Re: Will Twitter kill off African literature?

 Richard Ali’s  Comment on the essay “Will Twitter kill off African literature?“ by Ikhide Ikheloa

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Toh, my very fashionable Pa Ikhide has come again o, swatting at obviously his favourite bee in the “writing/reading” bonnet. LOL!

What I don’t see, from this essay, is how exactly Twitter or SM affects African literature enough to “kill” or anything verb it…

Writers write what they must. Readers read what they like. There’s no precise balance of how these should meet. Nor should there be. There isn’t even an imprecise range of loci of how these should meet. Those who wish to read a writer’s words will read it, for pleasure or to acquire a perspective. But the writer must not be a whore who panders to an opinion poll of what readers want to read… He, however, could be a whore if he chooses to be one. And I think a whore is not a negative word at all.

There is no imperative on creation on the part of the writer, nor is there an imperative of taste on the part of the reader. Writers and readers are Venn diagrams with a shaded area of intersection/interaction—the value of each shaded depends only on the unique qualities of each aspect of the equation. We are relatives who will agree on a some things and disagree on others, whether we choose to talk to each other only at Christmas is a different matter entirely. Possibly a question of maturity.

What I think is that we will see the rise of “cult authors”, but then there is nothing uniquely “African” about this. It has occurred everywhere there is a market for words. Some authors will retain that attribute on account of “serious” books they write, and their readers, perhaps the size of a local government area (LGA) in Ikhide’s fairly sized nation of readers, will seek him out and buy out the 1000 or 10,000 copies he writes. And he is happy. Another writer will keep his authorial attribute on account of the manner of “less serious?” work he produces and his readers, his LGA sized slice of readers, will go and buy his book, in their thousands or whatever, millions or whatever. And he will be happy. To each his own, as the Igbo say, egbe belu ugo belu. There are a billion Africans out there after all.

Now, if the question is the effect of E-books on African writing, I say, the form of the book never was static. Papyri scrolls. Vellum. Kid skin… The hardcover was a market-initiated variation on the serial/periodical; the paperback is a market-initiated variation on the hardback. Ditto the eBook. I don’t see how form affects substance in this case, especially such a form that has thankfully proven itself to be very adaptable…

Social media, like fiction, is a mimesis of Life; but it is not life, regardless of our sci-fi fin de siecle dreams of “life pods” and what nots. We create social networks to aid our lives, we do not live for social networks. The echo returns only after leaving a source, echoes do not create themselves. This causality is reflected in the relations between a writer and his social network.

To my mind, the problem for the African writer is the limitedness of the indigeneous African market. I’ll wager that a poll carried out on that fairly sized African nation population of African readers will find that under 20% buys even ten books or eBooks in a year. As for reading tweets, well, they do “read” Twitter… for news stories and to get links to actual text on blogs, in online magazines and what not. I’ll wager that not even 5% of this population reads tweets as any sort of communication, for any purpose, with the creator of the tweet. Tweeting is merely another sub-circle in the traditional two-circle writer/reader Venn diagram. Books will no longer be as long as Tolstoy’s serialized War and Peace, but even if the book in whatever form, becomes just 5000 words long, the problem facing the African writer is the question of a local indigeneous market. Of increasing this market per capita. And this is a question of socio-economics, not a question of social media.

All this said, I look forward to reading Chibundu Onuzo’s book.

– Ra.

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