Okri-fication: (hyphenated; noun) is the process of being turned into a Ben Okri addict.
Ben Okri’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry are a steady source of rejuvenation for the tired mind. I am reading and have been reading his collection of essays A Way of Being Free for more than a year. It’s a slim volume but the ideas it contains are astoundingly heavy. They require deep thinking and long digestion periods. I read a few lines, think about it and keep thinking long after so much so that I need to put the book down and a few weeks go by before I can pick it up again. In the meantime, I can fit in many other books. That is the way it’s been. In the middle, I realised why I was doing this: I wanted the book to go on forever.
A Way of Being Free is a collection of essays on the topic of the function of art and literature in society. It’s an answer to all those people who ask the purpose of an education in the arts or humanities, the meaningful career choices available to humanities graduates and also my High School Chemistry teacher who was shocked by my choice and memorably asked me ‘What scope?’ when he heard that I was pursuing my Bachelor’s in English literature.
It is also more than that. It’s in line with the convention of searching and defining the artist/writer’s role in a modern society. It belongs to the same tradition as P.B.Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry (‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’) Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads ( ”…the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.’ ) Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (‘This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?’) and Wislawa Szymborska’s Nobel acceptance speech titled The Poet and the World (‘Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.””)
When reading Okri, I feel like I am being pulled into a larger world. A world where everyday realities fade and for a brief while I have to grapple with abstract expressions, metaphorical and metaphysical exploration. It’s a voyage and I am a happy traveler.