Writing violence: Problematizing nationhood in Wole Soyinka’s A Shuttle in the Crypt
Wole Soyinka’s A Shuttle in the Crypt is a distillation of deep-seated anger against what he perceived as his “unjustified confinement” of twenty-five months by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon during the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970. Nigeria’s haunting, turbulent political history is approached from ostensibly mediation of fact and fiction rendered in poetry. Poems in this collection exteriorize Soyinka’s mind as it shuttles back and forth from life to death, fuelled by the fear of palpable death, and the knowledge that his fellow prisoners were dying slowly, unheeded by the prison authority. A Shuttle in the Crypt dwells on notions, conceptions, symbolic actions and relations lifted clean from their social, historical and literary contexts which are fused into an ideal worldview whose coherence is purely conceptual. This essay evaluates the intersection of history, literature and society, to examine the façade of nationhood as orchestrated by the political upheaval and internecine conflict, essentially moderated by the pulsation of Soyinka’s mind while in solitary confinement. It further examines the poetics of A Shuttle in the Crypt, as it underscores suspended fear of expression and the need to give expression to an ever greater pressure of grim experience in Nigeria’s chequered political trajectory.
Keywords: A Shuttle in the Crypt, Nigerian Civil War (1967–70), prison literature, Wole Soyinka.