Thursday, May 12, 2011

Subway to Surrealism

In name and content, this is an unusual book written in an unusual way. If you have canons (of criticism) to fire after going through it, then you are at the wrong warfront. Do not expect the usual style of writing acknowledgement or introduction to a book because the author is a self-confessed non-conformist. A radical? Bury the thought. Just sit down and savour the aroma of a literary cuisine laced with African condiments. Welcome to the surreal world of Opilogue.

The idea to compile opilogues into book form is not mine. The truth must be told. It is the readers' wish. When I set out in May 2003 to experiment with the art of conversation in writing opinions, little did I know that many a reader would fall in love with the style. Again, the truth must be told. Writing opinion in dialogue format is not original to me. Many outstanding writers with a bolder claim to intellectualism have experimented and mastered the art of reducing hardcore opinions to witty, humorous conversations easily accessible to both the professor in the university campus and the pedestrian on the sidewalk. Langston Hughes, the great African-American writer, is one of the literary touchstones in this respect. His column in The Chicago Defender in the 1960s was a must read for fellow African-Americans and Hispanics.

To Hughes, humour is a weapon of no mean value against one's foes. "In the Latin American countries", he said, "the humorous magazines are often more dangerous to a crooked politician than the most serious articles in the intellectual press..." Thus, in his daily column, he used humour to treat issues of segregation and social inequality in Jim Crow America. In Opilogue, however, humour wears a less belligerent garb. Like one critic once noted, humour can be likened to a rubber sword. "It allows you to make a point without drawing blood".

Opilogue is carved out for entertainment. There is no pretence about that. But should that be the be-all and end-all of Opilogue? Should art only be for art's sake? This has always been a recurrent issue among critics. This I'd say of Opilogue: It operates at more than one level. It is a combination of fact and fiction or what is today known as FACTION. It does not pretend to be "a factual representation of the truth" as neo-classical theorists would say but a fictional representation of fact! Wait a minute. What is going on here? Well, you had better get used to this somewhat abrasive phenomenon because Opilogue, on a different level, is oxymoron in motion. Call it poetic licence!

Talking about poetic licence, Opilogue often takes advantage of this writing tool to “creatively break” the rules in order to expand the frontiers of humour. Well, in the realm of satire and comedy, the writer is at liberty to play on the follies and foibles (o my cliché!) of mankind and use both the congruous and the incongruous, the ridiculous and the sublime, the moderate and the exaggerated, to beam a searchlight on the profane and the perfidious, yet clapping and yelling when there is something to crow about. That has been the journey traversed by Opilogue. Every bone is meat. No matter how gory the story in the Opilogue is, the reader will find some laughlines. Dividends of Deathocracy, published May 12, 2003, set the tone for those opilogues in the category of tragedies. Others include Requiem at Ifa Mosque Cathedral, Weep Not for Lamidi and Farewell Umoru which appear in this collection.

Each Opilogue has its special circumstance though others are borne out of practically creative desires to tackle some issues other writers may consider inane or innocuous such as Knowing Me Knowing You, The Ghanageria Siamese Twins and Diplomatic Yabis. Others are blatantly socio-political commentaries. But whether in social or cultural or religious expositions, Opilogue tries to limit its setting to Niagara, an imaginary country that sounds and smells like Nigeria. That's where the similarity ends though. Any resemblance in the names of characters with those of actual persons, dead or alive, is just an accident which, unfortunately, is not covered by any insurance policy.

The opilogues in this volume have been carefully selected and, deliberately, not much of annotation has been done to explain the circumstance of each one so as not to limit the reader’s interpretation. The joy of Opilogue, like poetry, is in the elasticity of interpretation and appreciation. For example, Far from the Madding Cow is one Opilogue that will be a hard nut to crack now except the reader can connect it with Dividends of Deathocracy. Same with some of the predominantly satirical pieces

Want to read more? See the introduction to the book, NOT A LAFFING MATTER, an illustrated Opilogue compilation, due for launch May 17, 2011. It’s a cocktail of the satirical, the surreal and the sublime.

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