A tool for change

A tool for change

It is pretty interesting to try and go into the finer details of anything and to discuss the core issues that form its main components in terms of description. This exercise becomes even harder with an individual whose mind is not on par with the teacher. It is a fact that all that needs definition oftentimes needs to be presented in terms that are familiar to the audience.

A fine line to tread however, presenting the full definition of any entity demands in the first that the teacher be cognizant with the knowledge systems of the given audience. Failure to adopt this type of attitude on the part of the teacher is at least suitably complemented by respectable acknowledgement that the sanctity of what is sacred to the audience shall be preserved for the sake of their sacredness to the given audience.

Failure to know or at least to acknowledge the wisdom of other individuals leads to misunderstanding, for then, a  man consumed by his own opinion cannot see the error of his ways and shall soon fall into a pit because he then begins to put himself in the shape and countenance of a demi-god. This is the countenance and attitude of the plutocrat gone and forgotten the sad hard paths he has walked as explored in the works of literary writers like Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man.

The plutocrat is the type of figure that keeps honourable men in bondage, one that would willingly send an aristocrat into serfdom just to keep the few caesarean pieces of metal in the fold of his torn pocket; and the world and its unfolding circumstances at this point have given room to the power of the plutocrat: those who have can actually hold the world at ransom because they have the means to counter the effects of what is unfolding at the given point. This is literature in its infancy, an exploration of the events unfolding in the moment and a look into the relationship between Marley and Hitler, Marley and Cesaire, Dennis Brutus and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and whoever may be the trending figure at the given point in time.

One first has to understand the oneness of the variety despite its seeming scatteredness. One has to understand the everyday through the different ages of man and to understand the interconnectedness of what goes on in the everyday with what goes into the annals of time and books of history as has been seen and read or heard through the book that recount the story of time through the ages.

Considered an honourable profession only by those that have gone through its process, dwindling in terms of curricular support, and phased out in certain schools, the study of literature is not done enough or hasn’t been done enough in the last few years that it has reached a point of insignificance. It is as if that however vital literature is to the study and understanding of life’s unfolding scenes, it is has reached a point where it is deemed incongruous with the process of progress.

The field’s significance in the progress games of the world may seem to those that are working hard to phase it out seem irrelevant, but the fact is that this outlook is erroneous: literature will never be irrelevant, thus the reason why it forms part of every field of study.

The critics of literature should understand that the understanding of true literature is as scattered as the knowledge systems of this world. The basis of any idea or plan and strategy finds its roots in aesthetic sense and appeal, that is, it can never be understood enough to be put into action if the imaginary side to it cannot be presented in written form as literature.

Jules Verne presented submarines and space travel well before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969. The literature of any society is the guiding ethos with which what is wished can be given face to enable science and other fields to bring it into reality. Well before George Lukas fashioned Star Wars, it took Erich Von Daniken and other space age writers to trigger the thought of a space age franchise in the minds of future scientists and screenplay writers.

He that approaches literature should do so with caution, it is a field that demands utter selflessness, extended patience, and a humble type of attitude when dealing with its understanding. Meja Mwangi did not just pen Going Down River Road out of the blue. A psychedelic type of fantasy ride in the lives of two construction site ‘boys’, Ben and Ocholla, the tale’s meanings however go deeper than just the entertaining but imaginary sight of two drunks wobbling (and staggering) to their sleeping quarters after a busy night at the Karara shebeens with their jostling masses of people trying to get rid of the day’s problems at the speakeasies.

This was the tale of everyone in those days and could be read after a long day to while away time. The old tale is still relevant and similar to the now common scenes of the nightlife many of the construction workers that come to the concrete jungles of Africa and the rest of the world. Such scenes have however now got an ‘update’ in the prevailing faster world of worldwide web, their social media websites, and multimedia files shared on different platforms at stratospheric real-time speeds.

This means that the unfolding scenes of literature of the people at the current moment in time do actually go far more than the analysis of past literary experiences penned in novels. One may actually be tempted to think that they do not count in the midst of the COVID-19 war ongoing at this given moment in time.

They do however count for the different experiences of the people in the midst of a pandemic need to be recorded in one form or another for the sake of future generations. We have the need to understand that our situation is not particular or peculiar to only us in the history of time: what is has been before, and will come to be again in the future.

I came across a beautiful volume of literature on one of those journeys I have to take from time to time. Interestingly thrown into a storm ditch, The Heritage of Literature Series volume of short stories by then modern writers was suitably covered in a ‘War Emergency Binding’. Upon reading and turning the pages across the different authors that were part of the volume from Richard Garnett to O. Henry, Ernest Bramah to G. K.

Chesterton, the volume proved a worthy companion to the last short story by H. E. Bates. A collection of short stories published in the middle of World War Two in 1942, the collection proved to me the timelessness of some of the then explored themes by different writers in the field of literature in that period.

Another factor that proved quite interesting was the relevance of tales written almost a century and a score years ago to the now very fast life of the modern day. From The Rewards of Industry to Roads to Destiny, the reading of the volume revealed one fact about literature that the sceptics of time often misplace on its true essence; literature reveals the ever-changing facets of life in all their diverse forms and this fact alone is uncomfortable to those whose professions thrive on having something to hide or for those that are in the comfort of such issues as complacency.

Simple in description and mundane in terms of expression because of its understanding that it should be easily and mentally consumed by the ordinary man in the street, good literature is written for the sake of its being relevant to different individuals on the different rungs of the social hierarchy. Good literature can never be possessed because it demands to be shared due to the beautiful portraits it paints of the changing scenes in life that are often familiar to the reader or at least good enough to trigger the imagination of the reader to the point where they can fashion a personal image of what is being spoken about in the written words of the literature.

The distant shore never before seen by the boy living in the rural villages far from the sea can be painted so clearly in the imagination that the waves breaking on the rocks vividly described by the writer that includes such scenes in his story cannot only be seen, but the salt in the breeze on the coast can be smelt and tasted. This is one of the effects of well-written literature, the reading of a work not only becomes a sight experience but also encompasses the other four senses of the body. Reading in that sense not only becomes an encounter but an experience to be remembered for a lifetime.

What the writer feels inside or outside his or her skin is a sensation felt only by the individual feeling it, what the writer  sees is thus seen as viewed from his or her perspective and not the next individual’s, what he or she tastes can only be described as tasted by the individual tongue, what he or she hears goes only into their auditory senses and however loud, cannot be deemed to have been heard by all in spite of their proximity to the source of the sound heard, and the smell of the wild rose reaches only the individual’s nasal nodes and affects each person that comes across the thorny plant on a level individual.

Processed and interpreted in the individual brain; what is seen, tasted, smelled, touched, and heard carries only a certain level of meaning applicable only to the individual. It is only after it is passed on to the next individual in the form of words spoken, scribbled, or signalled as literature that it begins to make sense to those that themselves have a certain level of understanding of that which I am trying to describe.

Without the understanding of that which is being described, the process of interpretation out of which meanings are drawn is rendered temporarily impossible, as the transmitter is forced to find similar entities in the immediate environs to try and describe that which they are trying to pass on in their words.

African and other literature finds its root in the word and stems from somewhere. It is inspired somehow by something, some occurrence at first not clearly understood, but with the passage of time unravels and its meanings in their full magnitude are defined by the words written about it. Common knowledge as expressed in literature is penned somewhere in the

subconscious of the utterer that in simple terms ‘speaks’ it (for the term is in its basic definition related to the act of communication, passing the message on and receiving it via various senses).

The word then is what becomes the nexus of the act of communication, a bridge that connects the dots in the act associated with connecting the human and animal and plant races of the world; the word is on its own the core of the process of communication, the definitive element that gives the act of communication its character and meaning: for without the word communication is non-existent. In many shapes, scents, colours, sensations, flavours, and other stimulants words have their form; and they are thus used to serve the one primal purpose of connection in the world: communication through literature written for and relevant to the unfolding moments in a given era.

I have always held the view that literature as a tool of communication should always be in touch with the real-life situations of the audience. This means that it should adopt a real-time approach most of the time or at least find common points in history that are familiar to the audience. The literature teacher should always find some common points at all times to aid the student in terms of gaining enough understanding to have the requisite knowledge to  then interpret a work of literature.

Out of touch with the real-life experiences at the present moment, literature then loses one of its basic purposes that aimed at communicating life experiences and share them with the audience. Communication exists only if the entities associated with the words are familiar or have familiar relatives from which meanings can be drawn.

Without the simple element of familiarity present in an episode of communication, the whole episode is non-effectual in terms of the basic purpose of the episode of conversation between the two or more parties involved; because then, the two parties involved might as well be talking to rocks or staring at the sun, and the only meanings they can draw out of the whole episode are drawn out of what is little understood or instinctively understood.

Literature thus has to be in touch at all times for it to be an effective tool inspiring change or instilling a sense of resolution and resilience to a people going through a certain uncomfortable experience. We have to tell the tales of the now through the only medium available: literature.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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