Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Caution: Highly Quotable -- Ben Okri

Ben Okri is as eloquent as ever when he talks about his work on the latest edition of CNN's African Voices.

On Africa:
When I see Africa, I see a medley of richness and possibility, a confusion of past and present, a dance of too many voices, cries of suffering and injustice, a dominant melody of tyranny. I see many different periods in one. The strange thing about Africa is how past, present and future come together in a kind of rough jazz, if you like.

In the midst of so much blood and wars and tribal divisions and confusion and famines and all of that -- that is what I see. It's a rich, complex, confusing music in which a new melody, a new note, is slowly emerging, slowly sounding through.

On his work:
My job in many of my books is to show the impact of perception on reality, why we have the politics we have, the failures we have in society, it all comes down to consciousness, to what we see, to what we consider to be real. And that's the place to do the work in transforming and changing.

On reality:
The longer I live, the longer I look, the more I see that things are strongly connected. I often hear what many consider to be odd synchronicities. someone the other day said to me that they had a dream of someone that they hadn't seen for fifteen years. Then they turned a corner that day and there that person was. What do you make of that? Do you just say, "oh, it's just pure coincidence"? Then I say to them that coincidence is part of reality. You can't chop it up and say that's not part of reality". These things in the midst of life that things are stranger than they appear to be, they're part of reality, we have to let them in and acknowledge them.

On whether he's opening the window for us to his worldview:
Yes, but it's a window that you look into and what you see are aspects of yourself, if I'm any good. The writing, the best writing, is not about the writer. The best writing is about us, about the reader.

Reading is an act of civilization; it's one of the greatest acts of civilization because it takes the free raw material of the mind and builds castles of possibilities. And in the building of those castles of possibilities it frees the creative matrix of men and women. When you can imagine you begin to create and when you begin to create you realize that you can create a world that you prefer to live in, rather than a world that you're suffering in.

Oh, for the gift of being able to drop such gems in regular conversation! Seriously, I wonder if people like this practice in the mirror, measure their words for lyricism and have them scribbled at the ready on notecards. I've joked about this ever since I saw the youtube video of Drake dropping a freestyle on a radio station by reading lyrics off his Blackberry.

Okri really captured the essence of the thing when he talked about Africa, but I find what he says about writing to be so true. The best stuff I read always makes me think of myself and my own reaction to what I am reading. You're not supposed leave a great piece of work with the same thoughts you entered it with.

Check out an edited version of the interview on CNN's page here; there's also video of the interview. Needless to say, I'll be checking out his new book A Time for New Dreams as soon as I can get to it.

Photo credit: PoetryInternational.org

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