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The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness [Paperback]

Wole Soyinka
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 15 1999 W.E.B. Du Bois Institute
Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka considers all of Africa--indeed, all the world--as he poses this question: once repression stops, is reconciliation between oppressor and victim possible? In the face of centuries-long devastation wrought on the African continent and her Diaspora by slavery, colonialism, Apartheid, and the manifold faces of racism, what form of recompense could possibly suffice? In a voice as eloquent and humane as it is forceful, Soyinka boldly challenges in thesepages the notions of simple forgiveness, confession, and absolution as strategies for social healing. Ultimately, he turns to art--poetry, music, painting, etc.--as the one source that can nourish the seed of reconciliation: art is the generous vessel that can hold together the burden of memory and the hope of forgiveness. Based on Soyinka's Stewart-McMillan lectures delivered at the DuBois Institute at Harvard, The Burden of Memory speaks not only to those concerned specifically with African politics, but also to anyone seeking the path to social justice through some of history's most inhospitable terrain.

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When a book begins with a statement such as "In the 1992 presidential elections, it would appear that the United States stood a reasonable chance of acquiring a new president in the person of a certain Mr. David Duke," a reader must wonder if the author is being deliberately alarmist or has simply lost contact with reality. (After all, Duke had little national credibility, and even his campaigns in his home state of Louisiana could best be described as highly problematic.) On matters concerning his native Nigeria, and on the rest of the African nations, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is perhaps more reliable, albeit still somewhat longwinded. The Burden of Memory is based on a set of lectures Soyinka gave at the W.E.B. Dubois Institute and faithfully preserves their highly academic orality, whether he is advocating massive reparations for the people of Africa for the historical injustices to which they have been subject, or using literary criticism to explore the ways in which Africans have been willing to "forgive" Westerners in the hopes of assimilating into the culture that formerly treated them as vassals. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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In three essays, Nobel laureate Soyinka examines Africa's recent history and the ways African and other countries have dealt with horrendous crimes against humanity. Like his Open Sore of a Continent (1996), this work is based on lectures at Harvard University's W. E. B. DuBois Institute. The first essay, "Reparations, Truth, and Reconciliation," deals most directly with the issues Tina Rosenberg addressed in her prizewinning study of post-Communist Eastern Europe, The Haunted Land: "How on earth does one reconcile reparations, or recompense, with reconciliation, or remission of wrongs?" Although Soyinka respects the generosity of spirit behind South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he points out that failure to demand restitution may build an expectation of impunity that can only encourage further crimes. In the essays "L. S. Senghor and Negritude" and "Negritude and the Gods of Equity," Soyinka examines the response of writers with African roots to the effects of slavery and colonialism as well as to the cruelties imposed on Africans by many of their own postcolonial leaders. Mary Carroll --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Soyinka is more than "The Burden of Memory..." Jan. 23 2003
Format:Hardcover
Wole Soyinka's mastery of the English language, as I have had occasion to say on another forum, borders on the supernatural. And perhaps therein lies the man's flaw--but that is a matter I will get to in a minute.
"The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness," you must understand, is "in the obligatory [Soyinka] fashion," a compilation of oral lectures the learned professor gave at Harvard. You must understand too, that the writing is basically academic, and suited more to an oral lecture. And because we speak of Soyinka, the writing is characteristically difficult.
So then, his lectures-turn-books (including, of course, "The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness") are not the best of works with which to appraise Soyinka's genius. For a true appreciation of Soyinka's literary prowess, you must read his plays and novels.
The flaw, of which I spoke earlier, is captured in the question a friend once posed to me (not Soyinka): "Is not the purpose of language to communicate?" Without a full-fledged dictionary, and the will to re-read whole paragraphs, one would struggle to keep up with Soyinka's writing.
In all, whether one likes it or not, the man is a literary giant, period!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mildly interesting at best Feb. 5 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
There is no doubt that Wole Soyinka is a good writer - his Nobel prize was justly deserved and not a case of affirmative action as another reviewer insultingly suggested. However, someone encountering Soyinka for the first time in this book would not be tempted to try reading his more famous writings: this book is, to be frank, not well written. Based on three lectures Soyinka gave at Harvard University in 1997, Soyinka touches upon the very topical reparations controversy in the first essay, praises the Senegalese writer Leopold Senghor in the second and spends the last examining African poets' attempts to deal with the legacies of colonialism and racism.
Through all three lectures Soyinka employs a very dense style, one that might have worked well when speaking for an academic audience at Harvard but one that does not translate well onto the written page. Phrases like 'slaves into the twentieth-first century, mouthing the mangy mandates of mendacity, ineptitude, corruption and sadism' sound impressive but are merely a means for Soyinka to play around with words when he could be spending his time seriously addressing very important issues like reparations. When he does get down to business, he writes that 'reparations would involve the acceptance by Western nations of a moral obligation to repatriate the post-colonial loot salted away in their vaults, in real estate and business holdings' but never goes into detail exactly what this would involve. What is more disturbing is his frequent references to the U.S., which reveal his real ignorance about American life: examples include his belief that David Duke could have been elected President in 1992 and that the Ku Klux Klan held or holds a 'tentacular hold over power structures across the United States.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent April 4 2001
Format:Paperback
I was extremely impressed with Professor Soyinka's argument for reparations not only for Africa, but for all victims of enslavement, colonialism, and oppression. His style may be difficult, but for the able reader it is an excellent introduction to the conditions, both past and present, contributing to the current state of affairs throughout the African continent. It provides much food for thought on the question of just what is justice. Bob Marley's song "War" was constantly in my mind. It would be an honor to shake Professor Soyinka's hand.
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1.0 out of 5 stars What has the world come to? Feb. 3 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
After learning that Soyinka received a Nobel Prize in Literature while perusing the back cover of this book at the bookstore, I was immediately interested.
Unfortunately after reading this book, I was surprised that Soyinka could read a book let alone write one. Obviously there must be some sort of affirmative action on the Nobel Prize board, since this is second-rate writing from a third-rate mind.
A waste of money, and more importantly, time.
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2.0 out of 5 stars get on with your lives Nov. 18 2000
Format:Paperback
NATURAL EQUITY - That which is founded in natural justice, in honesty and right, and which arises ex aequo et bono. It corresponds precisely with the definition of justice or natural law, which is a constant and perpetual will to give to every man what is his. This kind of equity embraces so wide a range, that human tribunals have never attempted to enforce it. Every code of laws has left many matters of natural justice or equity wholly unprovided for, from the difficulty of framing general rules to meet them, from the almost impossibility of enforcing them, and from the doubtful nature of the policy of attempting to give a legal sanction to duties of imperfect obligation, such as charity, gratitude, or kindness. -'Lectric Law Library
For all I know, Wole Soyinka may be a very fine playwright; I've never seen nor read one of his plays. But after reading this collection of three lectures--The 1997 W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Macmillan lectures at Harvard University--I can say that as a moral philosopher he leaves much to be desired. In the most important and topical lecture here--Reparations, Truth, and Reconciliation--he argues that South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission can not serve a redemptive function, nor can any such process, because:
Where there has been inequity, especially of a singularly brutalizing kind, of a kind that robs one side of its most fundamental attribute -- its humanity -- it seems only appropriate that some form of atonement be made, in order to exorcise that past. Reparations, we repeat, serve as a cogent critique of history and thus a potent restraint on its repetition.
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