By Adesola Ademola
What could be on the mind of a man approaching 79 years of age, specifically, when he is Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, whose birthday is today, Saturday, July 13? The answer: plenty. Over the years, the distinguished playwright, poet, novelist and essayist has constantly demonstrated that a plenitude of thoughts crowd his mind in the context of writing. Evidence of this mental flood is Soyinka’s noticeably effusive use of parenthetical details, particularly in his essays, press statements and polemical books, which can make reading him a punishing task.
Pay more than a cursory attention to a good number of the printed records of his mental exertions, and you would probably be astounded at the profuse provision of extra details that compete with the usually long, complex sentences unpacking his insightful, mentally stimulating, challenging and engaging thoughts, and didactic messages. If such were not there, introduced through the copious deployment of dashes, the disquisition, article, or book possibly was not written by our own WS.
I read him almost on all fronts. His fictional and non-fictional works give to my mind the same nourishment and pleasure that the human body derives from scrumptious meals. I have just read his recent offering published December last year, Harmattan Haze on an African Spring, which, by the way, is recommended to all students and lovers of history, whether African or non-African. Anyone who really seeks to understand the significance of the history of Africa, “the untapped resource of African humanism, so deeply lodged within her spirituality,” and how this human resource can make a difference to a world seething with improbable religious intolerance, needs to read that Soyinka’s book.
The plate of the seminal book is full. However, as I coursed diligently from page to page, I noticed the ample supply of additional pieces of information marked off by comas and, more noticeably and profusely, dashes. No page is spared in that onslaught. This is a pattern, nay, idiolect, which I have, overtime, observed in the writings of Africa’s first Nobel winner.
Among other possible explanations, I now consider the parenthetical information as indicative of the sheer abundance of useful protein in the storehouse of knowledge of the gracefully ageing god of Baroka, Iya Mate, Prophet Jero, and many other fictive beings whose doppelgangers populate the actual world. The inimitable Soyinka always has so many things to say, all at once. Admittedly, given his exposure and compulsive reading habit, there are hefty and compendious volumes of invaluable knowledge in his encyclopaedic brain. Thus, when he scripts his mind in his characteristically meticulous and lapidary style, he seems to long, almost uncontrollably, to gush out the entire contents of his fabulously rich mental redoubt, hence the effusive parenthetical particulars of his deathless literatures.
And where he cannot render some information parenthetically as he energetically punches the keyboards to produce his compositions, Soyinka often promises the reader more on another terrain of write-ups or books. This is observable in many of his recent publications. Even the now-controversial interview he granted the scabrous online news medium, Sahara Reporters, sequel to the exit of Chinua Achebe, and filled with merciless broadsides against Adewale Maja-Pearce, contained both high dosage of parenthesis and the promise to verbally decision the Nigerian-British writer and critic in another context. Hear him: “… there will be more said, in another place, on that hatchet mission of an inept hustler”. Harmattan Haze on an African Spring has the same promise; otherwise, it wouldn’t have been Soyinka’s work.
However, I should quickly make this remark – the crux of my piece actually. At the risk of being considered otiose or misplaced, I seek to advise Soyinka to whittle down the panoptical provision of parenthetical information in his publications. If my intervention appears like a cri de coeur, I adjudge it a necessary one. If only Kongi’s excellent contributions could be made more accessible to young and old people who want to read him, engage him, but are either irritated, bored, or incapacitated by his obsessive, plentiful use of dashes indicating too many additional pieces of information that can be better conveyed in normal sentences. The excessively parenthetical schemes make those who don’t mind his aptly elevated expressions want to avoid reading his increasing articles and releases.
Many young, lazy Nigerians who can barely endure reading essays or books written in weaker and more easily accessible expressions will readily find additional excuse to avoid his thoughts, which I contend are necessary for the fortification of their relatively vacuous minds.
Soyinka’s excursiveness, no doubt, makes his publications dense, forested, and cumbersome – except for the few minds weaned on elegantly realized prose and soundly logical expositions. Although old habits die hard, I encourage him to try to reduce his proclivity for usage of numerous dashes, nay, parenthetical fixation. Or does his style represent obedience to the irreversible dictates of his demiurge, Ogun? Lest I forget, what are the stats of my parenthetical details in this piece?
This is wishing the great Kongi many more fruitful years as he marks his 79th birthday, hoping life parenthesizes his stay with us still!
Ademola Adesola (AAO) is resident in Osogbo, State of Osun (firstname.lastname@example.org).