Home HOW NOT TO LOVE ~ Olubunmi Familoni: A CRITIQUE

HOW NOT TO LOVE ~ Olubunmi Familoni: A CRITIQUE

I will do a critique that draws from multiple extant literature in the purview of any worthy scholar. I’ve taken my time, deliberately, to let my mind pick the very best themes that the short story communicates. I’ll stick to scholarly critique because Familioni requested me to do so. I’ll draw a link between capitalism, consumerism, psychology, and satire in post colonial fiction as presented in ‘How Not to Love

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The short story is a classic manifestation of distortions of reality and disturbances of thought and language. The distortion is of place and time, but the content draws the reader to the causes of the state and is not a parade of delusions – as would most certainly be the case in a psychiatrist’s patient sheet. Unknowingly, the reader is treated to a recount of ‘what happened’, while the narrator lies in his bed, the lover lies in a hospital bed. It is a dream-state recount; an expression of a circumstance happening on the other side of reality. The story is real; the setting need not necessarily be real, distorted. There is a link between “ I woke up and your are gone ” first paragraph and “I
don’t know how you got here” towards the end of the story. The intervening descriptions suffer a literary distortion of time and space, but the contents are brilliantly aligned.

It has been aptly stated that capitalism, especially consumerism, propagates superficial attachments that can easily be renounced and replaced by attachments to new products. It is therefore not strange that marketers work to ensure that consumers are dissatisfied with what they own. This is because enduring attachments would retard the quest for newer products. Marketers also work to ensure that we become dissatisfied with ourselves, so
that we can seek a new image and identity by accepting a new range of products. In essence, capitalism creates a situation where the
consumer owns something without actually possessing it since what is owned is a product of compulsive consumerism rather than the fulfillment of genuine need and desire. This constant quest for greater stimulation from consumer products to overcome
temporary boredom keeps consumers on the move.

Thus, even though Jimmy Choos stilettos: an iconic luxury lifestyle
brand, adorns her feet, she is far from being satisfied. She is a slave of compulsive consumerism and two neat rows of fancy footwear line the wall. Other products such as the ‘power Prada’, ‘Beemer ’, are representations of this compulsion. Peace, quietness, and stability are enemies of consumer psychology and capitalism. In there place are disorder and hyperactivity ( white-collar, suit-and-heels, thirteen-hour , six-zero -figure job in a Capitalist-fat , blue-chip company in the pulsating heart of
Marina’s glass jungle… )

Chris Williams in his book ‘Ecology and Socialism’ agrees that “the yawning imbalance between the capitalism- impelled mania to express happiness through external material wealth and
possessions and the internal fulfillment of genuine human needs leads to profound psychological conflicts of conscience” (p. 210) . This is because the capitalist system encourages focus on individual possession of commodities and by extension frustrates genuine human needs such as building fulfilling relationships with other people; if such needs cannot fit the capitalist commodity form that can be shaped, packaged, and sold for profit. In capitalism, everything – even leisure time, has to pass through the capitalist prescriptions of commodity.

(‘ Two-and-a -half minutes, please. I have work to do’. Time is money ). In an increasingly strenuous out-of-control existence, these influences translate into depression and psychological disorders. Interestingly,  the capitalist system has built another profitable enterprise – that of the depression drug industry, to treat the effects of its very existence. Thus, “then you began drinking, and
smoking (only socially initially, then, alone— hermetically). And you were laughing more, to yourself– – HA HA HA HA HA HA– –
measured, as if you were reading it. I joked about it- — “scripted laugh, speech-bubble guffaw.. .” It was funny at first. Then I began to get worried, when I found the pills. You said they were contraceptives. I knew you were “not in the right frame of mind for pregnancy or mothering yet.” So I believed you”.

Through the lens of available allegories, it can be stated that the
story satirizes capitalism through the underlying representations of
psychopathology. The story’s satiric force is founded on an initial desire to know how to love, to understand. Though genuine, this desire degenerates and succumbs to the concurrent pressures of capitalism. However, as a pure comfort, the status of satire in fiction has always remained ambiguous. While it may help psychologically, its worldly achievement is always difficult to measure. There is
a strong tradition in the history of satire of oppressed groups reserving the right to satirize their oppressors, regardless of any hope that doing so will improve their circumstances.

Other scholars such as John Snyder have been categorical that satire is an expression and an acknowledgement of defeat, despair, and lack of power. In his own words, he calls satire a “humiliating situation of powerlessness”. However, this should not be interpreted to mean that satire is worthless; rather in the short story it serves an aesthetic purpose. Functionally, it elicits pleasure and not power. Others such as Philip Pinkus assert that the satirist is a rebellious
fool who knowingly fights what he can never beat but who nonetheless symbolizes the struggle that makes life possible such as the will to live and the determination to overcome life’s chains.

In context, the author provides us with a character that shows distaste over material strapping that deny him the chance to know his love. He offers the mirror through which satire is projected. But rather than gaining power from such knowledge, he degenerates into a humiliating situation of powerlessness, despair, and defeat. He epitomizes the desire to unstrap the chains of capitalism, but is nothing more than a ‘rebellious fool’ fighting a system he cannot defeat. The net result is that the psychological disorder falls on them, rather than ‘their love’ and he becomes a patient of the capitalist doctor.

Interpretively, while the satire fails to serve a personal end, it creates a demand to be heard: it becomes a form of collective assertion. It is the latter purpose that the author hopes to achieve. Cultural assertion in the form of political and cultural oppression is
one of the central aims and achievements of post colonial literatures. In other words, Olubunmi Familioni’s short story links favorably with satiric themes as tackled by major post colonial writers such as Chinua Achebe and Salman Rushdie, among others.

To throw the net a little bit wider, the short story is consistent with Tolstoy’s theory in “What is Art?” which states that literature channels communal feelings to its audience. Never mind that the theory is a restatement of the arguments between Plato and Aristotle. Plato (Republic 606c -606c ) argued that in most cases literature channels all the worst, destructive feelings, and incites
psychological effects, while Aristotle (Poetics 1449b 24-28) was of the opinion that literature not only channels feelings of pity, but also
demand their carthasis. To Plato, art is a carrier of social disorder or disease that infects audiences with feelings of insurgency and a disinclination to suppress or resist them. To Aristotle, art is a carrier of cure for emotional excesses and infects its audiences with not only excessive feelings but also their purgation. The communal feeling in this story is one of depersonalization and the psychological disorder is a modern condition: a product of capitalist alienation as theorized by Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx.

But why LOVE? Why ‘How Not to Love’?

In my studies, I am yet to come across a book that honestly deals with the concept of love and capitalism like Erich Fromm does in the ‘Art of Loving’. Fromm (p. 72, 73) argues that “to love an individual living in any given culture depends on the influence of this
culture on the average person” .
Capitalism inhibits true love because it deprives the individual of his/her selfhood. Without this, one is incapable of loving. In capitalism, individuals lose their individuality to become expendable cogs in the capitalist economic machine. Capitalism demands conformity so that labor can be more efficient and resourceful
through collective effort. Conformity destroys individuality; a necessity for real love. Thus the, “modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men; and from nature.” They have been
“transformed into a commodity”, their life is an “investment which must bring back the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions.” This leaves the worker “pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anxiety and guilt.”Fromm points to Huxley’s Brave New World to show how close mankind is to a horrific fictional world when he states that man is “well fed, well clad, and satisfied sexually, yet without self.” One cannot love another until one loves one’s self. This is the base for all love, yet the truth is that
living in a capitalist society prevents people from loving one another
because one has no self to love.

Finally, within the interpretive lenses of historicism (a mode of thinking that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context, such as historical period, geographical place and local
culture), the story has been deliberately set in Nigeria. The mention
of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ plus the listing of fictitious creations “Miss Adebayo, Odenigwe, Kainene and Olanna, Ugwu…” justifies this placement.

With no self love, and ostensibly stuck to a hospital bed to suffer the torments of a psychiatrist’s probe, there are many things they do not know. He does not know how to love, because he cannot or they cannot. It is that simple.

© Richard M. Oduor

2011

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