Monday, July 19, 2010

The aristocrat of literary devices

 Maiba stands at the uppermost stations of imaginative literature as the aristocrat of literary devices. It ranks alone, unassisted and unequalled in the realms of figurative speech. Ultimately, its significance surpasses that which is symbolic and metonymic; that which is judged sublime and beautiful.

To get to those higher stations in figurative speech where maiba is, one needs to travel that long road starting at the basics of imaginative literature. These basic elements consist of technique and style or more precisely clever manipulations of language for no other purpose than to attract attention. Thenceforth, one progresses to the arena or domain of literary devices. Arriving at literary devices, one then notices a kind of highway leading skywards. But one has to start the climb at the bottom – which is the logical thing to do.

Before we begin that climb it is necessary to recall our previous storyboard article Redefining literary techniques and devices. In that article, some distinctions were drawn between techniques and devices, along with some definitions offered of each. But we did not provide an elaborate list of what are considered techniques and what are devices. Now opinions vary from one literary expert to another, but it is much simpler and less worrisome if we pay attention to the definitions provided in that previous article: literary techniques seek to please, whereas devices invite some thought.

Let us now quickly draw up that list. Firstly, our literary techniques; and these include the following: format, style of presentation or narrative mode, structure of story and plot, characterization, foreshadowing and build up of suspense plus, as in the case of sounds in poetry, alliteration, onomatopoeia, metre and rhyme, rhythm, repetition (of consonants and vowels), pun, even riddles and oratory, lilting or sing-song sounding words and stress on words or sprung rhythm such as those noted in the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Here we are dealing entirely with what pleases the ear and generally the human senses.

On the other hand, it is with literary devices that we begin that climb skywards, as it were, towards that which is symbolic as much as metonymic, and around which area also we find maiba. Thus, starting from the bottom up this is what the stratum of literary devices looks like: simile, metaphor, allusion along with animation and personification (consider George Orwell’s Animal Farm), symbol, metonym and, finally, allegory or maiba. It is immediately after metonym, at the highest level of this stratum, that we find maiba, the ultimate of allegorical utterances in literature.

Here are examples of how literary devices take shape from the bottom up:

1.      Our country is as beautiful as the bird of paradise (simile).
2.      Our bird of paradise (metaphor).
3.      The bird (symbol)
4.      The crest (metonym, as in carvings depicting the bird).
5.      Plumes (maiba, allegory).

Notice that once we utter the word “plumes”, we are at one and the same time referring to all of the devices listed above. Thus, plumes though appearing as a single word implies the following: Papua New Guinea is our country, and it is in this country that you find that rare species of the bird whose feathers (plumes) we use as headdresses in order to identify ourselves as dancers coming from that particular country. Just one word means all of that. And that is what maiba is.

And here’s the exciting part. At the beginning of this article we said that maiba ranks alone, unaided and unequalled in literary devices. That should not imply that it operates alone as a literary device. Rather, maiba moulds and shapes, defines, accommodates and nurtures all the other elements in figurative speech, both techniques and devices. Being the aristocrat of literary devices, its responsibilities in serving the purposes of both technique and device are enormous.

To quote Kwamra once again: “Kwamra offers the reader these two ingredients (techniques and devices) of imaginative literature, both happening all at once. And when that happens, when both technique and device converge as complementary if not “contemporaneous” components of aesthetic judgment in our consciousness, we know we are experiencing the true nature of maiba itself.”

As an allegory itself, maiba has been regarded in so many ways by readers and scholars alike. But almost all the critics and scholars who felt invited to know this Anuki word through the novel by that name seem to agree that its significance as a literary device, if not easily understood in the first instance, remains monumentally universal. Bill Ashcroft describes maiba as an “allegory without closure” and goes on to suggest that it offers “a frame work of open possibilities which are neither closed nor limited by the text.”  Some Western readers simply give up altogether by claiming that within the word maiba “impositions of meaning take place in such a provisional and tentative way that they serve to create a pervasive absence of stable meaning.” Good for them. Others mildly admit: “As a foreigner who knows neither the Anuki language nor Milne Bay Province, I can only approach maiba as an act of translation between distant worlds: a precarious journey indeed.”

It is all very well for a Papua New Guinean to boast of the fact that maiba might have been one of the best things that ever happened in PNG literature. But even the author himself seems worried at times that he might not have been too kind to his Western readers. Nonetheless, here’s the most exciting part of our storyboard article: a better way of understanding maiba as the ultimate in literary devices is to read the novel itself.

  To get to those higher stations in figurative speech where maiba is, one needs to travel that long road starting at the basics of imaginative literature.