In his essay Entropy and Energy: Lagos as a City of Words Chris Dunton compares the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the function of language in the conception of the realities of the fictive city of Lagos. He describes entropy as a measure of order as well as disorder .ie. as a universe (Lagos) expands so does the dispersal of energy that is entropy. He explains that “with entropy, beyond a point, the center cannot hold, just as in the modern fictive city it seems barely possible to identify any coherence-enabling character” (69). He uses this Law too, as a framework to explain how communication and information tends to be lost as disorder increases. While the novels written by the first generation were often simply a “chronicle” of life in Lagos, the work of the third generation of writers, like Chris Abani, emphasize the “possibilities for cognition and action,” and in particular the opportunities present in writing as a means “to assert a meaningful existence” (73). Word and any form of creativity, in light of Dunton’s exploration, enables a corrective or “potentially liberatory force” that can be employed against high entropy or disorder (76).

In Graceland – Lagos is presented as a shape-shifting universe full of varying levels of chaos. First, there is Lagos’ pluralism: Maroko, for one, is at once a mess of clapboard and wooden walkways against a pristine township filled with a profusion of flowers; Lagos is acknowledged as “two cities” with the reference to Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and as a place that simultaneously embodies “the best of times and the worst of times.” Then there is Lagos’ centripetal force (a drawing of energy toward itself): numerous characters drawn there, adding to the confusion. Elvis’ family leaves Afikpo, there is the Spanish elocutionary teacher who arrived in the 1920’s and never left and the residents of Maroko who don’t leave when the slum is bulldozed but complete a mass exodus further into the city. Even the main streets of the city extend only to converge at the center. And just as the city is in flux, residents are also seeking personal definition within the confusion. We’ve numerous composite characters: Oye, Elvis’ Nigerian-grandmother-witch-with-Scottish accent; Joshua Bandele who’s Jeeves-and-Wooster Englishness is bastardized by a Spanish accent and Elvis who is almost always flabbergasted by how quickly things changed or were never straightforwardly explained and consequently finds himself torn in two parts “each watching the other, each unsure” (242). There are many other examples of Lagos’ mutability.

However, one notes that as people move to new environments “the initial chaos becomes transmuted into recognizable patters” – for .eg. the original Maroko slum dwellers craftily resettle into other slums resuming old habits and lifestyles. Dunton attributes this resilience to “expressive initiatives” whether written, oral or physical (74). For Elvis, it is dancing; music (lyric) and reading that offer him ways to access knowledge and self-cognition. Through these modes, an idea can be documented, immortalized and hopefully resolved. And it is only with an official, written document – Redemption’s passport – that Elvis acquires the escape he needs. In addition, Dunton gives purpose to the opening and closing of the chapters: in the interspersing of traditional recipes/pharamacopeia and information on how the kola nut ceremony offers a way to negotiate dimensions/relationships, he posits, lies an “assertion of the therapeutic or corrective power of published knowledge” (74).

What do you think?

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About Staciay

Second year MFA Creative Writing candidate: Poetry track.

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