Gerd Meuer mit Nobelpreisträger Wole Soyinka
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„Wole Soyinka’s impact on global discourse“


(My contribution… to the panel-discussion on: ’African Literature 20 years after the Nobel”, Lagos Book Fair, September 17th, 2006 Actual delivery was somewhat different….)


It has all been said about the ‘man’ - by your own countrymen and –women, by Biodun Jeyifo only a few days ago (see: GUARDIAN of Friday, Sept 8,2006), by Femi Osofisan and Tejumola Loanyian and Margaret Folarin and Yemi Ogunbiyi in ‘Perspectives of Nigerian Literature” (Vols. I and II, published by the GUARDIAN in 1988); even by Chinweizu and even Sani Abacha…
And this week again by Emann Usman Shehu in his review of ‘Set Forth’, in today’s edition of THIS DAY, 15.9.2006.

So what can I possibly say?
I am only a journalist, sometimes a translator, moderator, facilitator; facilitating airline tickets, airline connections, hotel rooms, hide-outs, wine and food (very often the most difficult task, because the man is ‘demanding’), even the repair of his ever-present inside-cabin trolley… (his single piece of luggage).

Because the ‘man’ travels light, with few earthly possessions, but heavy with thought, with a heavy intellectual (and political!) baggage – should I say ‘EXCESS baggage’?

Let me state it again: I left Academia exactly 40 years ago, that is, after my year at the University of Ibadan I never really went back to a university, have been a journalist ever since, a translator, moderator, even a ‘cultural activist’, as Jahman Anikulapo, one of the fathers of this Book Fair, likes to term it.
And ever since in that ‘African’ medium’ = the Radio; the most African since so close to THE African art form: ORATURE, the art of the spoken word.

All those years I have been a political journalist, specializing in African affairs. With two major special interests:

One: Agri-CULTURE…

Because, according to Bert Brecht:

           „Erst kommt das Fressen,
           dann kommt die Moral.“

                  Man must eat first!

Two: Culture and Literature.

Since 1962 I did grow up – or old – with the producers of African Literature, whom I first met at the Mbari Mbayo in Ibadan. There I met J.P. Clark, Christopher Okigbo, Duro Ladipo and the ‘man’; later I also met a host of francophone and lusophone writers from Camara Laye through Sony Labou Tans’I, Taban Lo Lyong to Marcelino dos Santos.

And since 1962 then a certain W.S. The ‘how’ you can find in both ‘Ibadan’ and in ‘Set Forth’ (page 107 in the Nigerian edition).
My son was born in 1969 – that is 17 years before the NOBEL – but in his passport it reads: first names Mart, WOLE, Gabriel Meuer – Wole only comes second because the man at the registry insisted on an ‘established Christian’ name to come first!

I am only a journalist and no Afam Akek, and so I am not going to split hairs (with a heavy hammer…) to really develop what the IMPACT of the ‘man’ is on…

Anyhow: “W.S.’s impact on global discourse’ is far too… global for me!

But le me tell you about an experience of only a few years ago, when suddenly I got a letter from a professor of psychiatry in Zurich, Switzerland, who wanted to send Wole his latest book. When I enquired why so, the good professor told me that in his most recent book there was a quote from Wole, quoting Wole on early childhood education, the development of the inner self of a person, and the acceptance of the OTHER in us.

Well, that is just once recent example of the IMPACT of the ‘man’ on global discourse. In the German-speaking world, that is, and I do not know all that much of the other language worlds, although I DO know quite a bit about franco-PHONY-ness…

In Germany, at least, the ‘man’ impacted quite early, as early as 1965, when he was in a major discourse with people like Langston Hughes, Stephen Spender, Ezekiel Mphalele and many others in Berlin, as well as with our then first post-war Nobel Heinrich Böll, and the later one, Günther Grass.

With the exception of those many months that Wole spent in solitary confinement we have been exchanging ever since, several times a year, in Germany, Switzerland, France, the US and other places. Most important of all I have had the luxurious opportunity to be of service as a translator, moderator, facilitator at numerous readings, performances by the ‘man’, be in it Bayreuth, Berlin, Cologne, Erlangen, Hanover, Munich and you name them… I have also had the privilege to either facilitate the or be present at the ‘man’s’ exchanges with German presidents, chancellors and other VIPs. 

But the ‘man’ has also impacted on a far wider range of germanophone people, thanks to the presence of his plays, his poems, his novels, his political writings in the German media: in German Public Radio and TV, on newspaper and journal pages; in lengthy portraits and learned contributions.
Only recently one of our public radio stations broadcast all

of AKE in half-hour instalments on 17 days in a row. … where has this ever happened, here in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa???

Well, the ‘man’ might as well be present in Germany all year round, if only he did like that/my country that much… he
simply prefers the Italian and French ‘Reds’, wines that is,
and, so it seems, also their food.
I do get beaten for transmitting his – always polite – Nos to those who want to have him on stage or on the air!

For many people in the German-speaking world WOLE is THE Voice of Africa, no:

                   The voice of the BETTER Africa!

In the sense of the Nobel committee’s words, when Wole was awarded the prize as

“A writer and a fighter”,

and in Germany he is mostly perceived as the latter, as the FIGHTER, for human rights and democracy.

Not that I am really against this – who am I ! – but in recent years I have tended to try and slowly convince the ‘inviters’ to please consider the fact that the ‘,man’ did get the Nobel Prize for … LITERATURE.

I must, however, admit that we Germans DO have a problem, and that is our LANGUAGE:

We Do speak German and have to learn English in school, meaning that whenever the ‘man’ reads we often need a translation.

But whenever we detect that the audience is pretty much anglophone, then the artistic, oratorical power of the ‘man’ is being fully appreciated, no, it gives people goose-flesh: in any case, it does to me each and every time – again!

The ‘man’’s  impact on discourse? Only on discourse?

When you listen to the ‘man’ you definitely get the feeling that Africa’s case is not ‘hopeless’, not ‘lost’ – and that in spite of his vivid, scathing description of Africa’s woes, of the mis-management of her fortunes by men (men!) in Agbada or mufti.

The ‘Man’ impacts by his

           CREATIVITY (see above); his

But WHERE to start really?

Since it is all his qualities that make the ‘man’.

And therefore he is truly a ‘renaissance’ man, by his

- personal warmth,
- his modesty (down to the way he dresses, yes!),

-         his PRUSSIAN-ness; for many, many years I have been  calling him the ‘Black Prussian’;

-         beginning with his PUNCTUALITY (always half a hour
early in all his appointments!);
the seriousness of his ‘delivery’,
his didactic ability and versatility;
his gift of listening to others.

His is a life ‘truly fully lived’!

Oh, I almost forgot:

He also impacts by his CURIOSITY!

About other cultures, from Bert Brecht to the Japanese theatre…

And not to forget his curiosity about everything pertaining to food and drink, anything gastronomic, his curiosity about the secrets of the kitchen and the cellar.

But I shall most definitely and most stubbornly NOT tell you the least about the ‘man’s’ other curiosity, and that is his curiosity about or in the members of those 51 percent of the human race… better known as … women.

And you WON’T find a single line on this in my forthcoming book, FULL STOP!