Ben Okri on the mystery of reality

your story”secret source“Imagine a country that has somehow manipulated its water supply to make its citizens obedient to what the government proposes. How did you come up with this idea?

A number of conflicting motives led to this story. One is my friends’ sense that our reality has been manipulated. It is to some extent. Things are constantly being added to our water. In some countries, fluoride is added. Things are added to our food. Compelling reasons are given for this. But there are concerns about whether these add-ons are actually useful to us. Some authorities assert that fluoride can adversely affect the pineal gland. Descartes considered this gland to be the seat of the soul. Then I met many people who believe that many aspects of modern life are tampered with in order to make citizens more pliant. Their faith has an impact on their daily lives. I met people who felt the same about vaccination, including the doctor. One of those people recently died from the same thing he was refusing to protect himself from –Corona virus disease. Then it occurred to me to write a story about the consequences of believing something at a time when it seemed like the thing you feared came true. I wanted to explore what happens when reality becomes its own conspiracy theory. I am fascinated by the cognitive structures of the generation’s belief system.

Britain, where you live, is in a real drought at the moment. Did that provide some kind of miserable environment for writing this story?

This is the second time now that real life has hijacked one of my stories. It first happened withwrinkle in the world,” a story New Yorker Posted last year. At the time, it was all about masks. Now it comes to dehydration. In both cases, the stories were written before the events. I’m not sure what to do with this. The current drought will play a part in the story, and become a part of it. However, the story is not about drought but about something larger and more sinister, the manipulation of scarcity caused by a climate emergency and an indirect examination of why passivity is increasingly emerging as the default for the population. Is this normal or is it a cause? I don’t rate anticipating future events in fiction very much. The emergency prophecy is really a sideshow in the deadly dangerous game of literature. The purpose of a “secret source,” if one can speak of a purpose in an art as complex as a short story, is to reveal our uncomfortable truths and perhaps hint at our unexpected ability.

Your character Fisher, Venus, and their roommates are not affected by water in the same way as other people. why not? Why wonder, when the scientists and academics in the story don’t?

They are affected by water, which is why they can recognize that they are. Perhaps because of their young age, they have become more aware of their own darkening of their minds. They also tend to sideline things, which probably gives them an unconscious attitude of questioning. Furthermore, once they realized what was happening to them, they would break the first seal of the spell cast on them through the daily habit of water. In a book of poems I wrote about the new millennium, “mental fight“I spoke of the need to fight a spell against the dark magic that forcibly casts on us. How to break the hold of ideologies in our minds has been one of the topics that has occupied me for most of this millennium now. Without knowing it, Fisher and Venus represent an anti-spell generation, trying to free themselves from the lies that You imprison them, even if their attempt is fatal.

Fisher and Venus search for a “secret source” of pure, unpolluted water. At the end of the story, the possibility of finding one is left open; You are also letting go of the possibility that what is happening is a moribund hallucination. Why do you like this ambiguity as a writer?

The ambiguity must exist because reality itself is ambiguous. How can we find out? Do we know for sure that the air we breathe kills us with all its causes and pollutants? And even if we’re right, isn’t it also possible that our rightness is tragic? The deeper I look at the big questions in life, the more mysterious things become. Certainty is complicated by the unintended meaning of events. These meanings are constantly changing. It seems to me that reality is fully explained in the wave-particle ambiguity at the heart of quantum physics itself. As is the mind. In the story, both readings are correct at the same time. But it is you, the reader, who choose what is right for you. The great value of ambiguity is not avoidance but amplification of the intrinsic essence of reality.

Is there another possible explanation for the end?

There are many other possible explanations. There is an interpretation of the cup. There is a psychoanalytic interpretation. There is a generation. And of course there is the political dimension. I think, in these times, everyone dreams of a secret source – energy, truth and strength. It says something about the disillusionment that prevails in our world. Water in a story can represent many things. But I think symbolism is never as strong as when a thing is the thing it represents, when water symbolizes water. It is not what the water symbolizes, but the water itself. When we begin to perish due to the lack of the very thing, which nourishes language and provides the ultimate symbol of necessity, we are in fact in a difficult situation.

Should we read the “secret source” as an allegory? A cautionary tale? myth? Is it part of a story cycle or a group?

The story is a fragment of reality, an anecdote, a satire, a cautionary tale, an immaterial finger writing a warning on the wall, a cry in the dark, a good old piece of speculative fiction in an ancient tradition like Candide or the Decameron, tales we tell each other in the twilights of strange times.

It’s a piece of the sorts of writing I’m doing right now, like my next novel”The latest gift for professional artists“which reimagines life in Africa just before the slave trade, or my novel”freedom artist,” which was published a few years ago. The story itself will be in a collection of stories, poems and articles entitled “The Work of the Tiger”, which will be published next year and deals directly and indirectly with environmental issues. ♦

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