Hon. Chinua Achebe and Nobel Prize committee: The brewing and unending cold war

by Emeka Chiakwelu

Whenever you have time to visit Nobel Prize website, do click to page for Nobel prize winners for literature. You come to notice that of all the important literature of 20th century and emerging 21st century winners of the prize; the greatest literature of all time that elucidated and clarified the position of Africans on meeting of the West and Africa is missing. The book is Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart which is based on the crash of civilizations. To say that Things Fall Apart is just a literature is a sophomoric understatement. The book is a historical analogy and the psychoanalogy of the antecedent and contemporary Africans as they struggle to confront the history, encroachment and interference of an outside culture that left an undeniable and indelible mark on the body, soul and psyche of the African. The meeting brought mixed basket of modernity, exploitation, slavery, colonialism and Christianity – a total transformation of Africa.

The ramification and the osmosis of the great meeting of the cultures is exactly the picture our Honorable Achebe captured and portrayed vividly in Things Fall Apart. The book is bigger than a great story and history because it becomes the first attempt by an African to define what it means to be an African within the context of the introduction of the Western culture without undermining African sense and sensibility. Africa from the prism of history is the great loser but the complete ramifications have not fully emerged. It will take centuries to say for sure what the great crashed of civilizations meant to the both parties. The great loser of today might tomorrow inherit the mundane earth.

Let’s deal with this without mincing words. Why did the Nobel Award committee deny Chinua Achebe the literature prize? Simple and direct :They are afraid of the truth, the intellectual honesty that the committee is devoted to pursue and propagate have eluded them because the acceptance of the truth and reality comes with a cost and reparation. Reparation and acknowledgment of the truth does not necessarily have to be material or monetary gain but it can come as way of intellectual reparation and the readjustment of the status quo from intellectual guilt. The intellectual gatekeepers of the Nobel committee might see the acknowledgment of this reality abounded by Things Fall Apart as making them vulnerable to those that desire to be atone for the past mistakes and injustices.

Nobel Prize committee has given every Tom, Dick and Harry from all the corners of our globe literature prize. But when they come to Honorable Chinua Achebe they skipped him because Things fall Apart is not your father’s literature, for it is a missive of rugged individualism, pride, heart break and mistreatment written by an African to the world that oppressed them and dislodged them from their humanity.

The cold war
What is this cold war between these two institutions – Achebe and Nobel? First and foremost Chinua Achebe is an institution, he might be one man but he represents a side of Africa that dare to speak, seek, pursue and ask question that must be asked. So ask he did and when two titans meet for a wrestling match the ground quivers. Chinua Achebe is bigger than Nobel prize because the question or the quest for liberty he tendered cannot be satiated with a Nobel prize. The committee of Nobel Prize comprehended that the only way they chose to answer Things Fall Apart’s question is with mute. For if they award the prize they have accepted the argument of the book. If they deny it with a loud voice then they have acknowledged their vulnerability and insecurity.

The inactive observers who have not comprehend this delicate game of chicken and hen, fail to appreciate the brewing and continuous cold war: Since Honorable Chinua Achebe refused to apologize for the book instead he challenged another great western writer the Conrad’s Heart of darkness dehumanization of Africans. In the paper “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness'” he presented at University of Massachusetts in 1977. He reiterated and rebutted the content of the book with clarity and intellectual vim.

“Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civili¬zation, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refine¬ment are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality. The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting peacefully “at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks.”2 But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. The River Congo is quite decidedly not a River Emeritus. It has rendered no service and enjoys no old-age pension. We are told that “going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginning of the world.”
Is Conrad saying then that these two rivers are very differ¬ent, one good, the other bad? Yes, but that is not the real point. It is not the differentness that worries Conrad but the lurking hint of kinship, of common ancestry. For the Thames too “has been one of the dark places of the earth.” It conquered its darkness, of course, and is now in daylight and at peace. But if it were to visit its primordial relative, the Congo, it would run the terrible risk of hearing grotesque echoes of its own forgotten darkness, and falling victim to an avenging recrudescence of the mindless frenzy of the first beginnings.”

The Nobel Prize Committee and its intellectual hamlet have not forgiven Chinua Achebe for equating his book as the antithesis of Conrad’s Heart of darkness. Those that witnessed the event and others misunderstood Things Fall Apart and Chinua Achebe – for all he was exposing were the sins of Heart of darkness which makes the book fundamentally flawed from African perspective. These ivory tower intellectuals that claimed paragon of excellence have cultivated a mindset that negate anything African and absolutely diverged from the African point of view.

The Great Achebe
“Men become might not by what they achieved but for the task they set for themselves”
– Henry Kissinger

What really made Hon. Chinua Achebe the greatest writer of our time is not just about writing one of the most significant book of all time but for the task he set for himself and the world. The great task was to tell the world that in spite of the tribulations and destruction of the African body that the spirit – the African spirit is still vibrant and very much alive. If the thesis of Things Fall Apart can be summon and summarize in one line: Africa is living.

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