Friday, December 11, 2020 10:40 pm
By Chris Anyokwu
Fantasy, the activity or act of day-dreaming or imagining impossible or improbable things, is a common human indulgence. It has been said that when under acute and extreme physical and psychological stress, some people tend to lapse unconsciously into a mental state that may be described as fantasy.
A searing pain or shock triggered by, say, an auto-crash, a plane mishap, an industrial accident or a shattering fall from a height can catapult the victim from the messy materiality of the here-and-now to a delirious state of forgetfulness. This mental state of escape is what John Keats in one of his odes, “Ode on the Grecian Urn,” talks about when he lauds the power of drink to ferret one away to Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness in Greek mythology. Frantz Kafka in The Great Wall of Chinaenthuses: “Human nature, essentially changeable, unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds and its very self …”. Hence, Rosemary Jackson remarks that “A characteristic most frequently associated with literary fantasy has been its obdurate refusal of prevailing definitions of the ‘real’ or ‘possible’, a refusal amounting at times to violent opposition”. ‘A fantasy is a story based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility; it is the narrative result of transforming the condition contrary to fact into “fact” itself’.
To be sure, Goethe, the German romantic writer, notes that “only the perverse fantasy can still save us”; and Juliet Mitchell quips for good measure that “the only thing you can do if you are trapped in a reflection is to invert the image”. Fantasy, it must be said, expresses desire when “desirable” and expelsdesire when this desire is unhealthy, according to Rosemary Jackson. Fantasis has, thus, been described as “the literature of unreality”, rooted as it is in ancient myth, mysticism, folklore, fairy tales and romance. Among novelists whose works embody fantasy include Mary Shelley, James Hogg, Edgar Allan Poe, R.L. Stevenson, Kafka, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad and Henry James.
By the same token, fantasy equates escapism, the freewheeling play of desire, the imaginative “dare”. Humans cannot bear too much reality, hence the tendency to wallow in the salubrious sea of fantasy and, moreover, the basis of human happiness is illusion, according to Tennessee Williams in his play A Street Car Named Desire. Thus, the main function of fantasy is the giving of pleasure, an illusionary pleasure that functions as a sort of demilitarised zone between harsh reality and beleaguered subjectivities such as the captive denizens in a post-colonial menagerie called Nigeria. Before we proceed to collectively immerse ourselves in our own fantasy, it is important for us to quickly skim through what experiential horror-show we’ve all had to endure up until now.
The year 2020, the year of Our Lord, was ushered in with the customary fanfare. People ate and drank and rose up to play, abandoning themselves to all sorts of bacchanalia. The pious among us nursed heady dreams and rosette aspirations, usually accompanied with supplication and fasting, all in a frenzied bid to pray down “Open Heavens”. By March, however, it had dawned on all of us, saints andsinners alike, that the Prince of Persia in the shape of China had unleashed a pandemic on the world, no thanks to a faceless but extremely dangerous virus later named Covid-19.
A shell-shocked world looked on as the city of Wuhanin China battled to arrest the spread of the blood-thirsty ogre. But the genie had escaped from the bottle and there’s no going back in again. In no time at all the Covid-19 bared its insensate and lethal fangs as it played havoc with hapless humankind scarcely differentiating between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, black or white. Its capacious maw depleted the earth as people fought to flatten the curve with the frenetic race to develop a cure or produce a vaccine for the virus gathered and is still gathering momentum. There was a global lockdown on the new coronavirus or the Covid-19 roamed everywhere, snuffing out lives at will with sadistic efficiency. Then the dreaded and dire statistics started rolling in China: the European Union, the UK, Spain, Italy, France, Asia, Latin America, the USA and Africa started counting their dead. And, there was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth across the world.
National governments established public health and safety protocols, requiring their citizens and residents to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), use face-masks, apply regularly hand-sanitizers, observe physical distancing, abstain from physical expression of love and affection such as handshake and hugging, among others. Public places such as offices, churches, mosques, schools, markets, bars, clubs, swimming-pools, rivers, beaches and stadiums were closed for months on end.
Unsurprisingly, a sepulchral hush descended on Planet Earth and nature returned to take its rightful place in the grand scheme of things. And she could breathe in clean fresh air without the risk of bronchitis or worse. Indeed, man’s loss was nature’s gain. Credit to Nigeria’s Task Force on the Covid-19 at the national level and the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Sanwo-Olu and others for doing their level best to combat the virus and impose a semblance of normality. Even so, people in Nigeria, nay – Africa writhed in the vice-grip of hysteria, paranoia and scaremongering as some doomsday seers, notably foreign donors and philanthropists forecast the death of black Africa by the millions.
The good news, however, is that it never happened. Folks died, yes, but nothing out of the ordinary. Why? God’s intervention? Prayer? Holy living? Or sheer luck, precautionary measures observed or our peculiar climate or diet? The jury is still out on that. But we’ve had, sadly, job losses, school closure a la ASUU strike action, capital flight, incessant price hikes due to the removal of the fuel subsidy and the full deregulation of the oil and gas sector. In 2020 alone, the federal government has jacked up the pump price of premium motor spirit, also known as petrol a record five times or thereabouts without any commensurate increment in the paychecks of the Nigerian worker.
What is worse, the #Endsars Protests and their unsettling after-effects have only exacerbated an already precarious and parlous situation. Thrown into this toxic mix is the calamitous cocktail of insecurity, insurgency, kidnapping, the endless reign of terror unleashed on both rural and urban centres by cult groups, armed robbers and allied social ills. Although life is slowly but surely returning to “normal” – or, to be more circumspect, new normal, the average Nigerian citizen is still very much afraid; yes afraid because of the aforementioned societal pathologies, afraid of the lurking virus that is still very much up and about, killing people; afraid of the thick pall of uncertainty hanging in the air owing to the essential fragility and brittleness of our togetherness as a country polarised along the fault-lines of ethnicism, regionalism, nepotism, religious strife and the fierce contestation over power at the centre.
There is, in fact, a sense in which everybody feels something will give any moment and what is lacking for it to happen at present is a catalyst in the form of words or deeds. It’s against this dangerously bleak and grim backcloth that we are forced to exit reality and immense our collective being in the sea of fantasy. First of all, we dream of waking up to the chimes of credit alert on our phones announcing the payment of the 13th month salary primarily for the celebration ofChristmas. Government also apologises to the citizenry for the untold hardship the hikes in the fuel and electricity tariffs have occasioned, making foodstuffs out of the reach of the so-called common–man. We dream that government has slashed the pump price of petrol significantly and crashed the cost of electricity supply to an unbelievably all–time low!
We dream of government opening warehouses across the country for the people to go and help themselves to bags of rice, beans, garri, millet, corn and cartons of essential products. We dream of transport fares for inter-state travel becoming very affordable for all and sundry, thanks to government intervention. We dream or fantasisethat our country is now free of insecurity, insurgency, violent crises and crimes and the like and everybody can move around without fear of being killed like a fowl or kidnapped. We dream, finally, that government and Labour have successfully hammered out a rock-solid Agreement on a Living Wage for the Nigerian worker and all children of school-age are to enjoy tuition-free education at all levels and government is truly and conscientiously committed to addressing ALL our socio-political and economic challenges in order to reinvent our collective future. We dream….oh, we dream, we dream, the happiest people on earth. Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
-Chris Anyokwu, PhD., Associate Professor of English, University of Lagos.