Excerpt | They Sang with a Thousand Tongues: The Poetry of Diversity

By Bayo Akomolafe

Excerpt from the Fall | Winter 2015 edition of Kosmos Journal

“I grew up learning that to speak like an American was to be privileged and superior. So I worked hard at disciplining the natural unwieldiness of my lips by using the ‘schwa’ sound—to pronounce a word like ‘father’ with the grace and poise becoming of a New Yorker, not with the ‘thickness’ of my own tongue.

I sat in the front of every class, desperate to please my teachers, raising my hand at the slightest suggestion of a question. You see, I was convinced in ways that needed little or no articulation that if I got myself educated, I could rise above the debris of my own bells-and-whistles culture and take my place in the constellation of the worthy… and that if I understood the irrefutable nature of things, I could find unmovable ground upon which I could build a real future for myself.

I remember responding to our pastor’s salvation call three times on a single Sunday. It was a pretty large church—so he wouldn’t have noticed the kid that waited behind for the subsequent services in order to be ‘thoroughly saved’ from his sins. Later, in the university, I would translate my hyper-religiosity into an ascetic quest for absolute certainty. My pursuit of absolute truth was so relentless that, as a psychology major, I read the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, tens of Bible concordances, books on quantum physics, chemistry, systematic theology, history, and Darwinian evolutionary theory. My goal was nothing less than claiming the final point of view—a truth so absolute that it shut the mouths of naysayers.

Of course, I need hardly mention that my experiments with discovering absolute truth failed—not because I did not try hard enough. It was a certain lust for life that did me in. It was an orphaned sunray that fell on my eyes; it was a moment by the seashore when the ingress of water leaves one grappling for words; it was the tears of a friend; it was love at first sight. It is in these moments that one realizes that the world is too large to be condensed to one language convention, too promiscuous to abide faithful to any one conception of it. For years I had frantically pursued the one perfect and coherent worldview, the correct answer, the final plot. Instead, I stumbled upon story and the quiet realization that truth is not enough. In the face of an incalculable diversity of cosmologies, knowledge, and realities, epistemic monism was no longer an option.”

Kosmos Journal subscribers have access to this complete article beginning November 4, 2015. 

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