Interview with Ogaga Ifowodo: ‘For me, to truly admire a poet, I’ve to be envious of him or her’ on The Nation

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What book or books have had the greatest impact on you and why?

Too many to list! Certainly, all the books I mentioned in the answer to the first question. And, naturally, the Bible, which was mandatory reading, in English and Isoko, before evening prayers in our house (for being, I believe, arguably the most irrefutable evidence of writing as creation, as magic, the bringing into existence of that which did not previously exist); Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (for my induction into the dialectical mode of reasoning and critical vigilance by way of the famous call for “a ruthless criticism of everything existing”); Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (for what everybody knows and also being the first novel from which I would, as a 14-year-old, memorise whole passages); Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (for being one of the most devastating unmasking of colonialism’s pretence to a civilizing mission and of Europe as the actual heart of darkness); Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks (for an extraordinarily poignant interpretation of the violence, brutal realities, complexity and complexes of colonialism as a form of imperialism); Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (the title says it all); Toni Morrison’s Beloved (for its feat of posing a moral-philosophical question on both sides of slavery, the slave’s and the slave-master’s, while remaining focused on the unspeakable horror of slavery as well as the slave’s irrepressible quest for freedom); Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead (which fuses the history of Native-American and African-American experience of genocide and slavery and sublimates it into a narrative of healing through the re-territorialisation of the United States, her vision already beginning to be realised and partly awakening the overt racist white supremacy policies and attitudes of the Donald Trump government); Walcott’s Omeros (which is literally an enactment of healing as self-discovery, as reconciliation with and acceptance of one’s home and identity, however gruesome and unflattering its history, and for doing so with rigorous attention to form); Edward Said’s Orientalism (a seminal study of the ideological framework of the West’s misrepresentation of non-white peoples and cultures through its attitudes to the Orient or the East; written more from the literary/philological perspective, it is arguably the founding work of postcolonial studies); C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins (which shows so powerfully how Toussaint Louverture’s slave revolution of 1791-1804 led to the emergence of Haiti as the first black republic and, quite as important, fulfilled the heady promise of liberté, egalité, fraternité of the French Revolution of 1789 that inspired it by moving the former from the narrow Jacobinism of the overthrow of an imperial monarchy to a universal humanism); Nelson Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom (for bequeathing to us the unforgettable life and mind of one of the world’s greatest moral and political figures as well as a personal history of the anti-apartheid struggle); Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Civilization and Its Discontents and Moses and Monotheism for a depth psychology of the mind, psychoanalytical interpretation of the conflicts, mostly produced by cultural and religious injunctions, between the individual and society and the trauma and repression that ensue from that (though not a book I should also like to mention his essay “Against the Pleasure Principle”); Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, which was a massive help to me at the dissertation stage of my doctoral studies when using psychoanalysis as an analytic concept for the understanding of (post)colonialism as a trauma needing to be acknowledged and worked through by formerly colonized societies, as Frantz Fanon had famously prescribed in Black Skin, White Masks); Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, earlier mentioned (which delineates the proximate and ultimate causes of the unequal development of peoples and regions of the world and conclusively locates the ultimate cause in geography, not racial difference); My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit whose great-great-grandfather was a founding Zionist (which is a devastating critique of Israel’s genocide and colonialism in Palestine); Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (which humorously but scientifically wages war against the obfuscations of Biblical literalists and their ingrained resistance to biology, to science, and knowledge); Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction and Satya Mohanty’s Literary Theory and the Claims of History (which very helpfully unpacked the obscurantism of postmodernism as a radical theory aimed at deconstructing the totalitarian structure of power and did so brilliantly at first but unwittingly ended up becoming what it criticised), etc., but I guess I have to stop!

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