Fiction and the Meaning of Life

How can we imbue the novel with a quality that is less about social realism, more about the meaning of life? (“The ‘meaning of life’ is really the center about which the novel moves — Walter Benjamin”) This is the question for the African novelist who seeks to escape the niche of polemicism and social realism. It goes further to the root of the complaint people make nowadays about the inadequacy of fiction to compensate for the hyper-realness of the occurrences in the world. If novels can somehow be tasked with something other than realism, perhaps with meditativeness and a proliferation of ideas, then we can gift stories that are not judged by their familiarity with social realities but how they are seeped in meandering through the pressing questions of our time.

(“The novelist…cannot hope to take the smallest step beyond that limit at which he invites the reader to a divinatory realization of the meaning of life by writing ‘Finis.'” — Walter Benjamin.)

My point is that the imaginative work of fiction cannot be circumscribed only as social realism. In the wake of growing interest (and growing commodification) of African literature, we have to demand for other narrative niches that approach the meanings and purpose of life differently. This is not merely a call for genre-bending narratives, or experimental writing.

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