‘truth’ and chinua achebe

I was at a writing workshop last night and the talk switched to journalistic ethics, and notions of one’s own truth, and how this in turn impacts a story. No doubt this concept has enormous philosophical rammifications, so without getting all Foucault on your ass, I want to explore this.

History is defined by individuals and their ‘truth’. This has no doubt been impacted by power struggles and certainly imperialism. Indigenous stories are all too often left out of historical accounts of a state. This was certainly the case for myself as a child in Australia. The vast majority of history books spoke valiantly about Captain Cook ‘discovering’ the land, and convicts brought over on ships to start a new life on the land. It failed to account for the genocide of the Aboriginies, and subsequent injustices brought onto them by the white people.

Recent efforts by post-colonial writers have attempted to remedy this by ‘writing back’. I feel this is the most important act that indigenous cultures can do to fight back against their subsequent underdevelopment. To take back the narrative! Brilliant Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe recently wrote that it was the role of literature to make people question themselves and what they know to be true. He held that only literature which does this, is relevant.

                        Stories serve the purpose of consolidating whatever gains people or their leaders have made or imagine they have made in their existing journey thorough the world. 


                       For an African writing in English is not without its serious setbacks. He often finds himself describing situations or modes of thought which have no direct equivalent in the English way of life. Caught in that situation he can do one of two things. He can try and contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English or he can try to push back those limits to accommodate his ideas … I submit that those who can do the work of extending the frontiers of English so as to accommodate African thought-patterns must do it through their mastery of English and not out of innocence. Achebe 1972.

So this post has somewhat turned into one about Achebe. But who cares? He’s awesome. So I will continue…

                        We realize and recognize that it’s not just colonized people whose stories have been suppressed, but a whole range of people across the globe who have not spoken. It’s not because they don’t have something to say, it simply has to do with the division of power, because storytelling has to do with power. Those who win tell the story; those who are defeated are not heard. But that has to change. It’s in the interest of everybody, including the winners, to know that there’s another story. If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all. 2002.

Notions of truth in journalism are fascinating in terms of the impact they can have on ordinary citizens. Reporting facts after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the impact of asylum seekers on the state economy… every issue that is reported does so with a certain tone, a certain bias, motive. Wherever one stands politically can mean the difference of being depicted as a terrorist or freedom fighter.  Last night I was asked what my truth was, why I decided to write about certain things.. and I was clueless. I guess I write about things obviously because they interest me, but because I find them relevant. I dont know what my truth is.. does anyone?



~ by k-rock and l-jive on June 13, 2008.

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