A Way of Being Free (2016)

As I was visiting London, (15-20th of July 2016), I started reading a magnificent book by the Nigerian poet and novelist; Ben Okri (1959-). The title of these photographies from London is basically inspired by his essays in; "A Way of Being Free", from 1997. In a way this project expresses the freedom and artistical enigma, that is uniquely ideosyncratic to the spirit of true London citizens, their mileus and their urban sceenery. This is the city where Okri spent his earliest years, because his father moved from Nigeria to London to study law. After a long stay in Nigeria, Ben Okri however returned to England in 1978 to study comparative litterature, at Essex University. When his scholarship fell through, he soon had to experience living as a homeless. Though, this life was not his to live; at the age of 21 he gained great success with his book "Flowers and Shadows", and he won the Booker Prize in 1991 for "The Famished Road". Anyhow; his brief experience with living as a homeless, is argued by Okri as being fundamental in shaping his future role as a poet and novelist. While this experience intensified his language and artistical expressions, it was mainly his Nigerian roots that influenced his view on reality:

"I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality: legends and myths and ancestors and spirits and death ... Which brings the question: what is reality? Everyone's reality is different. For different perceptions of reality we need a different language. We like to think that the world is rational and precise and exactly how we see it, but something erupts in our reality which makes us sense that there's more to the fabric of life. I'm fascinated by the mysterious element that runs through our lives. Everyone is looking out of the world through their emotion and history. Nobody has an absolute reality." (Okri in Sethi 2011).

I think his view on reality is fundamental; particularly considering the contemporary populism that riots England, and the world. We all have a potential to be free, if we accept that; "[n]obody has an absolute reality", and everyone in this world have their unique character, history, emotions and perceptions of reality worth protecting, exploring and understanding. In Ben Okri's; "A way of being free", a wonderful and magnificient manual in being free is presented by the novelist. This manual however comes with a warning: to accentuate the nature of being free, Okri contraposes freedom with multiple ways of becoming mentally dead; a blind alley nobody wants to be stuck in. Though, this proposition of freedom offers no mental death, it offers hope. This profound and lifesaving hope is accessible not just for poets and their artistical enigmas, but is also suggested as an ideosyncratic possibility within reach of all citizens of the world. If we accept all otherness and all diverse realities as a mysterious element or an enigma which enriches everyone's lives and; if we accept that it is the vast and comprehensive character of the human race, which makes us wiser, exhilirates and unites US, then peace is within reach; and not ultimately World War III.

We all have something to learn; genuinely Londoners are free; London is enigmatic!


Copyright ©. All rights reserved IART Ingrid Katrine Amundsen 2007-2018. (Do not reprint without premission).



Okri, B., (1997): "A way of being free". London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson: 1997; London: Phoenix House. Page 1-272.

Sethi, A., (2011): "Ben Okri: novelist as dream weaver", TheNational 1, September 2011.

Wikipedia (2016): "Ben Okri". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Okri (08.08.2016).