Prompted by my sister’s observation on reading Larry King’s My Remarkable Journey. “The language is remarkably simple,” she said. The fact is that we have been so used to the literary culture that passes off grandiose English as the only true means of good literary communication that when we see one that pulls off a feat of enchanting us without pretending to be grand, we are pleasantly surprised and are forced to look at ourselves again.
How the literary culture in Nigeria (as borrowed from Britain) successfully evolved into the idea that it is better and more acceptable to write (and speak) as difficult possible when given the opportunity is really beyond me. And for all who bother about it, this is the singular most (de)pressing issue in Nigerian literature today. Not just the language of our writing – which will remain English for a long while – but the way we use it. The argument is long and tedious, and will – if not properly articulated – spill over into very many distracting directions, but what is clear is that we still haven’t mastered the ability to simply write, simply.
My favourite essay of all time is by George Orwell, titled Politics and the English Language(1946), and I’ve always recommended it for anyone wishing to be called a writer. In it, he highlights the very many wrong ways in which we use the English language a famous one being the rendering of a verse in Ecclesiastes in “modern” English. According to him, and I agree, this verse…
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
would most likely be written by today’s writers as follows:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
He admits in the end, as I do now, that he too may have occasionally fallen into the temptation to use more words than necessary in order to sound grand, or just for the drought of ideas. Yet, it is inexcusable. There is a reason why I was able to complete Larry King’s book in two days and I’m yet to complete one by a Nigerian writer since more than a year ago, and it doesn’t have to do with their personalties, a glossy cover or their countries of origin. And it is the same reason why V.S. Naipaul is now one of my favourite Nobel Prize winners. There is just something enchanting about a simply but brilliantly-written work.