Posted in ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS

ARTS AND ITS UNIVERSALITY: A CONVERSATION [1]

Senghor visiting Frankfurt am Main in 1961.
Senghor visiting Frankfurt am Main in 1961. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conversants: Ada Agada and Su’eddie Vershima Agema

 

Ada AGADA: I promised this piece on Su’eddie’s prodding. Let me start by saying I believe in the universality of art, in the structured unity of the human mind regardless of race and cultural plurality. I will define universality simply as the transformation of the particular by lofty thinking and lofty sentiments into a transcedent mode everywhere recognizable as a creation and achievement of the human spirit. While the particular remains time-bound the universal escapes time. It becomes timeless. This means that the universal is present in every author. The problem then is whether this presence has become a transcendence. Shying away from social themes which my friend thinks is peculiarly characteristic of Western literature (and I disagree even with the average in consideration) does not guarantee universality, as surely as writing about so-called universal themes like love, hatred, death, and marriage fails to satisfy the universalist conditions in the absence of loftiness of thoughts and feelings. It is the human intellect, uniform in its structure, that organizes these lofty thoughts and feelings. The universality success rests substantially on the quality and advancement of a writer’s brain. This is not to say the writer should write a textbook that will send you to sleep from page one. Here the intellect serves the interest of art, not of thought. Why is L.S. Senghor greater as a poet than Christopher Okigbo, a great poet in his own right? It is because Senghor is more universal, more elevated in his thinking, more expansive. So the question is not whether one writer is universal and the other is not but why one writer is said to be universal even though all writers reflect universal concerns in their writings. I have answered this question. Now I will proceed to illustrate my point with concrete references to two magnificent writers in the second part of my submission – the English Thomas Hardy and the Nigerian Chinua Achebe. Keep a date with me.

Su’eddie Vershima Agema: When I mentioned that we would be having this conversation long, I knew it would be so. Hmm.
Since this is a conversation aimed directly, I take it head on.
I start by correcting that faulty line of Senghor being greater than Okigbo… M zambe [please] my brother, check that properly. Okigbo is seen as one of the best poets of African extraction &no one contests… Check. Literary tradition, the critics, connoisseurs &even readers have long done the coronation… Check.
Now to the talk on this all…

I believe that writing should not always be consigned to the way you put it my brother. The art should have more than the philosophy… it should have ‘art’. What then is art? It has been described by many people to mean different things but I hold it to be an expression of an innermost feelings. It captures our entirety through a rendition of all there is within us. Now, any work that carries this &does so fully wins us. It needs a little sprinkling of finesse to give it that extra crunch plus…

Some editing &proper carriage put in a way that is easily carried gives it that grace that is the universal. So in this way, it transcends just philosophy stated &other such things told to be a story of one &all that can be accepted everywhere, adopted &claimed for each one’s own. This forms the heart of my argument which I continue on the thread of the second part to your talk.

 

Ada Agada: @S’. I only read that Okigbo is the most exciting poet from English-speaking Africa. He is the most musical of the black poets but is surpassed by Senghor in magnificence and originality. Kofi Awoonor also noted this point of Okigbo’s heavy borrowing especially from Eliot. Those who rate Okigbo higher have not read much of Senghor who wrote in French. I have read the best poems of both. @S’. I don’t mean philosophy per se but thoughts, elevated thoughts.

Su’eddie Vershima Agema: I still think you should do your views on Okigbo are not so concrete. I have read much on him to know that above his ‘borrowing’ and the ‘musicality’, there’s a depth to him that is beyond words to express at this second. Talking of originality, what do you say of his own moulding of tradition into the fabrics of his poetry? Of course, I know Leopold Senghor and have read on him, his works extensively. What you have raised is a big argument but oh well, several scholars have gone on and on in several arguments on the greatness of who is greater – their loves or someone else.

NOTE now that I am not just saying that ‘I read’ that Okigbo is something. I have read enough of both him and others to know that he is worth the honour of his crown as one of the very best that black Africa has produced…

When it comes to our concepts of universality again, I think of it in this way: you being a philosopher look more towards it in terms of elevated thoughts. I being just a lay man look at it from the view of expression – an expression that can be felt and owned by people everywhere. Our very stands are created based on our personas, learnings, and thinking. Would we ever agree? I wonder. We would argue based on our various thoughts and leanings… We have read much to support our stance and would easily argue to that effect. Would we reach a compromise? Can we agree to disagree?

 

Ada Agada: @S’. I think we have already reached a compromise although our core beliefs stand. The agreement is that there can be no universal without the particular. We only disagree about the dimensions of universality. In fact I suspect you are a particularist, one who believes the universality thing is superflous.

 

The discussion continues here…

 

Ada Agada is the author of the novel, The Anxious Life (Aboki Publishers, 2011). He is also a poet. He holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Nsukka, Nigeria.

NOTE: This conversation was extempore and is largely based on direct talks between the two conversants.

English: Christopher Okigbo photo
English: Christopher Okigbo photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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6 thoughts on “ARTS AND ITS UNIVERSALITY: A CONVERSATION [1]

  1. you guys are totally missing the point. What makes a work universal? There is no universal story. saying that a work of art is universal because a writer is more elevated or is a deeper thinker is just not true. That a work is widely accepted by the general public doesn’t mean it is universal. The general public understood in particulars. When i write about my worldview, form my little village perspective and it gets world recognition, it is not because i wrote on universal concepts or because the world could relate to it. Things Fall Apart was written by an Igbo and the people who understand the book most were Igbos, yet it has world acclaim. Is the book popular because people could relate to anything there? What would a German or an Arabian have related to in the book? a writer can only write from his experience, and this experience is particular subjective and relative to the writer.

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  2. It is not as if I am asking for a universal writer or universal story. The state of affairs in the world makes it impossible to dismiss the question of universality. The universal it is that validates the particular. Achebe is a black man but a man all the same. Readers of Things Fall Apart who are white or yellow in subjectively appreciating the novel look out for the universal in the Igbo particular. They connect with the novel because they see that the personal experiences of the characters resemble their own personal experiences which they consider typical of mankind. My argument was that Achebe, though universal, was not sufficiently universal. Sublime thinking and lofty feelings alter mere craft (or bare story) and render the particular the property of the world or man (the universal). Subjective processes go beyond particulars. They are at once logical and psychological processes.

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