Emmanuel Iduma was born and raised in Nigeria. Emmanuel is the author of The Sound of Things to Come. He received an MFA in art criticism and writing from the School of Visual Arts, New York. He is a co-founder of Saraba Magazine and co-editor of Gambit: Newer African Writing. Follow him on Twitter @emmaiduma.
Monkeys as Judges of Art (1889) by Gabriel Cornelius von Max
1. Criticism is being involved
2. Criticism is an offering
3. Criticism is “a genre unto itself”1
4. Criticism “is crises”2
5. Criticism is generosity
6. Criticism is looking at a work of art long enough for it to speak to you
7. Criticism tries to negate that art is an it
8. Criticism says, forge clarity out of language
9. Criticism is like romance, all the highs and lows
10. Criticism is disassembling a subject and failing to couple it together
‘An elemental narrative’ is the description we should use for a story that transcends genre. Our understanding of ‘elemental’ relates to what is ‘essential’ or ‘a basic part.’ It means that our elemental narratives always bear the premise that we are writing a ‘basic’ story that touches at the heart of who we are and what we have become. The goal of the writer will be to write a story that is as elemental as a shared humanity, those recognizable qualities that makes us human, and sometimes inhuman.
What does it mean to be an African writer? And why is this question still being asked? The world may know the literary giants Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and Wole Soyinka, but their work does not stand for an entire continent. In this fragmented essay, Emmanuel Iduma muses on the intersection of modernity and the writerly experience, and the great writing sure to emerge from that complex nexus.
I will argue for a new Nigerian literary order.
Suppose we call this ‘neo-literariness’, for want of a better word, and because in hyphenation a word acquires two identities. So, neo-literariness is the word to use for a generation of writers and enthusiasts who function despite institutional lapses, and whose artistic engagement thrives of new ways of being, especially web-technology.
I will explain with a few examples.
I have interacted with Dami Ajayi more than any other writer in this series; easily he was the choice for the final conversation. I have lived with Dami, shared books with him, written about him, dreamt with him, fought literary wars with him; together we have co-founded a literary magazine, organized workshops, readings, etc etc. He's kin, as well as colleague. So readers will notice how we easily lapsed into ourselves in the following conversation, referring to subjects and experiences that is peculiar to our shared moments.
Ayodele is one of the most consistent Nigerian writers of the last half-decade. She’s the oldest writer in the Gambit series, although I wouldn’t want to ask her if she’s comfortable being grouped with younger colleagues. I figure that question would be answered with a wave of her hand; Ayodele gives the impression that even the most obvious of borders doesn’t exist. Meeting her in person, I was drawn to her infinite knowledge about everyone and everything in the literary world.
I first found Abdul’s name on African Writing, I think. I was then searching for writers to include in this project, writers who were, should I say, "within reach." Indeed, Abdul was. This conversation demonstrates, in an interesting way, how his creativity seems bared, in an open-ended way, so that it seems possible to discover the extent of his nuances.
It is best that Richard speaks for himself, that I present this conversation without remarks. For suddenly, in need of an introductory note, I find that I have none, and that Richard’s responses sparks of completeness. In fact, I had no reason to respond to his first responses – perhaps silenced by the lengthiness and profundity of each response.