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ECONTEXTUALIZING ENGAGEMENT: AN ECOCRITICAL PERSPECTIVE ON IBIWARI IKIRIKO’S OILY TEARS OF THE DELTA AND TANURE OJAIDE’S WAITING FOR THE HATCHING OF A COCKEREL
1.1 Background of the Study
For being committed, or engaged, literature by Africans has faced tons of severe criticism, and still does. After independence, many African writers are still said to commit their art to addressing post-independent issues of political ineptitude, corruption and violation of human rights that bedevilled post-independent countries from the continent. The critics are of the contention that it is not the business of a writer to be committed, if anything, he should be committed to his art and not to any political or ideological reality.
Interestingly, however, all criticisms against commitment in literature have not been left unchallenged; they have been met with well-formed, seasoned and proportionate rejoinders. “The writer is a member of society and his sensibility is conditioned by the social and political happenings around him” (Kolawole Ogungbesan 7). A writer’s sensibility is nonetheless not just conditioned by the socio-political happenings; s/he is in fact a human being with heightened sensitivities and must be aware of the faintest nuances of injustice in human relations (Achebe qtd in Ogungbesan 34). Moreover even when a writer is committed to his art, he is indirectly committed to people because, according to Achebe, “an artist is committed to art which is committed to people” (Moshen Masoomi 29).
The term ‘engagement’ is a relatively old term in literary criticism generally and, as some would say, African literary studies in particular. Therefore what has prompted this research is “the recontextualization of engagement.” By this we do not mean to introduce a new kind of engagement or to redefine radically Sartre’s concept of engagement—to be elaborated in a later chapter. We rather mean to extend the concept of engagement to areas that may have been excluded. ‘Engagement’ is synonymously referred to as ‘commitment’. Hence, throughout the course of this study, both terms will be interchangeably used.
1.2. Statement of Research Problem
In the Nigerian literary tradition today, there is a group of texts classified as ‘Niger Delta texts’. Such a classification is based on “the nationality of the authors and the systems of reference [which the texts] permit” (Akwanya, Verbal Structures 124). This system of reference refers to the problem of environmental/ecological disruption and devastation and the untold, concomitant suffering it inflicts on the residents of the enclave. The said environmental crisis is usually, primarily, caused by oil extraction. As a result, texts from this tradition are usually ecocritically analysed. But those ecocritical analyses are done largely with attention to the economic, political and social challenges posed by the activities of oil extraction as represented in texts. But rather than just follow such orientation, this study wishes to see any text that explores such environmental issue as an engaged text, committed to the environmental issue and analyse it according to the dynamics and dialectics of engagement. This is the point of difference between this study and any other. To the best of the knowledge of the researcher, texts raising environmental questions are not usually studied in the light of commitment—at least not our texts of study, neither have the two texts been studied together in the manner we intend to study them here.
1.3. Purpose of the Study
In this study, we hope to open up a new way of looking at Niger Delta literature and any literature, for that matter, that deals with environmental issues. We want those works to be seen as engaged literature, that engagement is not limited to political and sociocultural matters. Through the study, it is aimed also to highlight texts that raise environmental ethical issue and the situation of man within the environment. It will further be proven that by being committed, the texts have by no means lost their literary merit as the detractors of commitment may fear. The poets on the contrary maintain double integrity: artistic/aesthetic integrity and social integrity.
1.4. Significance of the Study
The aim of research, particularly, in any discipline is to add to existing knowledge. The present one is no exception, for it proposes a new dimension in the discussion of committed literature, on the one hand, and a new dimension for the ecocritical study of literature, Niger Delta literature precisely. The satisfactory completion of this study means a charting of a new course for the study of Niger Delta as it will constitute a significant addition to the existing body of research in that literature and Nigerian literature generally.
1.5 Scope of the Study
The present study is hinged on the primary texts – Oily Tears of the Delta and Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel—as regards their attention to environmental problems in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The study is however not limited to the two collections, and where the need arises, reference is made to other texts, both those of the Niger Delta tradition and others of the entire literary tradition.
The analysis is primarily focused on the extent to which the ecological system has been destabilized, activities responsible for it and the effects. Besides, the study is made inclusive enough to consider other dimensions to the trend, like political and economical, as the poems may expose and to consider what the human condition is like within the setting of the texts.
Moreover, the study extends its scope to the discovery and analysis of various stylistic/aesthetic and linguistic configurations of the poems on the grounds that it is through those properties that the poets call special attention to the nuances, particularities and consequences of destabilizing and degrading the ecosystem.