Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recognizing Manism: Understanding Ahmed Maiwada’s “Musdoki”.

A critical essay
Richard Ugbede Ali

“It is instructive that the first sexual encounter between Musdoki and Rita is a rape, and that it is not he who does the raping. Feminism as a philosophy revolves around the female’s possession of a vagina, that trump card that men do not have and the entire history of Feminist philosophy and the feminization movement is the securing by women of the exclusive use of their vaginas and enforcing the recognition of this exclusivity by men. The vagina is the philosophy’s real estate and its value depends on its being made selectively available to men, to other women, or being made unavailable completely.”

‘Masculinism’ is the correct term for the contrary of ‘Feminism’, but, unlike the latter, it has not achieved the ubiquity of a bromide yet and considering the sheer number of syllables it has, this writer will simply stick to ‘Manism’ – as a type, in literature, and society, he wishes to evaluate. The occasion for this is the publication of Nigerian poet Ahmed Maiwada’s first novel, titled ‘Musdoki’. ‘Musdoki’ is a 212 page coming of age novel revolving around Musa Maidoki, aka Musdoki, who we first meet as a teenager who has failed his examinations and who we leave, at the last page, as a lawyer in his thirties. It is divided into four chapters each comprising three, fourteen, seven and three ‘verses’ respectively, no doubt that jargon being used as a bow to the author’s first being a poet. Promptly noticed and immediately pondersome is the author’s note on page four which reads; “This story shall be misunderstood”, more would be realized about this later. Suffice now to speak briefly on the content of his chapters.

Chapter one presents us with Musdoki, a football loving lad from Zaria emirate who, having failed his school cert examinations has moved to Birnin Kebbi to make it up, living with his elder brother with who we gather he has a testy relationship. In this chapter he meets the shadow character and villain of the novel, Rita, at a bus park and Maiwada swiftly establishes the conflicts between them. Musdoki has a young northern Nigerian’s superstitions and Rita from the start embodies an element of unreality or supra-reality. Musdoki at the very first and for a long time after speculates whether or not she is a ‘djinn’ – a malevolent, superhuman, but not necessarily evil spirit. Rita, a ‘half-caste’, determines to marry and settle down with Musdoki and she tempts him severally in this chapter with his dreams and with her body. Chapter two starts five years after Musdoki unceremoniously rids himself of Rita at Birnin Kebbi by the method of an ineffectual escape. By now he has grown more sophisticated and is making his first journey away from northern Nigeria, to Lagos where he is to attend the Nigerian Law School and take the Bar qualification examinations. Of course, he runs into Rita, only this time she is called ‘Christine’ – a Francophile who attaches herself to him with the dedication of jealousy all through his stay in Lagos. One of his earliest ‘bargains’ with Christine is to allow him time to pass his Bar exams and this is symmetric with an earlier ‘bargain’ he had struck with Rita at Birnin Kebbi – to let him pass his school cert before deciding one way or another on their relationship. The rest of this chapter shows what happens as he reneges on this ‘bargain’ and how Christine, amidst metaphysical machinations that give the novel its feel of magical realism, tries to enforce her ‘bargain’. All this is done amidst the stunning backdrop of Lagos in the early 1990’s portrayed with a loving and knowing realism. Notable in this chapter is Musdoki’s flight from Lagos amidst the political tensions and anti-‘Hausa’ riots following the annulment of the 1993 elections by a northern Nigerian military dictator, Musdoki’s escaping death by the whiskers severally and Ahmed Maiwada’s success in painting a true-to-reality picture of the fractionizing tendency within northern Nigeria. When Musdoki is abandoned by his fellow northerners with whom he has tiptoed out of the snapping jaws of a southern Nigerian death on their discovery that Musdoki is not a Muslim, this writer as a northerner, and as any Nigerian, feels how well Maiwada mines the complexity of identity in northern Nigeria and finds for it against the simplicity of stereotype. Chapter three finds our Musdoki as a successful young barrister in Lagos and it revolves around the “loss of his yahoo”, a euphemism for the disappearance of his penis, an event which occurs on a Lagos afternoon. We are also introduced to Maiwada’s last important character, Iyabo, the Yoruba girl with the inimitable manner of English pronunciation who becomes Musdoki’s ally in the matter of the recovery of his potency and who, in time, becomes his wife - after which she is untidily killed by Ahmed Maiwada. Whether this chapter succeeds or not, it does contain some of the most hilarious actions in the plot, matching those in the brief first chapter. Rita/Christine, who, though suspected of the curious disappearance in the last chapter, does not make a physical appearance, shows up in Chapter four in a last bid attempt to enforce her claim on Musdoki – this time, in desperation possibly, by causing his death. Ahmed Maiwada here seeks to resolve the conflict begun in Birnin Kebbi between his Feminist and Manist archetypes; Chapter four is a Rita/Christine versus Musdoki showdown.

Feminism, described simply, is a philosophy that recognizes differences between men and women based on an inequity of rights and consequent realities, this resulting from their physical differences, and which has its objective as the reversal of this inequity by achieving complete equality between the sexes – and then some. I have added the phrase ‘and then some’ as being logical, for if any philosophy is to succeed it must go beyond accommodation and acceptance, it must thrive. In this case, a reversal of gender roles is the silken grail of Feminism. Partisans of this philosophy have used all tools at their disposal, ranging from propaganda literature to affirmative action on to gender discrimination, in order to achieve this. Perhaps a measure of their increasing efficacy is the oft heard concern over what some men have called in several ways ‘the feminization of men’ and ‘the masculinization of women’ - the increasing number of male wimps and female supermen respectively. It would seem, bromide or no bromide, that the Feminists are pushing their agenda to the fore, they are, increasingly, getting exactly what they have stated they want – and then some. It is in this respect that we consider Ahmed Maiwada’s principal female character(s) as Feminist in a bid to clearly locate his own contra-Feminism, his own Manism.

Maiwada’s antihero, Musdoki’s foil, is the green-eyed girl Rita who becomes Christine and then becomes Rita again. Is she a Feminist? Consider her first appearance; “I had real company – a midget girl at my left side with tan skin, flashing dazzling cornrows at me in a familiar smile. Her lips were full, forged with red-hot steel. . .frozen matter packed my veins, sparked by her black, four-inch fingernails. . . ; her diminutive size amplified by the tight fitting lime T-shirt and brown jeans she wore” {page 7}. Quite correctly, Musdoki suspects she is not female, or even human – and he immediately begins a surreptitious search for hooves as opposed to feet, a clear marker of the aljanu {djinns}. She shocks Musdoki, the male archetype, with her almost absolute self possession, from cornrows to black fingernails to the tight-fitting lime green T-shirt. She, a ‘half-caste’, has run away from her father who she is tormenting for ‘killing her {British} mother’, again establishing the rallying us-against-them theme of Feminist philosophy. Rita, contrary to gender roles in northern Nigeria or anywhere for that matter, attaches herself to Musdoki and he is unable to get rid of her – she courts him assiduously. Pages later, Rita says; “You see? So, what do you say? Do we run away together? We could start our own home” (page 20), offering to steal the money they need – Rita wants Musdoki and nothing is going to stand in her way to getting him. Again, a reversal of gender roles. Musdoki stands against her from the start, even when she tempts him with a football playing career in the UK if he gives in and becomes hers; Musdoki piques her by not taking sexual notice of her, introducing the important element of sexuality being a deal at worst struck between men and women at some unspecific point between them. Musdoki wonders; “What did she want from me, anyway, whoever or whatever she might be?” and after another bid to insulate himself from this attacking Feminist by locking her up in a room, this is what ensues;
“Rita did not speak to me. With fury in her sleepy eyes {sic}, she grabbed my arm instead. Then she dragged me back to the bedroom, turned off the light, shut the door and pushed me on the bed.
‘Tonight,’ she asserted, ‘you must die from this something in me that you’ve been running from.’ She wrapped her frail arms around me as tight as she could and said, ‘I’ll offer Thanksgiving next Sunday if you’re dead by morning.’”
It is instructive that the first sexual encounter between Musdoki and Rita is a rape, and that it is not he who does the raping. Feminism as a philosophy revolves around the female’s possession of a vagina, that trump card that men do not have and the entire history of Feminist philosophy and the feminization movement is the securing by women of the exclusive use of their vaginas and enforcing the recognition of this exclusivity by men. The vagina is the philosophy’s real estate and its value depends on its being made selectively available to men, to other women, or being made unavailable completely. Yet, in spite of his rape, Maiwada’s Musdoki still gets rid of Rita unceremoniously the very next day and by this act concretizes the contra-Feminism of Ahmed Maiwada. This contra-Feminism presents that men are not particularly interested in women’s vaginas any more than that it is a physical sexual fact which no woman chooses to have or not to have, that, consequently, men will not recognize female power if it is based on something they had no choice in possessing and, finally, that in the absence of complementarity, men can do without women quite as well.

Rita returns five years later as the character Christine, this time in Lagos where Musdoki is a law student. She makes her entry from the very first and he notices her in the phrase; “When she spoke it was neither good nor bad, but French” (page 36). We begin to suspect that Christine is really Rita when from their first meeting she takes off to steering Musdoki’s destiny away from practicing law upon his graduation, she says; “I have a better option for you: you can work in an embassy or at a foreign mission if you wish” (page 37) and further amidst cultural innuendoes “Why are you quiet? You don’t like the options? You seem like one who cannot take an independent step. Look I’m going to settle into a similar job soon. You’ll see how comfortable you will become. I promise you” {page 37}. She offers an escape from the country, just as Rita had, “I have the connections to plug you in. We’ll pick the country of our choice, like France. . .listen, you and I can live in Europe and settle down together” (page 38) and quite logically Musdoki muses, “My mind went back five years as she reminded me of Rita, of whom I thought Christine should hear, hoping to warn her. . .” and further like Rita, Christine extracts a promise of sorts from Musdoki only this time her metaphysical-morphism is confirmed – Mudoki is bleeding from a cut from a kitchen knife and she promptly cuts her own thumb and joins it to his in that ageless blood ritual well known to Africans, and she says;
“Suck mine. . .Prove that you are not afraid of adventure. . .Go on and prove me wrong!” She succeeds in sharing her blood with him, then Musdoki; “I heard her guffaw at the door, saying: ‘Congratulations!’” (page 40)

There is little doubt that Rita/Christine are Feminist archetypes and that they have an agenda, to mold Musdoki’s fate in a certain way, to do everything to control his choice by narrowing his ‘options’ and that such a trifling matter as gender roles are absolutely unimportant in their achieving this. This, set against Musdoki’s stance, is the central conflict of the novel. And what is Musdoki’s stance? We must consider his responses. To Rita in Birnin Kebbi, replying her offer to elope, he says no; “My family’s injured pride. I am afraid it will continue to haunt me no matter what success I hit in life, that I failed my exams. . .Rita, I like the whole idea. But why don’t we talk about this some other time, maybe; next year when I’d have redeemed the broken pride?” establishing his stance quite early as being a partisan of traditional male gender roles which revolve simply around one word: ‘self-determination’. Musdoki wants the world and his future on his own terms, not on any one else’s terms and not in the least way on Rita terms. Where the possibilities are not on his terms, one suspects, it would have to be on terms that he actively participates in crafting. Musdoki is unafraid to say no, whether the bait is a football career in the United Kingdom or French expatriate life. Consider again Christine; “Let us say I am in a position to know things beyond my knowledge (sic). I have the power to know things that ordinary people like you won’t. And it makes me feel special. I have that in addition to money. All those are the things I’ve been battling with you to accept, offered on a platter of gold. Do you know how many people will do anything for half the opportunity you are refusing to take?” (page 53) and her piqued “That is your favourite word, isn’t it? ‘No’. . .Why? What is it that you don’t like. . ?”(page 67): We can assess Musdoki’s praxis by his response to her offer of a job at an ultraliberal magazine, with global fame and a Nobel Prize being the bait this time, he states; “Inspiration without responsibility is what you call that kind of writing. . .One can be inspired only to a certain level. I am no different from the others. But after the inspiration, I wake up to my responsibility and tamper with the inspiration wherever it conflicts with my responsibility to the society” (page 78) and “I don’t see myself writing about absolute freedom when I don’t believe any such thing does or should exist” (page 79).

In considering what ‘Manism’ is or is not, I hasten to remind that while Manism is contra-Feminist, it is not anti-Feminist. In understanding this, let us think, using a historical model, that both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation were aspects of Catholicism as a fact and a faith; no matter how opposed each may have seemed, both were twins of the same parent, germs of the same tree. Each successful philosophy significantly overturns the social system before it until it reaches its peak and begins to decline at which point another ideological wave grafted in its belly tides in, modifies what it wills and dashes what is left of the former to the rocks – such is the story of human intellectual dynamism, responsible for what Darwin has called ‘natural selection’. Darwin is important, to be stressed; all men and women alive today are alive because they have the best adapted brains, exactly alike in all respects, arrived at at the end of a process of evolution. We are the triumphs of Brain and Ego. It is the opinion of this writer that Feminism as a social theory has come about as far as it can go and an indication of this is the distinct presence of such an ideological strain as Manism, as extracted from Ahmed Maiwada’s ‘Mudoki’. The current gay-rights debate really is Feminism in its last throes. Manism is rooted simply in gender self-determination. It accepts gender differences as facts; it rejects gender discrimination as being a practice peculiar to the male gender. But, the chief thing about Manism is that it recognizes the place of the Ego above and beyond all. Gender differences are accepted because no one chooses to either be male or female, definitely not the males or females in question; the Ego in men and women is recognized for it represents a conscious interpretation, a conscious act, for the reason that it is definitive. Cogito, ergo sum. Cartesian thought, which is the context of Philosophy, achieves its most perfect clarity in Manism for Manism sees human history as the long story of conscious choices made by Egos and the Ego is, of course, omnipotent.

This neatly explains why even in the most ‘backward’ of cultures, there have been dominant women, such as Queens Amina and Idia, both well used by our Feminist dramatists; they were dominant not because they did not have vaginas or to the contrary, that they had penises, but because they had cultured an affecting Ego for themselves. In consequence of this, these women led men quite in the same way certain men lead other men and in context, have led many women. Manism extends the basis of the male-female debate, reaching it to its lowest common denominator which, contrary to the popular thought of the last fifteen decades is not a basic gender difference but a basic mental equality.

Ahmed Maiwada’s fiction points this writer to the end of Feminism as we know it and the rise of its successor. It is, perhaps, the star above the Jewish Prophet’s crib. This is the thematic subscript beneath Maiwada’s novel, the subscript that could be easily missed and hence ‘misunderstood’, and in spite of the novel’s numerous instances where any critic could put the author embarrassingly to task, a job I have little doubt other critics will do, I think it is important to highlight this understanding.

 Further, the rise of Manism is not just in the realm of fiction for social corroboration of this fact is increasingly coming to light. A recent TIME magazine story chronicled the rising number of women who give up their demanding corporate careers in order to bear children and take care of them, while their husbands work to pay the bills, household activities being shared on some agreed upon basis. This was Feminist anathema as lately as the mid 1980’s. But this, in essence, is Manism; that you are female, I am male, you need me, I need you, let us intelligently agree on the terms of our engagement, let us be complementary and see how far we can make this work. This writer has also noticed a rising number of men quite willing to stay at home and look after their children while their wives pursue degrees or jobs – even if in a majority of these cases, these men have jobs at which they can and do work from home. I personally know a number of African men who look after their kids while their wives undergo MA’s and PhD’s. We have also found corroboration of the existence of the germ of Manism in Feminist prose, in Alice Walker’s no less. This writer has little doubt that Ms. Walker would deny his reading of her book ‘Temple of My Familiar’. In one of the central character Lizzy’s trans-physical ‘travels’ within a fluid Time, she recounts an original state of affairs where men and women were separate ‘communities’ who came together for what was needed and stayed apart when that was done. Though, in that instance, Ms. Walker could not help infusing her personal sense of the tragic and of an aging Feminist’s blame-the-men-and-get-the-labyrisis recourse, we see clearly that History in its circularity is coming around yet again and in its nature, it will be recognized by only a few. Men are men, women are women, there is no intellectual disability suffered by either of them, they both have competent Egos, they are separate, insular, but possibly complementary.

As for Maiwada and his ‘Musdoki’, how does the story end? Well, it goes on first. I have said earlier and will restate that I am in this brief essay uninterested in a detailed criticism of other aspects of Maiwada’s fictive successes and failures, this being the task of other critics or a subsequent essay. I will not comment, therefore on the doubtful efficacy of Maiwada’s writing in the chapter dealing with Musdoki’s emasculation, but I shall speak on the relatedness of this to the theme and the philosophy of Manism. In the novel, the now successful Barrister Musdoki loses his penis in a course of sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious situations and we find that Rita/Christine is behind this as well. This concretizes the idea; the scorned woman tries to emasculate the insensitive lover or, on another level, seeks to destroy completely the man who refuses to be female, that is, to ‘be’ on her own terms, done in this case, by removing his obvious ‘maleness’. Yet, being male, and being a Manist, is tied intricately to possessing a penis, just as being female, and being Feminist, is tied intricately to possessing a vagina. The ones in between these two are truly the unfortunates, for there is no philosophical groove in which to fit them. The good news, at least for Musdoki, is that he does eventually recover his penis, and his Manism.

In the last chapter, he, on his way to Kaduna from Lagos, picks up a hitchhiker who is, of course, Rita/Christine and this time she tries to physically kill him. Yet, for this agenda, she does not succeed. Musdoki’s near-death is followed by Rita/Christine’s confession of all her machinations and of her failure at them and she reaches the rock-bottom truth about her self, that if their relationship is continued with her persisting in forcing her terms, what would be left for her would be self-immolation, a course which she is about to choose. The dialogue that ends the novel is;
RITA: I can only live for you and nothing else. But you are hedging, as always.
to which Maiwada scripts Musdoki saying;
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, patting her frail and smooth arm. “Today is the day when all walls shall fall, including my own walls of resistance.”

In this way, a tenable complementarity is established between the two antagonists.

Manism demands that men and women be seen at their basics and that physical differences un-chosen by either should not be this basic. It places the basis at the pedestal of intellectual equality and conscious self determination. While it is a contra-Feminist philosophy, it is not anti-Feminist; it may be considered post-Feminist. As with all philosophy, only time will tell whether or not it shall endure. But, at this point, we must not stint from commending Ahmed Maiwada for writing what is sure to be an important book, the sort requiring serious and detailed critical study on many levels. And what is more, it may just be at the start of both a new philosophy of writing and of life.

Dadin Kowa Village
Jos, Nigeria.
May 2010.

Richard Ali is editor of the literary magazine and Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Plateau State chapter. Contact: .