Love and excrement
I finally finished The Interpreters, a novel written by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Although his plays were primarily the reason why he won the Nobel Prize, this novel still offers some insight to his genius.
How the novel is written closely parallels that of Honey and Clover‘s explication. Five friends who have obtained education from abroad have come back to Nigeria after the declaration of independence to interpret, interact, and reflect upon their lives. They are a journalist, a lecturer, a worker in the Foreign office, a sculptor, and a painter. From this alone, it already sounds like Honey and Clover: five friends are in an art college and they ponder as well as seek meaning in their lives as they approach graduation, and a subsequent separation from one another.
Replace the faces with faces of black people, and you shall have The Interpreters.
Unlike Honey and Clover’s fluidity, however, the novel is a complex one. It can rival Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury in terms of technical complexity because both do not demarcate the passage of time in a linear manner. What do I mean? Time merely jumps from one place to another without a warning, and this presents a difficulty to the reader: how can one understand the text when one already has difficulty understanding the setting?
This is also not solely the novel’s problem: having looked at the novel’s background, it was written at the end of post-colonial Nigeria: it was written at the advent of Nigeria’s independence, and thus this makes the novel’s nature rooted in time. In addition, the bespattering of Nigerian vernacular made the already difficult contextualization a little bit more difficult.
I do not, however, feign total understanding or comprehension. In fact, despite my waddling in the murky water of the novel, I hurried to finish my waddling as fast as possible. There were two reasons: first, there were more relevant material to read, like my textbooks in microbiology and biochemistry; and second, I felt that if I did not finish the novel within this month, I would not be able to finish the novel ever. The experience of reading the novel would be to reach the finish line of a race bruised and battered, but still reach it nonetheless.
Despite these difficulties plaguing the reader of the novel, there are still certain perks that remain. I would even argue that the novel is carried by these perks: I believe that the novel can be enjoyed with these certain scenes. The first would be Sagoe’s (journalist) philosophy of voidancy. His is the philosophy that everything is shit, and this cynicism is reflected not only through his character, but throughout the novel’s milieu. It is, however, tackled quite ingeniously: he ponders about the excrement floating in the streets of Lagos as representative of their lives. The second would be Egbo’s (customs worker) sexual awakening. He discovered it at the hands of a very beautiful courtesan, but seemingly raises the same question when he sleeps with a student of his friend, and consequently impregnates her: who do I love now?
In the end, he is immersed in an indecision: it is not akin to Itou Makoto’s actions, however. He does not avoid all forms of decision because it is uncomfortable for him; Egbo cannot decide because he places value to the two women in his lives. Promiscuity has been a question plaguing society for a very long time, and it remains, whether in the time of Caligula, Egbo’s time, or the time of today.
I will address the first sub-story I found of relevance in the novel with the emergence of series like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, School Days, and Shigurui. These stories possess an underlying assumption that everything is shit in their world. All series mentioned are cynical portrayals of people and of life in general.
I often laughed whenever Sagoe talked and discussed his ‘Book of Enlightenment,’ because I interpreted from his words that it was sheer irony that he attained the most enlightenment when he expurgated his excrement. With the rustle of either blade grass or soft paper tissue on one’s buttocks, he is at peace: with the expurgation of what he dislikes, he feels free.
People often derive enjoyment from excrement. The world cheered when Itou Makoto died: ashes to ashes, shit to shit. It is sad, but I guess Sagoe reflected one of the world’s modern predicaments: no longer does one care for the other human being. Everything is bogged down by suspicion and cynicism, and I guess this is the reason why series as mentioned above have kept on appearing and reappearing. This may also be the reason why series like Ergo Proxy occur. Polemics about the gravity of excrement that their world is bogged down in also bogged down the series. A lot did not like the series, because debates about what was bad or worse were often senseless: what was bad was bad, and there was no need for debate. This is sad, because despite the evils that pervade our society, there remains to be exemplary people and exemplary values. It is not that good has been eradicated, but that most of us have chosen to avoid seeing that good: we simply choose to see bad, and only that. This is what I primarily liked about Honey and Clover: its cast had quirks and were also imperfect, but deep down they were really kind and excellent people. They were human, but they were not cynics, and that was really among the perks of the show.
The second sub-story is a theme that can often be seen in any romance series: whether implied or explicit, a primary character posits a question: who do I really love? Despite the struggles being simpler, the question remains fundamentally similar. People were pissed at Rin (of Shuffle) because he was indecisive until the latter part of the series. Frankly, I already understood what he felt in the series, because it truly is difficult to end up with a choice, especially one that is between a rock and a hard place.
Egbo, at the end of the novel, pondered as the beautiful courtesan approached him with tears in her eyes:
Egbo watched her while she walked towards him, eyes ocean-clams with her peculiar sadness . . . like a choice of a man drowning he was saying . . . only like a choice of drowning.
In real life, in harem anime or in masterful literature, the choice of loving between two equally captivating people is a task that is difficult. I guess with the books I have read, the stigma with harem leads do not really affect me. In fact, it is this stigma that makes them human.