The 21 books came to me in two gift paper-bags from the scholar Udenta O. Udenta. The priceless present came along with a 34-page “Guide To The 21 Book Project” entitled “Intellectual Production And The Genealogy Of Knowledge.”
Praise cannot come high enough from me to Udenta O. Udenta for the astonishing task of committing one’s entire resources to the publishing of all of 21 books in one fell swoop. Many a Nigerian leader would have invested it all in luxury in Dubai!
Following the outline of Udenta, the “First Stream” of the 21-book project is made up of “Collected Boyhood Works”. He introduces the books in this first stream thus: “My boyhood creative works made up of novels, short stories, poetry collections, drama sketches, philosophical musings, moral commentaries and reflections on life in high school, were written between 1977 and 1979; that is, when I was between ages 13 and 15. The historical, social and cultural background as well as the major influences that launched my boyhood writing career are all set out in the general introduction to the volumes which appears at the beginning of every volume.”
In assuring the authenticity of his undertaking, Udenta adds: “The original manuscripts of all the works that appear in the six volume boyhood works are preserved.”
The “Second Stream”, Udenta writes, contains “Scholarly Works On Aesthetics And Literary Theory, African Literature, Cultural Studies And Philosophy.” According to Udenta, “With the exception of Autonomy of Values which was originally written between 1997 and 1998 when I was 34 + years and Crisis of Theory in Contemporary African Literature which was started in 2015 and completed in 2018, the bulk of my scholarly works were originally written between 1986 and 1989 when I was between 23 and 26 years even though heavy editorial revision and addition of new materials occurred between 2007 and 2015 with regard to the publication of their 2nd editions.”
Udenta’s “Third Stream” is made up of “Texts On Nigerian Democratic Struggle, Political Process, Culture, Peace Practice, English Studies And Creative Writing.”
The “Fourth Stream” bears the “Collected Works Of B.I. Udenta”, to wit, the scholar’s father. The son writes of his father B.I Udenta thusly: “My late father wrote extensively on wide ranging subjects from the late 1950s up to the 1980s. Even though he didn’t produce original texts in the 1990s he nevertheless researched into and compiled several volumes of work on oriental philosophy and mystical teachings as an intellectual endeavour. This four volume collected works is the first offering from his prodigious pen; ultimately the task of publishing subsequent volumes of his remaining works will be accomplished.”
On the justification of publishing his juvenilia, Udenta states that “it is my hope and expectation that even though these works may not mean much to present-day mature, or even young readers, they were a part of my growing up and artistic and intellectual development, and a part of my history that I don’t want lost.”
From the notes of his secondary school classmate, Patrick Isiogwu, we learn that Udenta used to bear the English name Lawrence, whence his signing of the Preface to the novel Before They Came thusly: “L.O. Udenta 1977.”
It is as “Udenta O. Udenta, Abuja, March 2014” that he signs the “Author’s Note” of the same book after these compelling words: “An interesting feature of the work is that it has a table of content; a preface, the main work, summary of each chapter, questions on the text and explanation of Igbo words and expressions used in it! The work must have been thus written, not as a mere novel to be read and enjoyed, but as a prescribed text for students of literature!”
The writings of B.I. Udenta edited and introduced by his son Udenta O. Udenta are somewhat self-explanatory by their titles, notably History of Mgbowo Town: Past and Present; The Development of Tropical Africa & History of West Africa; Ancient History & English Economic History; and Studies in Christian Religious Knowledge.
The intellectual lifework of Udenta is unapologetically Marxian and anchored on the materialistic historiography of the esteemed German philosopher Walter Benjamin. Udenta then forges ahead intervolving Friedrich Nietzsche, Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althuser, Jacques Derrida, Edward Said and Eduardo Galeano.
Udenta quotes Galeano: “It seems obvious that literature, as an effort to communicate fully, will continue to be blocked… so long as misery and illiteracy exist, and so long as the possessors of power continue to carry on with impunity their policy of collective imbecilization… through the mass media.”
Udenta is a demanding read, and I believe the words of the French writer and 1947 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, Andre Gide, suits him: “Please do not understand me too quickly.”