Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013

“The time has come round to a change in millennia when, history tells us, all kinds of excitable people are apt to go bonkers; when even more equable souls like ourselves may get high on prophecies. The last time around W.E.B. Du Bois had held high hopes for the twentieth century on the matter of race. Mindful of that, alas, unfinished business, my hope for the twenty-first is that it will see the first fruits of the balance of stories among the world’s peoples. The twentieth century for all its many faults did witness a significant beginning, in Africa and elsewhere in the so-called Third World, of the process of ‘re-storying’ peoples who had been knocked silent by the trauma of all kinds of dispossession. I was lucky to be present at one theater of that reclamation. And I know that such a tremendously potent and complex human reinvention of self — calling, as it must do, on every faculty of mind and soul and spirit; drawing as it must, from every resource of memory and imagination and from a familiarity with our history, our arts and culture; but also from an unflinching consciousness of the flaw that blemished our inheritance — such an enterprise could not be expected to be easy. And it has not been. […]

“An erosion of self-esteem is one of the commonest symptoms of dispossession. It does not occur only at the naive level…; even more troubling is when it comes in the company of sophistication and learning. It may then take the form of an excessive eagerness to demonstrate flair and worldliness; a facility to tag on to whatever the metropolis says is the latest movement, without asking the commonsense question: later than what? Let us imagine a man who stumbles into an alien ritual in its closing stages when the devotees are winding down to a concluding chorus of amens, and who immediately and enthusiastically takes up the singing with such loudness and gusto that the owners of the ritual stop their singing and turn, one and all, to look in wonder at this postmodernist stranger. Their wonder increases tenfold when they ask the visitor later what kind of modernism his people had had, and it transpires that neither he nor his people had ever heard the word modernism…. [E]ccentricities such as his can liven up the gathering and may even save it from righteousness and solemnity; but in the final reckoning the people who will advance the universal conversation will be not copycats but those able to bring hitherto untold stories, along with new ways of telling.”

— Chinua Achebe, from Home and Exile, 2000.