Writing and Editing The Tough Alchemy of Ben Okri

By | September 29, 2020

Guest post by Rosemary Alice Gray

The publication of my monograph entitled, The Tough Alchemy of Ben Okri: The writer as conceptual artist fell about a week before my 80th birthday, auspiciously 20 August 2020. Since I discovered the works of Nigerian-born Londoner, Ben Okri (OBE), who has invested his lifeblood at the rock face of the true stuff of literature, my enthusiasm has been unflagging. But, the choice of what to include and what to exclude in the book was tough.

An early chapter not included in the book was my first on Astonishing the Gods. The untimely death of my beloved husband had given new impetus to my research to counter my loss. The then editor of Analecta Husserliana and Dean of the School of Divinity, the late Prof. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a leading Roman Catholic phenomenologist, was at first understandably a little surprised, because I had read Okri’s eight-chapter book, with its African ‘gods’, in terms of the eight steps towards divine grace in Hermetic thought. At first, she thought it more suitable for the yearbook’s Islamic sister-journal, so I too was surprised when my Serbian Master’s student, whom I had launched onto the international stage, phoned to say that both our papers had been included as chapters in the Harvard publication.

Another omitted chapter was a published reading of The Landscapes Within as ‘an unfinished symphony’. Okri had suggested that I concentrate instead on its rewriting as Dangerous Love. I believe that it is arguably one of my strongest; certainly, a most pleasurable voyage of discovery.

Sharing my research into the existential angst portrayed in Okri’s work is a deeply felt personal goal. The monograph is the culmination of over forty years of extensive reading of colonial/postcolonial/neo-colonial texts that deal with liberation as modernity’s political ideal. I ask philosophical, eco-phenomenological and esoteric questions to explore the writer’s vision in re-defining occidental hegemony. My mode centres on detecting and revealing how Okri alerts us to an African energy of life, actuating within the reader a vivacious enthusiasm. 

Okri’s cutting-edge outpourings transmit to close gaps, to create bonds. His is an inimitable conceptual artistry; his writings urge us towards upliftment, pointing the way to a higher consciousness for the well-being of humankind and planet earth.

It is hoped that the readings in this monograph will lead to an appreciation of Okri’s creativity and to a deeper understanding of the literary strategies, contexts, themes and modes he employs. 

About the book

“In these essays Rosemary Gray shows her wide reading and her eclectic mind. The essays burst with energy and critical fizz. Often the excitement of discovery can be discerned; often the surprise at intuitive delight can be felt; and often the sheer scale of the research undertaken yields lovely rewards. But mostly it is the yoking of disparate critical disciplines, brought to bear on a new reading of my work, that delivers the interest and the fascination.”

 –  Ben Okri, Man Booker prize-winning novelist and poet

Rosemary Alice Gray is ‘Emeritus Professor’ in the Department of English at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. The Tough Alchemy of Ben Okri is one of her numerous works on the writer and features an interview with him.

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