Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka has shared insights into how he has maintained his mental well-being over the years.
Soyinka revealed this during an interview with Turkish journalist Aysegul Sert in Paris, and excerpts from the conversation were published in an article on LitHub on October 19, 2023.
When questioned about his vitality at 89, Soyinka admitted to having no precise answer but acknowledged the need to decelerate. He mentioned that whenever he attempted to slow down, unforeseen events occurred, propelling him back onto the active path.
“I have no idea,” he sighs. “I should be slowing down, I know, but each time I try to slow down something happens, and I have to get on the trail again,” the literary icon noted.
Soyinka added that he struggles to turn his back on a situation, noting that doing so results in a loss of inner tranquility for him.
“You see, I am deprived of that sense of inner tranquility once I turn my back on a situation. Quite frankly, I think it’s a flaw, because I am depriving myself of something which I know I need profoundly.
However, he said he had kept his sanity over the years by what he calls, “extracting myself from the world”. According to him, if he didn’t manage to have some quiet in his mind, he would have gone crazy years ago.
“If I didn’t manage to have some quiet in my mind, I’d have gone crazy years ago, so it’s a question of extracting myself [from the world] whenever I can.
“It means depriving oneself of what one feels is pleasurable,” he explains. “You have to battle for your creative space, battle for it! Extract yourself whenever you can and be thankful for it, and just carry on waiting for the next opportunity to gratify your innermost instinct to disappear, and do not sacrifice it.
“If you can manage to balance the two [the activism and the writing] that’s OK, but if you find that you are being tortured internally then be quiet, just close the shop, run and go.
“I know it’s unbelievable but I really just prefer my peace of mind; I like to sink myself in a truly tranquil environment, which I find mostly in the forest … But, if between getting out of your house and getting into the forest you encounter something unacceptable on the way then that becomes a problem, and you cannot just enjoy what you really want until you have dealt with what you just saw.”
Asked again whether that meant he never intended to become a writer engagé, Soyinka said a resounding no, adding what matters to any writer is their honesty, the fact that they are presenting a different view and opening up possibilities.
“No! Never!” he replies, without skipping a beat. “I don’t know,” he shrugs. “One shouldn’t expect literature to be committed. It is sufficient that a writer opens up possibilities.
“The fact is that something is being presented, a different view is presented, that’s what matters. The writer must be honest, if you have a bad temperament—of confrontation, of poking your finger in the eye of power—then by all means do so but if you do not don’t feel useless, don’t feel like you are betraying literature. You are writing, that’s your mission, that’s your métier; exploit it in whatever direction it leads.”