THE PARTICULAR AND THE UNIVERSAL: A CONVERSATION ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF ART

Conversants: Ada AGADA[i] and Su’eddie Vershima Agema[ii]

Contributors: Maik Ortserga[iii] and Samuel Okopi[iv]

Ada AGADA: A famous European critic once correctly argued that both Achebe and Hardy are particular. While Achebe is a literary denizen of his Igbo environment, Hardy is domiciled in his Wessex (or Dorset) environment. Both wrote about village life. Both missed (if you like) out on the Nobel prize although eminently qualified for it. While Achebe studied English and is simple and eloquent, Hardy studied Architecture and wrote awkwardly. Both have attained literary immortality. I think Hardy is more universal than Achebe because he thought more deeply and expansively than Achebe. Hardy dissected, without being boring, such profound issues as pessimism, fatalism and the question of evil in relation to God’s existence. Achebe’s little philosophical striving remains bound to mythology. Hence I encountered him in African Philosophy as a mytho-philosopher. The Eagle on the highest Iroko himself acknowledged in an interview with Ezenwa Ohaeto that he wished he had done more in his works by way of philosophizing. Wole Soyinka thought more deeply than Achebe. I have not read most of the great contemporary authors yet due to lack of a library, but from what I read in papers Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, and others paid their debts to thought. Why is Goethe so sublime? It is on account of the quality of his mind and his ability to make intellect serve art. So Mr Agema, in my opinion all writers reflect universal concerns but only those intelligent enough to produce sublime thoughts and feelings are called universal regardless of their deficiency in craft. Tolstoy was regarded by some as technically deficient. Hardy wrote awkwardly. Yet one is the world’s greatest and the other England’s greatest (arguably). They were not the best craftsmen but they had great visions, made possible by their great minds.

 

Maik Ortserga: With due respect to the literary giant of Africa, I agree with Agada that Achebe is not deeply universal in his thought. I strongly believed it is what has kept the Noble Price inching away from him over the years. Although his ‘Things fall Apart‘ and other works have contributed in changing the perception one race had of another entire race, that is not enough to project a universal vision of life. His latest work ‘There was a Country: A personal History of Biafra’ shows how personal Achebe could be in his feelings and thoughts.

 

Ada Agada: You spoke my mind Maik.

Su’eddie Vershima AGEMA: I have been in talks with friends. Ada over here via this means, Joshua Agbo in the university and Maik all through our journey, the stay and return from Uyo. Now, I am not raising comments about the writer, Achebe -many times, I try to leave them in some cases- but the work in question. Ada,you have raised some concerns in ur query, mainly that philosophy is d stomach of universalism. From what I infer,you mean that a story on its own cannot be that of the world unless shrouded in deep philosophy

My stand on the issue is that more than just the deep thinking &all, there is the story told. I view universality from asking – is this applicable everywhere? Is this story human, realisable and near attainable in its setting &actualisation in any given place? Yes. No. Judge from that parametre and you have my views.

Saying this I realise that various critics have their viewpoints to judging universality such that some would even mention a ‘standard ruling scale.’ My view is that which I just mentioned.
I make it clear here that my argument is not of Achebe as a universalist or being more universal than Hardy (a comparison I fault by the way..You’re universal or you are not) but to point that stories can be universal in themselves devoid of the parametres we put them.

Friends, think of our folklore of old quickly dying. Remember our forebears telling these tales of what was & what came to be. Of the legends &myths. I remember talking with my big sister, Unoma Azuah & her reminiscence of tales told by her grandma. I remember those told me by our relations from the village, by my father… I have come across these stories severally in various literature across the world in different formats with little change or none. What is so mythological or local about these all?

If I derive a tale from my life & infuse all these with people from various world parts recognising them & even embracing them, would that be a pointer to universality or locality? What is the line between myths & history? What forms the difference between our ‘myths’ & those taken as fact (i.e. the Bible, Quran e.t.c)? How is the story of the Igbo different from that of the Red Indians &other such people? Of course, give a few minus and additions but you would get to the heart of what I mean.
GET to the thrust of this all &you would understand the universal picture painted in my thoughts.

 

Ada AGADA S’, you belong to the group that denies universality to art. For them art is simply culture-bound.

 

Su’eddie Vershima AGEMA: Hmm, do I sound that way? I think differently in my mind though. Note what I have said thus far… that there is a universality but it is found in the particular that can be expressed and accepted everywhere…. Does that find a string to culture?

 

Ada AGADA Maybe! Particularists also have a strong case.

 

Samuel OKOPI I think that the particular is in many ways connected to the universal. It’s what makes one read a book from another time and place and connect with it on so deep a level. Because in the end, whatever we may think, believe or live; it can all be broken down into constituent parts shared by every human in some way: eating, dressing, singing, being happy, experiencing sadness, loving mystery, needing someone etc. And yes, deep thinking that succeeds in reaching pages in a way that is accessible to it’s intended audience on a deep level, yet reaching many more outside this sphere, on some level, is to me the stuff of masterpieces.

I should also say, beautiful piece here.

 

Ada AGADA: @Samuel. Great comment. Well done.

I don’t see our culture withstanding the onslaught of Western liberalism on its own. We are going to lose a lot that makes us Africans and become increasingly like black Americans. The signs are there. Western liberalism is decadent and therefore alluring. To me only intellectual pride can stop the tide by masterminding a rebellion against Western excesses.

 

Samuel OKOPI Exactly Ada. Exactly. I keep telling people that our culture will not rise from seeming obscurity to the limelight if we treat it as it is; in its romantic and frozen form (yes frozen because the ‘onslaught of Western liberalism’ and popular culture has prevented any coordinated growth of our own cultural aesthetics; what we see instead is a ‘presentation of culture.’). I strongly believe that we must think deeper, investigate more to find the basic sauce of our culture that can be drawn out and transformed to a magical beauty that provides a strong identity for us and a strong allure for other peoples.

 

CONCLUSION

Su’eddie Vershima Agema: 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.

 

Su’eddie Vershima Agema: The talk continues man. We would discuss more. For now, let’s write.

 

 

 


[i] 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.

[ii] Su’eddie Vershima Agema is the Vice Chairman of the Benue Association of Nigerian Authors and author of the poetry collection, Bring our Casket Home  (Karu: SEVHAGE imprint, 2012)

[iii] Maik Ortserga is the Secretary of the Benue Association of Nigerian Authors. He is currently working on an M. A in Literature from the Benue State University. He is an Executive Editor at Aboki Publishers, Makurdi.

[iv] Samuel Okopi is an Editor on Naija Stories (a leading site on contemporary Nigerian literature) and a computer whiz.

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5 thoughts on “THE PARTICULAR AND THE UNIVERSAL: A CONVERSATION ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF ART

  1. I cannot believe you didn’t invite me to this discussion.
    My take on the matter is simple. There is no universal writer, there are no universal stories. Everything ever written has been written from a particular world view. In fact, there is no universal world view. A story can only be read by particular individuals, each interpreting subjectively.

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  2. It is true as Kaycee has insisted that there is no universal writer or stories. Yet what makes the writer a WRITER? He is a writer because he does something other people making a category do. The writer behaves like this group. He is an example of this group. You see then that he cannot break free from the universal which the group constitutes. If the particular writer depends on the universal group for his sustenance, then the universal exists in him. When the reader evaluates ‘subjectively’ the writer makes sense to him only on the basis of certain standards and views. In other words, he evaluates the writer. In doing so he moves away from the bare case of the particular and catches a vision of the universal. While it is easy to dismiss the universal as mere abstraction, it is, ironically, impossible to wish away the universal because abstraction is always involved in evaluation. The particular is meaningless without abstraction, to whatever degree. The universal thing is a bogey.

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