Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mere Anarchy: The Life and Work of Chinua Achebe

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
     -- W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"
Chinua Achebe died this week. He was 82. At 28, he loosed "Things Fall Apart" upon a completely unsuspecting and unprepared world. It was a cataclysmic event, but only his first and most famous act of mere anarchy. Achebe had a habit of doing that: totally changing the world's thinking with gracious nonchalance. He did it again in the 1970s with his critique of Western conceptions of Africa and Africans, of which Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" just happened to be the unfortunate literary example. No one has ever read "Heart of Darkness" in quite the same way since. A deeply principled and thoughtful man, Achebe has left an indelible mark on world literature. Several commentators have invoked a fitting West African proverb: A great tree has fallen. Indeed: a great tree has fallen, but it will continue to nourish the earth with its substance.

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