In the beginning, before time, there was nothing; nothing but the word or should I say the Logos - the great all-knowing mind. Through the timeless ether, this mind drifted, and eventually, came the word “let there be light”. And so it was, light. Out of nothing, a universe and an earth. It is written that the word pronounced the parting of land from sea, the sprouting of green from the ground, and of course, the emergence of beasts, wild and domestic. Lastly, there was the forging of man - from the clay of the earth a body, and with the breath of the divine One, a soul. They named him Adam, and called his home the Garden of Eden.
I would love to carry on with this tale of time, but my guess is that you have heard it before, maybe even read it yourself. It isn’t exactly hard to locate the book of Genesis. It is after all, the first book of the Holy Bible. And if you are into linguistics, you might have guessed the word “genealogy”, which represents tracing from the beginning, is related to Genesis for good reason. So yes, the idea of Genesis was to give an account of the metaphysical origins of the universe as we know it. And it has survived from as early as the Torah - and yes, some still argue that the word To-rah is derived from the Egyptian and Kemetic concept of Ra (the deity associated with the sun and symbolised by an eye). The idea being that the sun reveals for the eyes to see. And Google it, Torah actually means “revealed”. So where am I going with this?
The idea of fantasy was borne first as folklore, rooted very well in many African traditions sadly lost to colonisation. These were stories told to illustrate a truth that is not literal, but metaphorical. Sadly, in the name of religion, and control, these stories were packaged as literal, and our lack of understanding of the power of allegory has left us confused as to what to take from them.
After the Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe (17th - 19th century), which didn’t cast enough light to shine on the ills of slavery, colonialism or race supremacy, there was an unspoken taboo on fantasy expression. As some of you might know, the cornerstone achievement from the Era of Enlightenment was the separation of church from state and the rise of atheistic thinking. This was reflected a lot in art via the classical movement. So while Africans were still in touch with the more imaginative parts of the mind, making art that had a rather spiritual quality, the West doubled down painting and sculpting to mirror material reality.
By the turn of the 19th century, it became evident to a lot of European scholars that the rational and material worldview was only one half of the picture. To this tune, Friedrich Nietzsche declared in his book that God was dead and that man will pay heavily for this. He did not mean a literal God, he meant that the rationality of the West had completely cut them off from intuitive reflection. They were now physical people with no spiritual connection to their existence. Carl Jung, Sigmud Freud’s contemporary also shared these concerns, but as a serious academic, he was afraid of losing face for talking about anything “spiritual” as it would be regarded as fantasy and unintelligent in this hyper-rational world.
To avoid this label, he waited till he established quite an illustrious career before he wrote what many consider to be his most interesting book, The Red Book. This book like Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, read more or less like religious writing in a revelatory manner. The books did little to explain the content logically, and they were heavy with symbolism like you would find in the Bible’s book of Revelation. Today, among Western intellectuals like Jordan Peterson and the YouTuber, Uberboyo, the call for a return to accepting fantasy as an imaginative dimension capable of providing real information is making a comeback. Oh, may I add that Carl Jung among his many visions also predicted the second world war in Europe. Sadly, because he had only his inution and dreams, no one believed him. He was instead labelled schizophrenic and paranoid. There is a school of though that perhaps schizophrenia is what happens when the intuitive mind takes over and projects its imaginations as reality, but that is subject for another post.
(Image from the Red Book)
Meanwhile, on this side of the globe, as we continue to soak ourselves in the colonial juice making the task of finding a publishers for fantasy as tasking as looking for a needle in a pack of other needles. We cannot see that the West already moved to feed the fantasy element on their population through comics and a host of books like Harry Potter, The Wheel of Time, and even Game of Thrones. Or you think it is a coincidence that Superman, Captain America and Spider-Man all wear blue, red and a dash of white like the American flag? You think the symbolic representation is lost on the artists?
Fantasy utilises imagination to speak to us in a manner that no literal story or essay will ever be able to. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Big Bang Theory, but would you rather read about cosmological inflation theory and the likes to really understand it, and then have to read about evolution to situate life on earth - I’m talking about from self-assembling molecules, DNA replication and the works. For nerds like myself, we study these things because we think them fun and need it for the work. But for the average citizen that needs to be oriented towards some concepts, the story of Adam and Eve will always be a winner. Not because it relates a literal truth, but because it relays a metaphorical truth. A metaphor for the creation of a universe from nothing (Big Bang) and for the emergence of a conscious creature we call man (Evolution).
We can see prophetic works in George Orwell’s 1984 as cameras now have AI programming to track faces and the social media algorithm can predict crimes even before they are committed - thought crime. Space travel was first explored in Sci-fi, and Nikola Tesla predicted the rise of the Internet stating that a time will come when a man on a fishing boat may gather music and images from a device on the boat. There is so much power in our imagination, so much intelligence in our intuitive mind. It is about time we remember who we are and begin to reconnect to the intuition of our forefathers dulled by colonial enforcement of material thinking. It is this material thinking pattern that doesn’t let us understand the difference between allegory and literary text, it is what makes us consider the world through a strict binary categorizing lens. We already have the keys to these chains, we only need to tell our stories - stories that go beyond reporting and exploring the African condition. Stories that reimagine, stories that will allow our children dream in ways material reality will never permit.