefore, artists are not mere flute players or mere singing birds without any attempt at ordering thought. (Literature 33)

Contributing to the subject, Yankson rightly remarks “that every writer thrives to evolve effective language culture which extols the cherished ideals of his envisioned society” (An Introduction 15).

Both Achebe and Soyinka believe that literary vision and craft are two sides of the same coin, which complementary roles the quintessential writers must exploit to attain their literary El-do-ra-do.

In the article “The Modern Writer and Commitment” Kolawole Ogungbesan shares his opinion on the issue as he argues that:

The writer (artist) is a member of society and his sensibility is conditioned by the social and political happenings around him.  These issues will therefore perforce be present in his work, but they must be more implicit than otherwise (Literature 7). 

Indeed, the inseparable union between vision and craft equals that between salt and oil and should not only be guided but must be seen to be jealously guided by creative writers who aspire to distinguish themselves in the league of artists.  Maduka Chukwudi in his essay, “The African Writer and the Drama of Social Change” rightly cautions:

The African writer cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing into the cocoon of creativity in the name of art-for-arts sake.  As a participant in the drama of social change in Africa, he can use his skills (craft) to help shape the future (vision) of the society (Ojinma 7).

It is, therefore, clear that vision and craft remain the most important guide-tools for all successful literary artists.

1.2     Statement of the Problem

As the indispensable tools to the evolution and discourse of literary knowledge, vision and craft should perform this task along global creative culture. This is the challenge before every artist.

There is no gainsaying that ignorance or neglect of the “creative code” by some artists renders their texts substandard and therefore of little or no value to the literary industry.  Writing on The Text as a Social History, Bamidele also frowns at the absence of Literature and History in most Nigerian texts:

I would assume that Reuben Abati’s lament on the “vanishing text” was not a matter of naïve comparative valuation when you place some of the novels on Nigerian shelves now with some titles that caught our fancy in those days such as the popular novels of Charles Dickens.  It is a lamentation that some of the novels now in Nigeria neither give us the sense of literature nor the sense of History(Literature 80).

Certainly, Bamidele is not a lone voice in this subject.  In the introduction to his book, Radical Essays on Nigerian Literatures, G.G. Dara invokes Osofian’s rating of many materials on our bookshelves today as junks and commercialized cultural products lacking in quality. He notes that:

Hollywood, Indian (and now Chinese) films, Pop music, pulp fiction are, with religion, the drugs which the masses consume in moments when they are not toiling or starring.  He roundly condemns the texts as inferior and mind-drugging means of entertainment (Radical xliv). 

The artist, his aspiration (vision) and how (craft) he communicates it to the society are implicated in these statements.

It is therefore obvious that not all who profess to be literary artists should be taken seriously as many such persons lack the insights and skills upon which the art thrives.  The Nobel laureate for literature, Nigeria’s Professor Wole Soyinka skilfully expresses this view through Jeroboam as follows:

I am a prophet, a prophet by birth and by inclination. You have probably seen many of us on the streets, many with their churches, many inlands, many on the coast, many leading processions, many looking for processions to lead… In fact, there are eggs and there are eggs.  Same thing with prophets.  (Trials 9)

The implication of Soyinka’s assertion rendered through Jero, his protagonist is that there are writers and there are writers.

Writing is indeed a challenging and an enviable task.  And since non-conformists to the etiquette of the profession have flooded the art, painstaking efforts must be made by the quintessential artists to distinguish themselves from the infiltrators.  Again, Soyinka vividly paints this picture as Jero soliloquizes to justify his indebtedness to Amope:

It would not have been necessary (the credit) if one were not forced to distinguish himself more and more from these scum who degrade the calling of the prophet. It becomes more important to stand out; to be distinctive.  I have set my heart after a particular name (vision).  They will look at my velvet cape (craft) and they will think of my goodness (critic perspective).  Inevitably they must begin to call me… the velvet hearted Jeroboam.

Immaculate Jero. Articulate Hero of Christ’s crusade (verdict on commitment to craft).  Well, it is not out.  I have not breathed it to a single soul, but that has been my ambition.  You’ve got to have a name that appeals to the imagination because the imagination is a thing of the spirit.  It must catch the imagination of the crowd (audience).  Yes, one must move with modern times (novelty). Lack of colour (style) gets nowhere even in the prophet’s business (emphasis, mine) (Trials 19.)

Among other elements of artistic engagement invoked in this statement is the problem of some artists’ inability to successfully “communicate or breathe out” their lofty visions to the target audience through good crafts. This aptly vindicates Northrop Frye’s view that the axiom of criticism must be, not that the poet (creative artist) does not know what he is talking about, but that he cannot talk about what he knows. 

And there are glaring instances of African artists whose writing vocation has been marred by their inability to “talk” what they know.  One such artist is the often adjudged prolific writer, Cyprian Ekwensi, who has been criticised for limited imagination and crude craftsmanship by renowned critics.  According to Bernth Lindfors: 

Of all the Africans who have written full length novels in English, Cyprian Ekwensi of Eastern Nigeria (now Biafra) perhaps best illustrate the dictum that practice does not make a writer perfect.  At least… and dozens of short stories have poured from his pen, but not one is entirely free of amateurish blots and blunders, not one could be called the handwork of a careful, skilled craftsman.

Ekwensi may be simply too impatient an artist to take pains with his work or to learn by a calm, rational process of trial and error.  When he is not repeating his old mistakes, he is stumbling upon spectacular new ones.  As a consequence many of his stories and novels can serve as an excellent example of how not to write. (African Literature Today Vol 3 3pp 2-14) 

The erudite critic further observes that Ekwensi’s works are roundly condemned for their excessive formlessness, superficiality, sensationalism, didacticism, sentimentality, and banality. Similarly, Ernest Emenyonu disparages Ekwensi’s When Love Whispers severally:

The plot is “loose and episodic”, the techniques “too blatant”, the manipulation of the characters “too didactic” and the ending of the story” “contrived and mechanical” making it “an immature product of an immature artist, a pot boiler that failed to boil and bubble (Early 62)

What could be more disappointing than to find in a single creative work this hybrid of artistic flaws?

Onuora Nzekwu’s visions and crafts are also criticised as problematic.  In his essay, The Africanization of Onuora Nzekwu, Lindfors notes that the artist’s earliest works, Wand of Noble Wood (1961) and Blade Among the Boys (1962), have been justly condemned by nearly every reviewer and critic as being too didactic, too explanatory, and too anthropological.  According to him:

Martin Banham was quick to point out that Nzekwu is too consciously writing for a foreign audience,… and this rather irritating habit gives Wand of Noble Wood  too much a feeling of being sociological thesis (Early 67).

Also, Margaret Lawrence voiced a similar complaint, suggesting that this particular novel fails because “Nzekwu is frequently distracted from real contact with his characters by his tendency to explain Ibo rituals and social forms in silted and text book manner”.  This problem is further worsened by the artist’s use of inappropriate cliché ridden slang in the following passage:

When he felt like giving his sexual passion a free rein he “Imported” just the right girl, a “ripe” baby, one who had the right vital statistics and a practical knowledge of sex technique, to spend a week as his guest.  He was very generous with his money and she liberal with the goods.  He never invited any girl twice, for he believed strongly that variety was the spice of life (Blade 126).

Instances of this problem among writers are too numerous to be covered by this work.  However, comments on the above two popular writers are pointers to the fact that it is not enough to have something to write in art; the medium employed by the artist to convey his ideas must be effective and convincing enough for the artist and his art to count.  If it is not inspiring and harmonious with the author’s vision, the work is a damn failure.

According to Cleanth Brooks in the introduction to Approaches to the African Novel:

The primary concern of criticism is with the problem of unity … The kind of whole which the literary work forms or fails to form, and the relation of the various parts to each other in building up the whole (The Formalist 174).

In fact, literary works whose crafts are incongruous with the vision that informed their births can, like Chume in the famous Soyinka play (Trials of Brother Jero 41-42) pose the colossal threat of “finishing” the language and society they are created to service just as those eggs and prophets that lack the qualities ascribed to them.  It is against this background that the visions and crafts in the works of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and Ama Ata Aidoo are x-rayed.

1.3     Objectives of the Study

This exercise has the onerous task of exploring, examining and explicating the visions and crafts of the choice writers by x-raying their subjects, organisation, techniques, style and organic unity in the select works.  This does not only re-echo but also authenticates the researcher’s earlier allusion to the timeless aphorism that “literary” works remain social histories until their creators are able to artistically and convincingly establish a harmonious marriage between their visions and crafts.

This harmony becomes the yardstick for accepting a text as a work of art. Reacting to this, Mark Schorer states that:

Modern criticism has shown that to speak of content as such is not to speak of art at all, but of experience and that it is only when we speak of the achieved content, the form of the work of art, that we speak as critics.  The difference between content, or experience, and achieved content, or art, is technique (Technique 141).   

This study shall strive to establish the organic unity between Adichie’s and Aidoo’s visions and crafts in the select works. It shall also provoke practising and aspiring creative writers to play by the code of practice that has informed the duo’s production of the select-literary edifices. Finally, prospective African female writers shall be encouraged to sustain the feats of these literary amazons in order to achieve total socio-economic and political recognition for themselves, the African woman and the whole of humanity.

These are, of course among the functional values of literature in Africa.

PROJECT TOPIC- EXAMINING AND EXPLICATING THE VISIONS AND CRAFTS OF THE CHOICE WRITERS BY X-RAYING THEIR SUBJECTS, ORGANISATION, TECHNIQUES, STYLE AND ORGANIC UNITY IN THE SELECT WORKS

1.4     Significance of the Study

The portrayal of literature as a language bias, complete and convincingly told fictive story which lends itself to such fictive rules as plot, setting, characterization and point of view (GMT Emezue 2008) anchored on the intellectual satisfaction of readers at the discovery of a work’s:

what often was thought but never so well expressed… the enjoyment of word-play or aesthetic pleasure that comes from living vicariously …”  (A Glossary for the Study of English 1)

constitute the major achievements of this study.  By implication, the research shall be useful to ambitious scholars and artists who wish to distinguish themselves in creative writing through exposing them to the literary devices employed by Adichie and Aidoo to tell their multifaceted stories to the admiration of the world.  This will no doubt provoke the aspiring artists to create their own peculiar devices in order to be heard in the highly competitive literary world. 

Furthermore, the study will help to reduce the volume of bad literatures in our libraries and bookshops today, as their producers will lose the patronage of the unsuspecting reading public who hitherto think that any book with the title “novel”, “drama” or “poetry” is literature.  Also, the producers of such bad works will quit the profession or be compelled to embark on quality creative ventures.

Finally, teachers of literature will profit immensely from the outcome of this investigation as it will guide their selection of texts for their students.

1.5     Scope and Limitation

The select artists are West African female writers – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian, and Ama Ata Aidoo, a Ghanaian.  Both writers have several literary works to their credit.  However, this dissertation is limited to Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun on the one hand and Aidoo’s  Anowa and The Girl Who Can and Other Stories on the other.

PROJECT TOPIC- EXAMINING AND EXPLICATING THE VISIONS AND CRAFTS OF THE CHOICE WRITERS BY X-RAYING THEIR SUBJECTS, ORGANISATION, TECHNIQUES, STYLE AND ORGANIC UNITY IN THE SELECT WORKS

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