Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka has opened up on how
he has been able to keep his sanity over the years.
Soyinka made this disclosure in an interview with Turkish
journalist Aysegul Sert in Paris. Excerpts from the interview were published in
an article in LitHub on October 19 2023.
Asked what kept him young at 89, Soyinka said he had no idea
but knew he should be slowing down, adding that each time he tried to slow
down, something happened and he found himself getting on the trail again
“I have no idea,” he sighs. “I should be slowing down, I
know, but each time I try to slow down something happens, and I have to get on
the trail again,” the literary icon noted.
Soyinka also said he finds it difficult to turn his back on
a situation and that each time he does that he loses that sense of inner
“You see, I am deprived of that sense of inner tranquility
once I turn my back on a situation. Quite frankly, I think it’s a flaw, because
I am depriving myself of something which I know I need profoundly.
However, he said he had kept his sanity over the years by
what he calls, “extracting myself from the world”. According to him, if he
didn’t manage to have some quiet in his mind, he would have gone crazy years
“If I didn’t manage
to have some quiet in my mind, I’d have gone crazy years ago, so it’s a
question of extracting myself [from the world] whenever I can.
“It means depriving oneself of what one feels is
pleasurable,” he explains. “You have to battle for your creative space, battle
for it! Extract yourself whenever you can and be thankful for it, and just
carry on waiting for the next opportunity to gratify your innermost instinct to
disappear, and do not sacrifice it.
“If you can manage to balance the two [the activism and the
writing] that’s OK, but if you find that you are being tortured internally then
be quiet, just close the shop, run and go.
“I know it’s unbelievable but I really just prefer my peace
of mind; I like to sink myself in a truly tranquil environment, which I find
mostly in the forest … But, if between getting out of your house and getting
into the forest you encounter something unacceptable on the way then that
becomes a problem, and you cannot just enjoy what you really want until you have
dealt with what you just saw.”
Asked again whether that meant he never intended to become a
writer engagé, Soyinka said a resounding no, adding what matters to any writer
is their honesty, the fact that they are presenting a different view and opening
“No! Never!” he replies, without skipping a beat. “I don’t
know,” he shrugs. “One shouldn’t expect literature to be committed. It is
sufficient that a writer opens up possibilities.
“The fact is that something is being presented, a different
view is presented, that’s what matters. The writer must be honest, if you have
a bad temperament—of confrontation, of poking your finger in the eye of
power—then by all means do so but if you do not don’t feel useless, don’t feel
like you are betraying literature. You are writing, that’s your mission, that’s
your métier; exploit it in whatever direction it leads.”
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