Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Applauding mediocrity

Promoting mediocrity is not easy. True, the perception of what is and what is not good quality may be highly subjective. But the subjective eyes that determined yesteryear’s work to be of high quality are the self same eyes that are condemning most of today’s work as poor quality. Should we lower standards to accommodate everyone that puts pen to paper? Greatness will not be thrust upon budding playwrights. They must earn it. The problem with some of them is that they expect it at the first or second attempt. Do they have the capacity to persist, learn and achieve? Some of our contemporaries have a strange urge to be prolific even when they are churning out works that are consistent only in their dullness. Cobbling up colorless and uninspiring lines that are forgotten with the turning of a page or drawing of the curtain.

Contrast this with how effortlessly we are able to quote Okonkwo (Things fall apart). Or Mulili (Betrayal in the city).

The writers ought not to blame the reader or the publisher for their predicament. The reader is perhaps even more demanding than the publisher. And our writers’ weakness is their inability to gauge what the reader appreciates. It is not for the writers to “proclaim their tigritude”. And the publisher is certainly not in business to smooth over their foibles. They must simply measure up to expectations. Or be damned into carrying manuscripts in their coat pockets.

Ngugi, Mazrui, Imbuga are not messiahs. But there’s no denying that they and many of their contemporaries were inspirational writers. Their works have stood the test of time and provide a sensible starting point in an attempt to find out “when the rain started beating us”. We, today, are soaking wet, shielding ourselves with porous umbrellas. Ngugi, Mazrui and Imbuga are home and dry. Once in a while I look back with nostalgia and wonder why we haven’t taken after them. There must be something terribly amiss if I have to google for the “great” writers of my time. Good works are self evident and I will not attempt to trash their effort.

My plea to my brothers is to keep at it. I look forward to the day I’ll be singing their praises, not out of patriotic favor but in salute of greatness. It is not unachievable. Let us not go down as the generation that “got beaten”.

My grouse with the budding writers of the day is that they seem to be stuck in second gear. Perhaps too much praise from the assorted festivals and competition they attend has gotten to their heads. My challenge to them is to stop deluding themselves that they have “reached” and stretch their limits. They are the chicken that not so long ago had their legs tied with string to keep them captive at the market. They’re home now and need a little prodding from you and me to remind them that they’re now free. Free to read and write and do all that appertains…

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