Make It News
August 12, 2011 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Fifty years after British colonialism, ten years after military rule, Nigerians are free. Not economically free, not yet, and we see the effect of that lack of economic freedom in the kinds of crimes that are committed. But they are free in important ways. You can live where you want, associate with whom you want. You can sue people in court, gather to practice your religion, under the leadership of whichever holy man or charlatan you prefer, and you can marry and divorce as you please. This is a major thing. This is modernity, and to tell these stories, to give the protagonists of these losses even that little bit of attention, is to honor the fact that they are there, that their life goes on.
On his twitter feed, novelist Teju Cole has been taking the French literary tradition of faits divers and adapting it to "bring news of a Nigerian modernity."
posted by villanelles at dawn (11 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Wonderful. I've always liked faits divers (his "satisfaction of the epigram, and the ambiguity about why what happened should have happened at all" is a beautiful description) but I haven't known that name for the form until now. Twitter is really starting to come into its own as a legitimate artistic medium, and it's a shame that it's still so hard to preserve and organize for future readers.
posted by theodolite at 1:54 PM on August 12, 2011

Also, if anyone's like me and immediately wanted to read more of Fénéon's original nouvelles en trois lignes, there's a ton of them posted on this Twitter account (and a French PDF of questionable copyright status ici).
posted by theodolite at 2:11 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

These were great; it's like a cure for exoticism (of both the positive and the negative variety). His mission makes me think of a great TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "The Danger of a Single Story" (transcript).

It's about the danger of how we all sometimes buy into a single stereotypical portrait, refusing to acknowledge that a portrayal that does not conform to a stereotype is not necessarily inauthentic. For example, she talks about how Americans have this idea of "poor, pitiable Africa", but of course, an entire continent cannot possibly hold to a single narrative. And she also talks about how she, as an upper middle class, educated Nigerian, had an idea of a "poor, pitiable rural Nigerian" -- a single story that does not reflect the complex lives of millions of people. My favorite quote from her talk is,
"I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called "American Psycho" — and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers."
So, it's sarcastically put in the above quote, but Adichie's prescription for combatting the "single story" portrayal was to have more stories. She says she doesn't have a single story of America because she has been exposed to so many American stories, and the solution is to have not one story of Nigeria (or "Africa") in the popular consciousness, but many stories.

I love how these faits divers accomplish that -- it's a very different medium, but it has a similar effect, I think. It's not "all Nigerians are X" but rather, "this thing happened to this individual". Collectively, the stories may tell you something about Nigeria, but through proliferation of detail instead of simplification.
posted by lesli212 at 2:46 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, thanks. I really like these.
posted by ghharr at 2:58 PM on August 12, 2011

Very affecting and effective writing. Teju Cole used to have a blog with some gorgeous and devasting writings. He always said the blog would disappear some day, and it did. Does anyone know if there are any remnants on the WWW anywhere?
posted by vers at 3:28 PM on August 12, 2011

Posts like this are the little treasures that keep me coming back here. Thanks.
posted by MikeMc at 5:45 PM on August 12, 2011

Everything about this. FAVORITE.

(Though it's odd to think I would love grotesque news about murders and lightning strikes so much. [Well, maybe not so surprising.] Good thing it's backed by French philosophy! Phew.)
posted by jng at 7:10 PM on August 12, 2011

Brilliant stuff. Thanks villanelles at dawn.

Any chance the 'twitter' tag can be added to this?
posted by blogenstock at 8:31 PM on August 12, 2011

blogenstock: Done

vers: His blog has been linked twice on the blue before. That address no longer works but you can try poking around the wayback-machined version. Unfortunately for me, I had never heard of Teju Cole until his extraordinary novel was reviewed in the New Yorker. His Links page does a good job organizing what bits and pieces of his are available online; I'll always be grateful toward him for this essay on the late art historian Michael Baxandall, which introduced me to the latter's Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy. He also (to my barbaric ears, at any rate) reads a decent Ancient Greek.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:11 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Novels in 140 characters.
posted by kenko at 12:53 PM on August 13, 2011

Thank you, villanelles -- I'll likely be purchasing his book soon, though it generally goes against most of my reading habits. Mr. Cole is a talent, even genius. Hopefully not always ephemeral.
posted by vers at 4:28 PM on August 13, 2011

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