- The Aesthetics of Nigerian War Fiction
As i have argued elsewhere,1 the historical novelist combines the techniques of the historian (documentation) and that of the novelist (imaginative re-creation of events) in the fictional evocation of the past. The presence of this tendency in Nigerian war fiction is the basis of my position that the Nigerian war novel is historical fiction.
This paper takes a closer look at the way historical material is adopted and adapted by the war novelists, and the degree of artistic concern exhibited in the re-creation of prewar, wartime, and postwar history in these novels.2 The concern (or lack of concern) for the formal requirements of fictional art will be used to assess these novels as artifacts. The focus here, in other words, is on the aesthetics of the war fiction as opposed to pure sociological analysis. [End Page 427]
The concern with aesthetics in literature is of course an old problem, being as it is, an extension of the discussion of aesthetics in art in general. From the classics through the medieval period to modern times, the question of proportion and perfection in the plastic arts, harmony in the musical arts, and structural balance between form and content in the literary arts has remained a central thread that runs through aesthetic discussions. The issue becomes of even greater relevance to the newer written literatures (for example, African literature) that very often have to be evaluated using critical criteria that are sometimes not necessarily universal. The ultimate objective of such evaluations is, of course, to isolate the good in the work of art.
In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas discusses aesthetic beauty as an aspect of the good, and one of his most pointed observations is that "[b]eauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally" (Q.5 Art. 4. [I:26]. Aquinas further states that "beauty consists in due proportion" (Q.5 Art. 4. [I:26] and "includes three conditions: integrity or perfection, since those things which are impaired are by that very fact ugly; due proportion or harmony; and lastly, brightness, or clarity. . ." (Q.39, Art. 8 (I:201]) (cf. Osborne, 142-144).
This Thomistic belief that beauty consists in perfection has antecedents in Greek thought and has been the principle underlying all aesthetic theories on art, notwithstanding the possibility that what perfection demands or involves could vary from individual to individual. After all "individual works of art," as Harold Osborne has correctly said, "are said to have aesthetic merit insofar as they are fitted to evoke and sustain aesthetic contemplation: this is the basis of their appraisal as aesthetic objects" (296).
The aesthetics of Nigerian war fiction will be examined here from two perspectives: the historicism of the works, the imaginative creation that is carried on alongside historical re-creation; and the writers' concern for the formal requirements of fictional art. The historicity of these novels is manifested in two main areas: the recounting of actual historical incidents (such as known battles) and the dates of their occurrence; and the use of names of actual persons and places. One finds that in the Nigerian war novel only the most important dates are used. One such date is the 1966 coup. Even before Ekwensi mentions "the night of the 15th" (Divided We Stand 30), the hint that the events in the novel take place "six years after independence" undoubtedly fixes them for us in 1966. A little history—that Nigeria became politically independent in 1960—added to the available information supplies the exact date.
Perhaps Ike uses dates more than any of the novelists in this study. On a particular occasion he almost overuses them:
The dawn of the new year saw Biafra in its eighth month of existence as a separate entity from Nigeria. Each day, each week, and each month it continued in existence increased its chances of perpetuating its sovereignty. Already its fate had become [End Page 428] a subject of international concern. The Organisation of African Unity (O.A.U.) had sent its Consultative Mission (later Committee) to Nigeria on 22-23 November 1967. The Vatican stepped in the following month when the...