Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Out with The Old, In With the New

‘Congratulations to you
With sad regrets
I’m tired of the old shit
Let the new shit begin.’
- EELS, Old Shit/New Shit (song)

‘You cannot hold the past and embrace the future at the same time.’
– Pastor Randy Morrison, TV’s A Commonsense Approach

‘You need to break out of your mental prison
I’m the Free-man to give you your Shawshank Redemption.’

-          Alexander Nderitu, Demons 2 (song)

The end is truly here for the old generation of Kenyan writers whose heydays were the ‘70’s and ‘80’s (Notice that that was before personal computers changed the world forever). So much has happened in recent times that the old writings will have to be confined to the ‘classics’ section of the (online?) bookstores as the ‘dot com’ generation seeks more relevant material and more contemporary storytelling techniques.

Since the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, the Cold War has ended, Communism been eroded, political idealism
shrunk, democracy been eclipsed by ‘corporate-ocracy’, the Internet has been invented, e-books have emerged, entertainment options have multiplied, micro computers have become commonplace, cell phones are all the rage, new world leaders have risen, more wars have been fought (including some ghastly genocides) and the grip of oligarchy has tightened. Early African writing doesn’t touch on any of these issues and its relevance is now in question.

A novel like Things Fall Apart by Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe (about the effect of the coming of the ‘White Man’ on traditional African society) is so old, it is believed to be Africa’s first novel (1951).  When I wrote When the Whirlwind Passes exclusively for the Internet, it was one of Africa’s first digital novels (if not the first). The year was 2001 – exactly 50 years since Achebe penned his signature novel. And reflecting on how much things had changed, my ‘book’ wasn’t even made of paper! And yet, there are those reviewers who would rather discuss Achebe’s novel to this day. Talk of being ‘stuck in time’.

It’s time to turn a page, folks. Life doesn’t move backwards, it moves forward.

This year, I realized that many of the global superstar writers I looked up to as a teenager are now dead – S. J. Perelman, Mario Puzo, Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, James Hadley Chase. It has come to my realization that we (the ‘dot com’ writers) are the new kids on the block. Even the living greats like Stephen King, Jackie Collins and Mary Higgins Clark are writing or have written their memoirs. It’s a tacit admission that their careers are drawing to a close.

So be it. I am a youth now (under 35 years of age). Soon – in the blink of any eye – I’ll be middle-aged, and then old, and then gone. There’s no profit in fighting the future – we’re going to get off the stage on way or another, whether we like it or not. ‘Everybody has got to die,’ US novelist William Saryan observed, ‘but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.’ Bestselling French novelist Frédéric Dard (himself now deceased) was closer to the point when he remarked: ‘(President) De Gaulle spent his life becoming immortal…and then he died.’ Earnest Hemingway had no misgivings about saying farewell to the world: ‘Let’s give my life a miss,’ he is quoted as saying.

It is with sheer and utter respect that I say, ‘Goodbye, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Francis D. Imbuga,
Micere Mugo…and all other living members of that generation.’ We, the writers of the future, give you a standing ovation for your lifetime achievements. Your place in literary history is assured.

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