Expressivity as Dress of Thought In Kyuka's The World Conference in Heaven

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This is a Superb and well-researched Paper on Kyuka's The World Conference in Heaven

Submitted: May 26, 2017

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Submitted: May 26, 2017

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Expressivity as Dress of Thought in Kyuka Lilymjok’s The World Conference in Heaven

By

Zayol Meshach Terfa 07034806899 meshachterfa55@gmail.com

Best Graduating Novelist and Best Graduating Critic, Writers’ Leaque, Benue State University, Makurdi. Terfa has a Masters Degree in English Language. He is the  Editor, The Quarry Magazine, Gwarimpa, Abuja, and Lecturer, Fidei Polytechnic, Gboko, Abuja Campus,  and the author of Teaching and Understanding Made Easy, The Super Hero, The Local Champion..., Segmental and Suprasegmental Phonemes, A Course Text in General English, The Legacy of Our Forefathers, The Intellectual Saviour, Suspension of Disbelief.

Abstract

It is apt to posit that the relationship between the study of literature and the study of language has been one of bitter rivalry. Be that as it may, it is possible to bridge the divide between language and literature by using the analytical techniques available within the sub-discipline of language study called stylistics. Stylistics is the study of style and style is the way in which language is used. It is the choices made by an author in crafting a text in a particular genre. This places stylistics on the platform that is concerned with investigating the style of literary texts. There are no two individuals that are exactly the same; hence style represents a man – his unique personality that cannot be duplicated. This study examines expressivity as dress of thought in Kyuka Lilymjok’s The World Conference in Heaven. Lilymjok, though in very simple language, in this text, uses language that is fully decorated with the figures and tropes to bring about changes in the feelings and opinions of the reader. His dexterity and craft in deriving the thought, moulding its elocution with raillery or rhetorical fabrics, then clothing and adorning it aesthetically weeds a compelling commendation. The examination of this study is viewed through the lenses of Existentialist Theory which is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. It focuses on the question of human existence, and the feeling that there is no purpose or explanation at the core of existence. It questions the existence of God or any other transcendent force and contends that the only way to counter this nothingness is for man to find meaning in life. These views which, epicentre appear in Kyuka’s text, relate to our study. With illustrating details and examples, the study examines both the strengths and weaknesses of the text, relating it to other texts of similar persuasions. It is hoped that the study will help readers grasp the world-view of the author.

Introduction

Stylistics as a concept is so familiar a feature that people often assume, on a first value, that it is self-explanatory. However, when one pays a close linguistic attention to it, it becomes clear how intricate the concept is, especially as it connects with the complex nature of its object – language. Language is a hierarchy of levels each of which is studied correspondingly by phonetics, phonology, morphology, lexicography, syntax, and so on. While the aforementioned may have major stakes in linguistics, stylistics too is divided into separately independent branches each of which treats one level and has its own subject of investigation. Stylistic phonetics studies the style-forming phonetics features of sounds, peculiarities of their organisation in speech. Stylistic morphology studies stylistic potentials of grammatical forms and grammatical meanings peculiar to particular types of speech. According to Victoria Zhukovska:

[s]tylistic lexicography considers stylistic functions of lexicon, expressive, evaluative and emotive potential of words belonging to different layers of vocabulary. Stylistic syntax investigates the style-forming potential of particular syntactic constructions and peculiarities of their usage in different types of speech. (11)

We can infer from Zhukovska’s position above that the stylistic value of a text is manifested not merely through a sum of stylistic meanings of its individual units but also through the interrelation and interaction of these elements as well as through the structure and composition of the whole text. Thus stylistics deals with all expressive possibilities and expressive means of a language, their stylistic meanings and colourings – the so-called connotations. It also considers regularities of language units functioning in different communicative spheres. The major thrust of this study is on aesthetic stylistics as dress of thought in Kyuka Lilymjok’s The World Conference in Heaven.

Conceptual Clarifications

Stylistics

Stylistics is the study of style and style is the way in which language is used. It is the choices made by an author in crafting a text in a particular genre. This places stylistics on the platform that is concerned with investigating the style of literary texts. In the words of Zhukovsky, “... stylistics is defined as a branch of linguistics which studies the principles and effect of choice and usage of different language elements for rendering thought and emotion under different conditions of communication” (9).

Expressivity/Expressive Stylistics

Expressivity/Expressive Stylistic establishes correlation between the style of a literary work and the psyche of the author. It also deals with the emotive and expressive elements of language choices and usage by an author. For, it acknowledges the skills of the writer by assuming that every decision made in the production of a text is deliberate. And we can say the same with Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven, whether these decisions were made consciously or unconsciously, his crating and styling of this text differs from Bivan’s House, The Death of Eternity, The Disappointed Tree, and The Mad Professor of Babeldu.

Thornborrow and Wareing opine that “...expressive stylistics places emphasis on the aesthetic properties of language (for example, the way rhyme gives pleasure)” (7). This, they believe, “...explains how meaning in a text is created through the writer’s choices” (7). So, from their position, it is obvious that literariness and the place of imagination in a text production and reception are worthy of study in stylistic research. It is on the basis of these evidences that this study uses aesthetic stylistic as dress of thought as exemplified in Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven.

Existentialism

Existentialism originated with the 19th Century philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, although neither used the term in their work. In the 1940s and 1950s, French existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus (1913 - 1960), and Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986) wrote scholarly and fictional works that popularized existential themes, such as dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment and nothingness.

Existentialism theory is philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. The philosophy of existentialism started as a revolt against some features of traditional philosophy as well as the un-whole practices that were carried out in some countries like France and Germany. These philosophers stood their grounds to ensure that a new dawn was established in their societies. Viewing The World Conference ... through the existentialist lenses, man can effect changes that would reduce plights and guarantee his development.

According to Albert Camus, “...the question of existence is the most crucial of all philosophical questions. This is due to the fact that existence touches on man and his environment” (11). It is in line with this that the most existentialist philosophers like Martin Heidegger proposed to study man as an individual ordinarily in his daily life because man is the only being that has relations to himself as well as to other things. Iornenge captures this more succinctly when he opines that, “[m]an is undermined, unfixed, and unstable. For the existentialist thinker, any society that wants to develop must give attention to man as a concrete being” (202). He equally emphasises thus:

The only way attention to man’s existential situation can be measured concretely and distinctively is to allow anything that requires the attention of man to pass through the following parameters: 1. Irrationalism: the existentialist believes that human reason is limited, that man is not a completely rational being.... 2. The second existential parameter is the fact of man and the world. The existential understanding is the fact that man and the world (physical environment) are inseparably linked.... 3. The third parameter is freedom. The existentialists see human freedom as the structure of man’s being and a basic condition of human existence....4. The fourth parameter is commitment. The existentialists insist that man should not be afraid to commit himself. (202-203)

The implication of the four parameters above, in summary, is that irrationality of man mentioned in the first parameter, being a finite being, his cognitive power is limited. The second parameter means that it is man (and writers) that give the world its meaning and value. The third parameter implies that man’s freedom is identical with his existence as the existentialists emphasise that man’s freedom elevates him above the past, the environment, and the rules of languages besides the dialectics of history. The fourth parameter implies that there is no love except the love that commits itself; no freedom except the freedom that commits itself in action; no moral except the moral that expresses itself in action. This is what writers do as they clothe their commitment of writings with actions for societal reconstruction. Kyuka does same in the text under study. It is against this back drop that this research seeks to use the expressive experiential method to read from the novella through the existentialist perspective.

Philosophy

According to Yakubu Ochefu, Armstrong Adejo, Nicolas Ada, and Okpeh Okpeh, “[p]hilosophy, whether of science or any other discipline, is a way of thinking about issues and problems...” (24). In a more elaborate elucidation, they further maintain that:

[p]hilosophy is a legitimate area of endeavour, an activity-oriented field, it is justifiable to summarize that philosophy is essentially a critical, reflective way of thinking to arouse sensitivity to issues and awareness by asking questions of why? And thus, gaining a fuller appreciation of and a deeper understanding of knowledge about the universe employing logical, systematic and consistent reasoning as a tool. (24) 

It is obvious from the above postulation that that most of the time philosophers study what other people take for granted. They ask "Why?" and "How?" when others are content to accept what seems obvious and in need of no justification. Philosophy thus involves explanations, arguments, and their critical evaluation. Here argument is meant not in the sense of dispute or controversy but in the sense of "arguing (for or against)", or "making a case (for or against)". In evaluating arguments and explanations two features are significant: whether the premises, the "starting points", are jointly plausible; and whether what is said to follow from them does so. When one reflects on these features one arrives at logic: the systematic study of what follows from, and of the relations that hold within and between, bodies of belief, loosely speaking. This relates to existentialism which emphasizes that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. It focuses on the question of human existence, and the feeling that there is no purpose or explanation at the core of existence.

Synopsis of Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven

Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven is a novella whose major thrust revolves around God, man, and birds struggling to put a seal on the entrails of invading aliens. The wind informs God about the aliens’ intention to invade heaven and earth and mount “...a new earth, a new heaven and a new God...” (The World Conference...:24). So “...God called a world conference in heaven...” (The World Conference...:2). “The news of the world conference in heaven...” is received with “...excitement in various cities, towns and villages around the world” (The World Conference...:3). To be fair, God invites even the birds as the narrator says “[i]n the forest and the air, birds were jubilant for they too had been invited to the conference...” (The World Conference...:3). But as is the wont of human nature, some are not excited about the conference as can be seen thus: “[a]s ecstatic as people were about the conference, there were few people that were not so excited. Such people saw little need for the conference.” (The World Conference...2).

The earth is to nominate delegates that will represent her inhabitants at the conference. Forsyth is chosen to lead the white delegation (5) and Silhawk is elected to lead the birds’ delegation (6). Bangu, who is the leader of the black delegation, is also appointed by God to lead the world delegation and this attracts “palpable resentment” amongst whites. Forsyth challenges God’s choice of Banju as the leader of world delegation saying that “[t]here is no black prophet...” (5) so Banju who is black cannot “lead the delegation to heaven”. However, God assures him (Forsyth) that it’s fair that a black man who has hitherto, been relegated to the background be given a pride of place at least “...on this minor and transient matter of a conference in heaven... (5).

At the conference, God emphasises that he “... called the conference so that we can put our heads together to evolve a strategy of repelling the aliens” (24). After a long debate on how to proffer a solution to the invading aliens, an angel suggests that they invite aliens from Fagasso to fight Thongo aliens thus:

[w]e will invite aliens from Fagasso a universe superior to Thongos to engage the invading aliens from Thongos.... It will be a war of aliens and I have no doubt that fagasso will triumph over Thongos.... The conference deliberated on [this].... In the end, it was agreed ... that the proposed defence could be used to repel the invasion. (34-35).

It is evident from the above submission that a final resolution is reached by the conferees. Even God finds this worthy of embrace as is the earth delegation. Again, the earth’s delegations plead with God and present the problems facing the earth. As the narrator confirms, “Banjo as leader of the world delegation placed the worries, concerns and fears of the world before the conference. Top on the list were religious bigotry, terrorism, and racial discrimination” (36).  The last passage – Passage Nineteen – presents a communiqué summing the contending issues discussed and unanimously agreed upon by both the heavens and the earth which reads:

The conference ... produced a charter containing these resolutions:

  1. Aliens from Fagasso would be invited to engage invading aliens from Thongos.
  2. Whites should give blacks a better deal and blacks should improve their attitude.
  3. Arabs and Israelis should listen to the devil less.
  4. Fanatics should not fight for God; God will fight for himself.
  5. Terrorists are on their own.
  6. Killing terrorists is sanctioned by God. (71)

After the conference, God holds a press briefing with the media where He is asked questions to which he gives answers. When he is asked if there would be “...similar conferences in future...” (72), he assures the press that if the need for conference arises, he will call for it.

Analysis of The World Conference in Heaven

The task of interrogating society has always been the artist’s preoccupation. This is because art is a simulacrum of society and is thus necessarily connected to it. So, no art is unaffected by society just as no society has been uninfluenced by its art. Pryingly, the art of writing has always served as a persuasive medium for the propagation of new ideas. It is the case with Kyuka’s  The World Conference in Heaven whose setting is the earth and heaven, x-raying the horrendous plights facing the world right now. These tragic plights bedevilling the world have man directly at the receiving end. This explains why “[t]he existentialist philosophers have maintained that no man or woman is completely free; even when they are free, they go everywhere in chains” (Hyacinth Nongonan Apya in Terhemba Wuan etal, ed.p186). And because man wears guilt like a crown, he is, at times, regarded with scorn and disdain. In the text under study, the angels are indignantly angry when God invites man for a meeting in heaven thus:

Rather than clean the earth...God called a world conference in heaven. Angels were shocked and visibly angry. What pranks was God playing, calling a world conference in heaven when he knew the presence of men, in their sinful state, would defile heaven? (p.2)  

The narrator also confirms that “[m]an was about perishing the earth with his greed and gluttony” (p.3). Man is further described as a pig in multiple instances thus: “... man is a pig. This has always been God’s headache....” (63), “... he [man] has been doing the best a pig can to keep its piggery in a clean state....” (64). “Men are pigs and will remain so whatever washing you give them because they are pigs at heart. They are....” (68-69). Interestingly, in a world where everything is quantified and abstracted, art, which is the highest form of expression of everything concrete and nebulous in human life, enters into a dialogue with an alienated world and this motivates an angel who asks wonderingly: “.... And what is the use of showing you are a democrat to an incurable cynic and nihilist? .... Man is a cynic and a nihilist. Showing him you are a democrat is like casting pearls before swine [sic]” (68). These ideas, as x-rayed in the text, have a pride of place in existentialism.

The development of man and consequently, of a nation must be conceived within the understanding of concrete existential goals. These goals include the meaning of man’s existence, reality, being, experience and goodness. No society has ever existed successfully where those factors were not recognised. This is because man is a contingent being with a natural desire for continued existence which is always propelled by his strongest instinct of self-preservation and self-perpetuation. Equally agreeing with the contention that man is a contingent being, Rorbert Iornenge Katsina in Wuam Terhemba eta ed., maintains that:

[i]n the midst of this agenda, his [man’s] life is cut short and so, his deepest desires are terminated. Throughout human history, man has tried to create ways of resisting this imposed termination of his life but in vain. Man is therefore always confronted with the question of the purpose of life. An answer to this provides the solutions needed for man to live in peaceful coexistence [sic] life with his fellow man. Unfortunately, often, this reality is neglected by man resulting to human misery in all its ramifications. (193-194)

Concisely, Iornenge’s contentions above may however be mildly taken with a pinch of salt because non-peaceful co-existence and non-prolongation of life may not be a deliberate choice on the part of an individual. Albeit, he aptly makes a good point about man’s heinously evil conception and cruel attitude towards his fellow man. Instead of making the most of the period for reflection and penitence, when spiritual concerns should take precedence over those that are mundane; the effortlessly mundane disdain for man’s opponent’s views without regard for the validity of their argument is carried to ridiculous lengths, as is exemplified in The World Conference in Heaven . The conversation between a black conferee and a white conferee confirm this thus:

Whites have treated us [blacks] quite unfairly.... They have treated us as if we are toilet paper... They have treated us as if we are Ebola....[laments a black conferee]. Are you not? ....If we [whites] must tell you the truth, we don’t believe God created the black man, at least not the God we are before....God is light [white], whoever is not light [white]is not likely to be the own of God. The devil is dark [black]. Whoever is dark [black] is likely to be the own of the devil. (p.45-46)

It cannot be better expressed this significantly elevated high level of racism. The narrator confesses that “[o]n the third day of the conference, deliberations shifted to racism which is a form of terrorism. It is a form of terrorism because it has the same effect with terrorism: it cows its victim” (45). The author leaves no stone unturned in capturing the white man’s racism against the black man, little wonder then that Joseph Conrad, in his novella, – Heart of Darkness – painted “Africa [Africans] as the white man’s grave”. He (Conrad) makes Marlow appalled by what he (Marlow) sees on his arrival in Africa even as he speaks of “seeing devils” (Africans).

A close observer or analyst of literary texts will agree that writers hardly ever use a character as God in their writings. Whether this is a mark of reverence and respect for the holy personality of God or some other reason, is a topic for another discussion. In The World Conference in Heaven, however, Kyuka uses God as a character, though “...appearing [only] in a sheet of cloud... (18). This is seen in the text thus:

[o]n the day of the conference, God appeared before conferees in a sheet of cloud. Conferees that had thought they would see God in person were disappointed by this. For a while, there were stirs and drones among conferees. (18)

 This, perhaps, is his expressive style as it couldn’t have been anything other than his personal choice.

In this text, God calls for a conference in heaven and invites man and birds who delegate representatives respectively. While the delegates from the earth assume the major thrust of the conference is to cleanse the rot that the earth is plunged into, God appears to have drafted a different agenda for the conference.

Just as it is evidently difficult to act as God in few writings that we have read and even few movies that we have watched, the same is the case in this text.  The behaviour of the novella’s community in their lack of agreement on sensitive issues looms too large to go unnoticed. This text reveals how human beings are wont to never agreeing with one voice even when it was something that would put a seal on their entrails. Even as death is regarded with scorn and disdain by everybody, if it was proposed that death be held in tethers and dungeon’s deep where we are consoled no longer to weep, many people would  still object. They will hate the fact that their enemies would live forever, and the thought of this would not allow them agree that death be completely banned by God.  This is just but human nature. Mostly, we seem to tilt towards what benefits us greatly at the expense of others. This explains why God does not seek our knowledge and approval in His decision making, as he did in the novel. Even the angels confirm this when one of them rhetorically asked: “I wonder why God takes decisions without conferring with anyone” (66).

As the novel’s characters question and rudely interrogate God, He selects, in calmness and composure, the chaff from the grains while generating responses to same. Such display of notoriety reminds one of Bruce Nolan (Jim Carry) who, in the film,  complains to God (Morgan Freeman) that He is not doing His job correctly in Bruce Almighty, and is offered the chance to try being God himself for one week. As one would expect, he experiences his worst nightmare when he was to face conflicting prayers he were to answer. Evan Almighty, a spin off sequel focusing on Carell’s character, with Shadyac and Oedekerk returning to write and direct even as Freeman also reprises his role, shares a close correlation with Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven.

Forsyth – the leader of the white delegation – appears to display lack of courtesy in his conversation with God. Hear him: “[a]nd what did you use to create the wind? .... I even wonder who created you and what he used to create you” (19-20).

It is quite amusing but equally interesting to observe that those who have read Kyuka’s other novels may be tempted to disregard his seemingly odd use of language and narration in The World Conference in Heaven, claiming that it is of no interpretative significance. However, his expressivity and aesthetic peculiarities in this text are, in fact, highly significant linguistic deviations. Besides, it is important for us to assume that every element of any piece of writing has a possible interpretative significance.  Does one really infer meaning from every bit of a text? Well, the evidence would suggest that one does. Very often researchers have shown that readers do indeed pick up on the smallest details of a text and use them to construct a meaningful interpretation.

Written in passages – Passage One to Nineteen, the very first paragraph reveals the degree of tensed-up atmosphere of the novel’s community. The reader opens to read that:

For some days, a mournful atmosphere hung over heaven. God was not speaking to anyone. Angels who usually sang, danced and clapped, stopped singing, dancing and clapping because God was not responding to any of their yaps and theatrics. Something was wrong. God was thinking, and anytime God thought, something bad happened. (1)

The writer makes it clear the results that emanate from God’s thinking. The reader understands that storm and thunder are used by God to reinforce commitment from the characters in the novel. This, perhaps, is the author’s deliberate choice to dress God as a character in the text, give him a personality as a fictional figure running through the novel’s plot.

While it is clear the seriousness to which Kyuka’s previous novels contain as opposed to this one, one can still confess his keen eyes for Nigeria’s contemporary issues. Here, the embattled rage of Boko Haram which is a thorn in the flesh in Nigeria is x-rayed in the novel.  This and sundry other issues bedevilling Nigeria as a country is often at the heart and core of Kyuka’s creative craftsmanship. In Bivan’s House, Kyuka replicates the contemporary epidemic of corruption where Talgon – the novel’s central character – sets out to be transparent and honest in his dealings but sadly finds himself alone in the gripping corruption that blotches the virtuous as much as the crook. In stark terror and horror, Talgon wonders where the flames of violence, fraud, and corruption blazing Nigeria started and where it will leave her.

Whichever persuasion motivates one’s interpretation of Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven, one thing is clear: if the critic works through the surface to the inward life-centre of the novella and avoids details about the superficial appearance of the text, the deeply seated message of the text could be seen. With this, he will be able to integrate it into a creative principle which is present in the soul of the author. “Delegates to the conference from the earth were surprised to see, in heaven, dead people they expected to be in hell. Some of these people were not only in heaven, they were there as archangels” (10). Like the criminal that was hanged with Jesus was forgiven and assured a place in heaven by Jesus, the author shows that true repentance guarantees heaven. And just like Jesus’ forgiveness of the robber and onward forwarding to heaven stimulated mixed reactions, the presence of some of Kyuka’s characters in heaven does same; as seen in this dialogue:

‘So you made heaven,’ a conferee asked an angel he knew was a bad man while on earth.

‘You thought I will make hell?’ the angel asked.... ‘If there is a place worse than hell, you should have made it,’ the conferee said. ‘After cleaning out our treasury as prime minister, assassinating and killing hundreds of our people, you should not only be in hell, you should rot there.’ ‘Before I died I repented of my sins’, [the angel said]” (p.11)

This creates a great sense of disillusionment and depression as the conferees moon over their surprised knowledge of evil people making heaven. The following dialogue echoes this disillusionment and depression:

‘I am seeing what I thought I will not see in heaven,’ the first delegate said. ‘I am finding in heaven people I knew on earth to be the devil’s assistants....,’ ‘I thought I was the only one in this nightmare,’ said the second man. ‘It is so dismaying. What then is the incentive of being good?’ (p.12-13).

The above dialogue complements one’s contemplation of why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, consequently breeding disillusionment. One of the characters laments that “....to make matters worse, I am yet to see Showel; surly he couldn’t have missed heaven with so much faith” (p.13), and his friend quickly reminds him that “.... he [Showel] could [miss heaven] if evil men are making it. This is a place of surprises and shock” (p13).The narrator immediately adds that:

As the two men stood talking, they were approached by a man from the same town....[who], while on earth, was rumored to be a Satanist. He had no wife and no children.... His father was suffering from the Parkinson disease while his mother was suffering from acute arthritis. One day he hacked both parents to death then impaled himself on a sword. It was the most gruesome thing his town had ever witnessed. Now he was in heaven. (p.13)

To justify and vindicate himself, the character alludes to the biblical story of David as he brags thus:

‘I showed mercy to my parents by killing them, and showed mercilessness to myself by killing myself. Mercy to others, mercilessness to yourself are the two things you need to make heaven.... Whoever takes suffering from the sight of God, however he does so, earns God’s gratitude. This was what earned me heaven.... God likes a man with the heart of a lion. What I did showed guts. With all his defects of character, David earned God’s favor because of his courage. With God, courage trumps all things.’ (p.14) 

Kyuka’s character’s braggadocios assertion above fittingly aligns to the well-held belief  by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorists and suicide bombers that Alla (God) is often pleased with genocide killings or bombing of innocent victims so much so that twenty virgins are usually lined up for the would be suicide terrorist or bomber to disvirgin in heaven. But God shows, in the text, that man should kill or fight His (God’s) battles for Him, that He will fight for Himself. Hear Him:

‘[t]hose who kill others in defence of me may think they are honouring me, but in truth, they are dishonouring and pouring contempt on me. They are saying I am too weak to fight for myself or even that I don’t exist.... While they may think they are showing contempt for those they kill in my defense, they are in fact showing respect and reverence to them. They are saying that such persons are stronger than me [sic] and so have to kill them on my behalf. (p.42-43)

One thing is glaringly clear in the above statement by God: the author, as the voice of reason – Kyuka’s – the author’s authorial motive – is sending a message to religious fanatics and especially radical islamists that God endlessly frowns at the act of killing a fellow man in defense of His name regardless of whatever the victim has done. In fact, God calls such radicals unbelievers and infidels. Again, hear Him:

[w]hoever believes in me, should believe in my powers.... If believe in me is founded on my power, then believers in me should allow my power to fight me. If they choose to fight for me, they don’t believe in my powers and to the extent of this unbelief are in truth infidels. (p.43-44)

Works of existentialist persuasion, in one or the other, have always contain characters who feel they are better qualified to bask in the adulation of numerous heroic feats even when deep down they know they are not. And in so doing, they tend to hold unto ideas they have no conviction of; or worse still dribble inwardly with some crisis of faith.  For instance, Miguel de Unamuno’s Saint Manuel The Good Martyr which has been collected in many anthologies of existentialist persuasion contains characters who are classical examples of the above assertion. It is an emotional provocative story about a priest’s crisis of faith. Even as a priest, Reverend Don Manuel not only swings between belief and unbelief but also doubts the existence of God. In this similar evolutionary cud de sack as Don Manuel is Lazarus.

The central part of this text confirms this where Lazarus, Angela’s brother, does not have a sense of faith but follows Reverend Don Manuel’s unflagging faith as the former’s mother demanded on her dying bed. On her death bed, she makes Lazarus promise to pray for her even as he swears he will. As is her dying wish that Lazarus be converted, he is converted and takes communion. Perhaps, to the townspeople, he appears to be converted but in reality, he is only praying for his late mother’s sake since it is her wish, not because he has faith. This amplifies Forsyth’s character in Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven. Even though in the inner caresses of his heart, he acknowledges God’s existence, he has no faith in God just like Lazarus and Manuel. Like them, Forsyth makes members of his delegation see his faith in God where in reality he does not.

But unlike Forsyth, Lazarus confesses to Angela his lack of faith in God, to which the latter is very upset. It is important to realise that Lazarus and Reverend Manuel confirm Kyuka’s confession in the words of God – his lead character thus:

[b]ased on their prejudices and preferences, prophets heard from me what they wanted to hear not what I said.... As ... [they] heard from me what they wanted to hear ... people professing to follow me understand me the way they want to understand me. Because people do not understand me the same way, their attitudes towards me differ. (The World Conference...:38)

The bitter truth in the above declaration is a common feature in religion these days. Prophets in our Churches and Mosques today are doggedly determined to convince people into believing in God despite their (prophets) lack of faith. They believe that religion and the preaching of same is the only way for the people to live contentedly or give without aggressive coercion. And like in our society today, Lazarus admires Reverend Manuel’s endless determination to do what he thinks is right despite his lack of belief in the veracity of what he thinks. To the very end, Lazarus insists that Don Manuel is a Saint for the things he has done all his life for the town.

It appears as though Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven is inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. As ferociously fresh as it was more than a half century ago, this remarkable allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals, and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published. As the reader witnesses the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, s/he begins to recognize the seeds of totalitarianism in the most idealistic organization; and in our most charismatic leaders, the souls of our cruellest oppressors.

About an animal uprising, Animal Farm is written in the style of a fable, and yet it can be read on so many levels. It is clearly both a satire and an allegory, a dystopian tale, and its author George Orwell (real name – Eric Arthur Blair) makes no secret of what regime, and which politicians, he so mercilessly parodies. Yet as with all great novels, it speaks to us today and holds many timeless truths. It is the sort of novel where a reader will find new depths in each rereading.

According to Anord Blaizer, “…the inspiration for the novel came from a real-life episode. Orwell had just left the BBC, in 1943, and was uneasy about some propaganda he could see distributed by the then Ministry of Information" (27). He quoted Orwell as saying:

I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat. (27)

George Orwell chronicles the rising to power of Joseph Stalin, who is depicted by the pig – Napoleon in the novel. The story parallels his emergence as a natural leader, and gradually follows his rise to power as a dictator. Near the beginning of the novel, the farm animals overthrow their oppressor, the farmer – Mr Jones. Explaining the implication of this, Blaizer opines that:

This is a direct analogy to the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, when the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, who had abdicated in February, was executed by the Bolsheviks along with the rest of his family, in July 1918. Interestingly, Orwell said the drunken farmer Jones, who neglects his animals, was based on the real life Tsar Nicholas II. (29)

This relates to Kyuka’s world in the novella with the animal characters as the people inhabiting the world. This is specially portrayed in the character of man as a pig as one could say same of George Orwell’s depiction of the pig in Animal Farm. One of the prominent expressivity in Kyuka’s craft in The World Conference... is his stupendous rendition of biblical allusions. The author alludes to the biblical account of creation through the voice of God thus:

‘[w]hen I wanted to create the seas, I sent the wind to gather all the water droplets in the air and deposit them on earth as the seas. When I wanted to create the earth, I sent the wind to gather all the dust particles in the air and deposit them as the earth. After creating the seas and the earth, I asked the wind to produce beast, bird[,] and man from moist dust particles in the air.’ (p.21)

Several succeeding passages follow with biblical illusions as the author deems fit. Passage Seven alludes to the biblical story of Thomas doubting Jesus (p.39-40); Passages Twelve and Fourteen alludes to the biblical account of Israelites who were wont to remembering God mostly in crisis situations (p41-42&51-52); Passage Fifteen alludes to the biblical story of “...Isaac and Ismael...” (p53-54), and “...Hargar [who] was Sarah’s maid...and slave...” (p.55); the earlier law that advocated for “an eye for an eye” in the bible (p.56), and so on.

Critique of The World Conference in Heaven

The word critique means a careful judgement in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something such as a piece of writing or a work of art. According to Maria Ajima, “[p]rose fiction is the word used for short stories, the novella and for novels” (59). She further enumerates elements of prose fiction when she asserts that “[f]ormal elements of prose fiction include point of view, plot, characters, setting, theme, literary and figurative devices (such as symbols, irony, imagery... (59). It is evident from Ajima’s position that any work of art possessing those features can be correctly called prose fiction. The same can be said about Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven, which fits into the novella as a work of prose fiction. A novella is a work of fiction intermediate in length and complexity between a short story and a novel. In fact, in the words of Ajima:

[t]he novella is ... [a] form of serious prose fiction distinct from the novelette (which is a term used to describe cheap fiction, sentimental romances and thrillers of popular appeal but with little literary merit). The novella is defined as a fiction narrative of indeterminate length such as few pages to two or three hundred, restricted to a single event, situation or conflict, which produces an element of suspense and leads to an unexpected turning point so that the conclusion surprises even while it is logical outcome.... A novella is a story that is longer than a short story, but is shorter than a novel. (62)

It can be inferred from Ajima’s postulation above that a novella should have serious “literary merit” and when it has “little literary merits”, it becomes a novelette. This judgement gives the reader a bright coloration to the inferences s/he can make about Kyuka’s  The World Conference in Heaven. Readers with some degree of critical experience have the habit of noting aspects of structure, plot, setting, character, theme, tone, imagery, point of view, and other variations of literary forms as they sum up and discuss their reading experience of a text. The brevity, unity, completeness and creative artistry of the writer determines whether or not a text has serious literary merit, little literary merit or no literary merit at all. Using the aforementioned, this study places the text under study right where it belongs.

Right from the composition of the book, the reader observes how the structure of Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven is a clear departure from the norm as it is written in passages rather than the usual novelistic divisions of chapters. The novella contains nineteen passages with the entire work containing seventy-two pages; with Passage Five as the shortest containing three paragraphs with five sentences of one hundred and forty words. The longest passages are Passage Four, Passage Six, Passage Thirteen, Passage Fifteen, and Passage Eighteen each containing six pages. These passages seem to have extremely light thesis which distils the narrative into the flesh that covers the plot. This mars rather than help the enactment and progression of actions that should have outlined the story’s plot. Consequently, the writer fails to manipulate the structure to create suspense and deploy flashback and flash-forward so as to engage and sustain the reader’s interest.

Again, just as we are keenly interested in knowing about the make-up of a character demonstrated by action, readers are often interested in the colour and detail of the world that major characters explore. In prose fiction, the reader depends, usually, on the character as witness. This is lacking in this text as the author’s characters’ descriptive skills and power are weak. Right from the first paragraph of the novella’s first page, one can see this as he writes:

For some days, a mournful atmosphere hung over heaven. God was not speaking to anyone. Angels who usually sang, danced, and clapped, stopped singing, dancing and clapping because God was not responding to any of their yaps and theatrics. Something was wrong. God was thinking, and anytime God thought something happened. The first time he thought before now, a storm, no one knew its origin burst on heaven. Many angels were tossed out of heaven and were never seen again. The second and last time he thought, heaven shook with thunder and brimstone. After the thunder and brimstone, many angels were also missing. (The World Conference... 1)

The writer’s weak descriptive skill makes us know that we are watching heaven through the eyes of a blurred-vision, weak and a none-specially unconditioned observer, consequently evoking or stimulating no emotional stir. The opposite of this can be seen in the following demonstration of the colour and detail of the world in “Bagu Vaa Imiura” by Meshach Terfa thus:

.... The water situation was even worse. The people had often to endure the sight of muddy water from the mines flowing down through their neighbourhoods, polluting the landscape even, yet they had to walk long distances to get drinking water. They were often seen returning to their homes at nightfall with enough water to drink for only a few days. They had to dig pits in the jande that was hours’ caravan walk from the village, and await more hours for the water to slowly seep through, before they can gently, very gently scoop quarter or half kucha-fulls intermittently to fill their pots with the slightly whitish water. Back home, parents measured how much water the children would drink for the day. Mama Ayua once offered her son the tears he shed when the peppery food he was eating, by-passed into his wind pipe and choked him into loud cries and fitfully restless coughs, To have a bath that would serve for couple of days. Gee-rege and his brother  Wanjinga often ran for hours round a tree then made a fire and danced vigorously round it in order that their bodies may produce more sweat. When it did, they applied soap to their bodies, and took turns using the edges of split-up bamboo stalks to scuff dirt off each other.... (The Intellectual Saviour: 1)

It is apt to posit that every sentence of this narration lets one know how one is watching the community through the eyes of a skilful and specially conditioned observer. The reader is poised to respond to the surprising imagery with an emotional stir like that brought on by looking at a painting or a cinematic shot of looming drought strangulating a people. This response by the reader is accompanied by a simultaneous recognition that the narrator’s mind emphasises how the drought compels Mama Ayua to offer her son “... the tears he shed when the peppery food he ... [is] eating, by-passed into his wind pipe and [chokes]... him into loud cries and fitfully restless coughs” (1), and the bath Gee-rege and his brother  Wanjinga “...often ran for hours round a tree then made a fire and danced vigorously round it in order that their bodies may produce more sweat. When it did, they applied soap to their bodies, and took turns using the edges of split-up bamboo stalks to scuff dirt off each other....” (p.1).

As is evident from the above extract, the first thing that strikes the readers’ emotions is, surely, the irony of the situation. But where the writer’s narrative and descriptive power turns ludicrously otiose, his/her wits of creative ebullience would have simply vaporised. This mars smooth transition also and creates injuries or bruises both on the story and the reader. It is the same in this case. However, the author succeeds in capturing the ills bedevilling man as he works through life on earth. The work sounds like an existentialist manifesto bemoaning the prevailing woeful state of affairs in today’s contemporary world.

In terms of layout, punctuation and spacing, the author jumbles some words together which results into what can be described, in media parlance, as the printer’s devil. Instances of these are “...saidwithout...” (p.8), “...delegateswere...” (p.16), “...suspectedthis...” (p.28), “...wisperedagain...” (p.40). This creates dangling modifiers or ambiguity and alters the flow of reading as to confirm Adewole Adigun Alagbe and Terfa Meshach Zayol’s position that, “...punctuations and spacing are used in writing for specificity and easy understanding” (80). They add that “[g]ood writing is demonstrated in the detailed and sophisticated use of punctuation and spacing...” (80).

Perhaps, the greatest weakness of this novella is the clear absence of imagery whose richness and trope evince intense aura that exudes from the words used in works of fictions. Imagery, if expertly used by a writer, becomes the screen through which the reader watches the actions of the story. As E.E. Sule in Ajima, aptly notes:

...imagery...creates chaos on the everyday form, demanding an extra effort from the readers to understand its self-enriching nature....  [Imagery] acts or shows, it does not just mean. Imagery then helps the writer to put abstract ideas into concrete forms. In his image-laden novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Ayi Kwei Armah...uses drool, faeces, unkempt toilets, and the odour of menstrual blood to express the idea that corruption can destroy a nation. (92)

Though Kyuka does this well in Bivan’s House where he uses the imagery of rats to show how corruption destroys the African continent and especially Nigeria, he fails to do this in The World Conference in Heaven. The absence of conflict and suspense also mars rather than help strengthen Kyuka’s craftsmanship in this text.

Lessons from The World Conference in Heaven

Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven shows that a writer is a literary force to reckon with; he has a conscience; he is a witness to truth; he lives by his convictions even as he creatively strives to right the wrong with his brainchild (creative work) for the greater good of the society. The writer is aware that literature is capable of transforming individuals to effect change in the world. When the world sneezes, the writer catches cold, this consequently forms the subject of his brainchild. Indeed, the agony of the awareness of the horrendous social condition of the masses injuriously burn like red-hot coal in the heart of the writer, producing purulent sores which writing can help to ameliorate – healing the people besides transforming the society. In fact, though quite sadly, this explains why creativity is better stimulated by pain, anguish, stark terror, and distress, rather than by pleasure and satiety. Besides, the Muse, bruised and scandalised by anomie, grows loquaciously sensitive; whereas paradoxically, the Muse tends to be tongue-tied in the absence of friction, to become complacently mute in the warm cocoon of success and fulfilment.

In all his texts, Kyuka uses his characters to represent this. From Hope in Anarchy, Bivan’s House, The Disappointed Tree, The Death of Eternity, The Mad Professor of Babeldu, and so on, he demonstrates that even non-contemporary writers can find the language to speak to the new generation and politicians and get them down to earth. With research and current affairs, they will find new approaches to the creation of the old texts as well as creating new ones (novels, novellas, short stories, poems, and plays) to fit the temper of the times without however compromising nor forsaking our/their belief in the capacity of art to enrich our/their communities, states, country, and the world at large. 

The reader also learns from Kyuka’s portrayal of the character of God in this text that God makes conscious use of gestures to make critical ethical statements – that one is not reduced but ennobled by being expressedly humble. As the chief host of the world conference, God is totally unabashed to embrace the conferees regardless of the notoriety of such characters as Forsyth. Such is the symbolic and iconic manifestation of God’s humility and respect which the reader is unable to find a greater deciphering strategy of encoding than the fact He is a foremost God of love.  Man must borrow a leaf from God in his quest to become humble. Just as God does in the text, man should learn how to control himself best and be slow to anger but quick to listen.

One of the biggest lessons to be drawn from Kyuka’s The World Conference in Heaven precisely is certainly at no other time than now has the voice of the writer been more pertinent or more needed. While Nigeria battles with Boko Haram terrorists, the battle for Mosul stares the world in the eye as well as isis. So the world hungers for writers of these infirmary maladies that are diagnosed and brought to proper treatment in the writer’s clinic; for the intrepid moulders of vision such as the writer has always claimed to be. If we let creative writing and production of literary output die instead of remaining intrepid explorers probing frontiers of this reality, it is we (writers) ourselves who will supply the corpses.

Conclusion

It is evident that the author, Kyuka, is an astute crusader and voice of reason of the appalling state of things in Nigeria. In all his texts, he uses his characters to represent this. In Hope in Anarchy, he does same as one of his characters x-ray the explosive rate of corruption of Judges.  In The Disappointed Tree, he artistically captures the vulgar desire of man; the quiet purpose of a god; the legitimate expectations of nature as they lock in a mortal tussle. This similar struggle is reinforced in The Death of Eternity where Tibor, the Central Character, fights industrial pollution, HIV/AIDS, and terrorism – a biting satire alluding to Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram.  We can say the same about The Mad Professor of Babeldu where Professor Philjez, the text’s central character, views life through a cosmic geometry and formulates shocking hypothesis. This is Kyuka’s positive way of advocating for sustainable national development in Nigeria. In The World Conference in Heaven, God discusses with man on how to avert the looming invasion of heaven and earth by aliens. The author, in this text, indirectly signals man to commune with God and fashion out a way to stop the ills bedevilling the former.

Works Cited

Ajima, Maria. Introduction to Elemental Issues in Creative writing. Makurdi: Sevhage Press, 2014. Print.

Alagbe, Adewole Adigun and Terfa Meshach Zayol. A Course Text in General English. Wukari:

Siloam Press, 2016. Print.

Blaizer, Anord. Analysis Beyond Superficial: A Study of George Orwell’s animal Farm.

Philadelphia: Spectrum Press, 1997. Print.

Katsina, Robert Iornenge. “The Implication of Existentialism in the Development of University

Curriculum in Nigeria”, in Faculty of Arts Journal. Makurdi: Obeta Press, 2006. Print.

Lilymjok, Kyuka. The World Conference in Heaven. Zaria: Faith Printers, 2016. Print.

Bivan’s House. Zaria: Faith Printers International, 2011. Print.

Lesley, Jeffries. Textual Meaning and Literary Interpretation: The Role of Stylistics. Huddersfield: Huddersfield University Press, 1996. Print.

Nobokov, Vladimir. Introduction to Stylistics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Ochefu, Yakubu, Armstrong Adejo, Nicolas Ada, and Okpeh Okpeh. The Origin and History of Scientific Ideas. Makurdi: Aboki Publishers, 2005. Print.

Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness. New York: Methuen, 1956. Print.

Zayol, Meshach Terfa. The Intellectual Saviour. Kaduna: Ralph Printing Press, 2016. Print.

Zhukovoska, Victoria. English Stylistics: Fundamentals of Theory and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

 

 

 


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