Michal Musialowski is a poet, activist, and humanist born in Poland. He is in Nigerian for a research mission on contemporary Nigerian poetry at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University in Lapai, Niger state. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, Musialowski, a lecturer at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, speaks on his mission in Nigerian, his interest in Nigerian literature with particular focus on poetry and art as a tool of resistance, understanding, and effective political action.
Before coming to Nigeria, how much of the country’s literature did you know and what were the factors that elicited your interest?
Before coming to Nigeria and leaving the perspective-wise limiting borders of Europe for the first time, I had the chance and pleasure to dive into the rich world of Nigerian literature through the works in poetry and prose of many writers, whose idiom spreads across the last four generations of writers in English. Four authors in particular have alimented my interest and passion for Nigerian literature and the complex, humanly rich social panorama of the country through their incisive and polyphonic voices: E.E. Sule, Wole Soyinka, Remi Raji, and Chinua Achebe. I discovered their works through my professors at the Leibniz University in Hannover and through my research on Remi Raji’s poetics for one of my term papers during my master studies, which ignited a metaphysical feeling of a connection between my sensibility and the poetic landscapes fostered by Remi Raji’s masterful pen.
After this initial contact with the literature and history of Nigeria (which shares some common features of oppression and resistance with my homeland country, Poland), the biggest motivation, or even epiphany, to confirm my interest in Nigerian literature were the meetings with E.E. Sule, whom I had the immense pleasure to meet after his powerful lecture on Nigerian postcolonial writers that took place at the Hannoverian University. Given my interest to pursue a PhD on the topic of contemporary Nigerian poetry and then the friendship that united us, we continued our collaboration and have organized a creative writing workshop together. In parallel, my dream to visit Nigeria has crystallized in a reality and E.E. Sule changed the course of my life and my consciousness as a human being forever by offering his friendship and inviting me to spend a research period at the Ibrahim Babangida Badamasi University in Lapai, where he is a professor of African Literature and Cultural Studies. I am truly indebted to his infinite generosity and immense knowledge that he shared with me.
Have you explored the literati of another country prior to your coming to Nigeria? Why Nigeria?
As mentioned above, my coming to Nigeria has been stimulated by a metaphysical connection that I felt toward the imageries and feelings expressed in Nigerian poetry and prose and by the unique friendship, conversations, and teaching of E.E. Sule, which both alimented my dream furtherly. Of course, I have read the works of other African writers (which are also powerful and sublime), but there is something uniquely magical in Nigerian literature that touched the strings of my humanity and projected me into the dream of experiencing the sounds, rhythms, and colors of Nigeria personally.
What are you here to achieve?
It is a complex question with multangular ramifications, for what I believed I could achieve prior to coming has drastically developed with further dreams and projects during my unforgettable experience here. What mainly brought me here is the research on contemporary Nigerian literature, hence, the meeting, experiencing and discovering of stories and realities of young Nigerian writers. Thanks to the brotherly friendship, guidance, and unique energy of my friend, host, and poet, Paul Liam, I was able to connect to many writers, intellectuals, and human beings that changed the course of my present and future forever. What I have achieved through their meeting goes far beyond my bravest expectation and crystallizes in many possibilities of future collaborations and projects regarding the fostering of transcontinental dialogue, mutual understanding, and construction of literary highways of human interconnection.
How has the reception been for you and how much longer will you be staying?
The reception by the amazing people who I had the chance to meet has been very warm and filled with outstanding generosity. Of course, certain friction stemming from the fact that my presence and my skin color bear some prejudices and a heavy history is an implicit part of an intercultural meeting. Among curiosity and mutual interest, friendship, and love, I have met two reactions at the extreme of the spectrum that needs and stimulate a deeper reflection: rejection and exaggerated reverence or unjustified over-respect for my presence. Both are significant and are to be understood – in my opinion – in the wounds and traces that the colonial horror left, and are an important starting point for the revolution of mindset – especially in the case of the unjustified reverence toward me – that is needed to understand each other. Being called ‘master,’ ‘your excellence,’ and similar, shocked me profoundly and worried me
Immensely. I truly believe that this attitude is highly harmful, needs to be eradicated, and represents the ways in which the European colonization in the past and neo-colonization in the present wounds the psyche and perception of some Nigerian citizens who barter their dignity for the favor of a white man, an oyibo. I would love to see my Nigerian sisters and brothers believing in their dignity, humanity, and value, which is an essential part of every human being, regardless of place of birth, social status, or history. I believe that this would represent an important fundament for the human revolution and elevation that every citizen of the world deserves and that must be granted. I think that the consciousness of value must first of all come from the inner dimension of the individual and then be sustained by the politics. Thus, if we manage to overcome the myopic social categorizations that the media and those in power foster, we will see the horizons of new humanity rising; beyond history, beyond suffering, and beyond social injustice.
My journey to Nigeria will end on the 14th March, when I will have to return to keep on working on the project of fostering literature as a tool of resistance and understanding in Germany. From there, I will be counting the days, hours, and seconds until my next visit to the country, with commotion and nostalgia.
In comparison with your country, what are your views on the outputs being churned out by Nigerian writers?
Of course, I cannot generalize a very complex reality, so please consider my observation as a fruit of my experience and limited knowledge. In Germany, the country where I live, study, and work, there is a growing interest and fascination about African literature in general. From what I was able to observe, the reason is that the African writers in general, and Nigerian writers in particular, are able to create a deep connection between their works and the society at large, believe in the redeeming force of literature, and use it as a tool of resistance, social change, and utopia. Whereas the tendency of contemporary German literature is the drive toward abstraction and post-modernist structures and textual strategies, the Nigerian poetry and prose seek its roots in the concreteness of the surrounding realities and challenges, filtering thus deeply universal emotions and feelings through the framework of their social utility. In other words, Nigerian writers recover a dimension of writing that has been partly erased from the European idiom, the faith in the power of change and utopia inherent in literature.
What aspect, in your view, hasn’t been gotten right, and what are your recommendations?
In my view, what hasn’t been fully grasped yet but will hopefully be foregrounded furtherly in the future, is the fact that the spectrum of Nigerian literature is immensely wide, variegated, and rich in diversity. The Nigerian voices that are read and appreciated in Germany so far are the voices of the classical poets like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, or those of the cosmopolitan superstars of a contemporary global literary scene like Chimamanda Adichie. Beside these important literary works, I believe that the German audience should get in contact with the infinite shades of many other Nigerian writers who passionately record their emotions and stories and foster universal messages that enable a better understanding and connection between Africa and Europe. My recommendation to my fellow scholars and literary passionates is simple: come and experience the sublime beauty of Nigeria and Nigerian literature and you will come back with a better understanding of yourselves and the humanity that unites us. Or, like in my case, you will be struck by a deep nostalgia while thinking of coming back to Europe and leaving the horizons of love, passion, and beauty that overwhelm and stream from every corner of Nigeria.
Don’t you think your country and Nigeria would boost their diplomatic ties through literary collaborations? Do you have anything related in the conduit?
More than diplomatic ties, which belong to the domain of politics, I think that literary collaborations will boost immensely and contribute to the quest of fighting generalizations, prejudices, and stereotypes that ignorance, mass media, and intellectual laziness sadly foster. Literary collaborations and literary encounters are a great revolutionary force coming from below that hijack and circumvent the corrupted realities of power and politics, which aim at the logics of gain and often disregard the individual. It is time, in my view, to listen to our single stories, to understand our personal experiences and struggles, and to respect the value of humanity in every single person, before edifying political projects and diplomatic efforts. In my opinion, the biggest enemy of our unity is the spectre of a generalized universal truth about ‘the other’ that European politics have been spreading in the last centuries. We should reject stereotypical depictions of any sort and make the effort to go beyond them. In this way, a sublime panorama of brotherhood will raise from beyond the mist of political games. This process shall start, as mentioned above, with the recognition of our own value as human beings; in a movement from the inside that will spread, inspire, and unite. We should, first of all, understand that no human being is better than the other, and literature is the best medium for this vital mentality.
I am currently working on several projects related to this literary and human dream. Together with Prof. Sule Emmanuel Egya, we are working on an exchange program for the students of our respective Universities. The aim of this project is to allow students to spend a study period abroad and gain thus insightful perspectives about the realities of the other continent, as well as connect, unite, and foster academic collaboration. Another project that is particularly dear to me is the creation of a transcontinental newspaper’ called ‘Blank Pages’ that will collect works of arts, poetry, and prose of young writers from both the continents and create thus a platform for ‘real’ news about the other; the ones that are concerned with the feelings and emotions of the individual that depict the surrounding reality and challenge the mediatic misrepresentations and generalizations. I am working on this project together with Paul Liam and other students from the Leibniz University. We hope and believe that our efforts could contribute to our transcontinental friendship and help to crush the physical and imaginary walls that keep on dividing us.