Writers - Poem by gershon hepner
They give headaches and don’t write prescriptions,
said Chinua Achebe about writers.
The come in various descriptions:
nany bitten, nearly all are biters.
Some are unattractive, making horrid faces,
like Africans described by Conrad; very few
make ethics and morality no basis
for peoples’ lives, but factors they eschew.
Things fall apart, and writers can’t prevent
the process; though a few describe it well,
the ones who think that they’re from heaven sent
can rarely help with stories that they tell.
Though headaches may respond aspirin,
writers merely cause some heads to spin.
Inspired by Dwight Garner’s review of China Achebe’s latest novel, “The Education of a British-Protected Child” (“Encounters With Many Hearts of Darkness, ’ NYT,12/16/09) :
The first novel and masterpiece from the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart, ” is such an economical and lucid depiction of a tribal society cracking under the weight of colonialism that it has become required reading in many American high schools. It’s the stinging “To Kill a Mockingbird” of modern African literature. First published in 1958, “Things Fall Apart” turned 50 last year, to wide acclaim. In 2007 Mr. Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize, a lifetime achievement award. But if Mr. Achebe has been much in the news, he’s been silent on the page. His new volume of essays, “The Education of a British-Protected Child, ” is his first book since he was paralyzed from the waist down, in 1990, in a car accident in Nigeria…
In Nigeria Mr. Achebe attended schools modeled on British public schools. He read classic English novels, plenty of them about Africa. He writes firmly and vividly about his first experience of these novels, and how the blinders eventually fell from around his eyes. It’s worth quoting his recollections at length: “I did not see myself as an African in those books. I took sides with the white men against the savages. In other words, I went through my first level of schooling thinking I was of the party of the white man in his hair-raising adventures and narrow escapes. The white man was good and reasonable and smart and courageous. The savages arrayed against him were sinister and stupid, never anything higher than cunning. I hated their guts. “But a time came when I reached the appropriate age and realized that these writers had pulled a fast one on me! I was not on Marlowe’s boat steaming up the Congo in ‘Heart of Darkness’; rather, I was one of those unattractive beings jumping up and down on the riverbank, making horrid faces.” Mr. Achebe is sickened by what he reads in “Heart of Darkness.” Conrad speaks of Africans as “rudimentary souls” and savages, and compares one mechanically adept African man to “a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat walking on his hind legs.” Mr. Achebe calls this “poisonous writing, ” and he has no patience for anyone who argues that Conrad’s racism was the norm for its time. He quotes earlier writers (one a hero of Conrad’s) who were far less backward. Albert Schweitzer also comes under his disapproving gaze. “A saint like Schweitzer can give one a lot more trouble than a King Leopold II, villain of unmitigated guilt, because along with doing good and saving African lives Schweitzer also managed to announce that the African was indeed his brother, but only his junior brother, ” Mr. Achebe writes.
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