Aaron Brady in New Inquiry:
If you didn’t see it on twitter on facebook a few days ago, you may have seen it somewhere like Buzzfeed: Chinua Achebe has died again. First in 2013, and then again in 2015. First as tragedy and then as farce.
These sorts of things happen, a bit like forest fires. You can track down the place where it started if you want—as the novelist Porochista Khakpour did here—but to understand and predict a forest fire, you need to pay attention to why there was so much dry flammable material waiting for a spark. That spark is eventually going to come, but the fire only goes “viral” if there’s something there to burn.
With Achebe, there was something there to burn. While Facebook and Twitter are excellent vectors for this kind of misinformation, Chinua Achebe is the sort of writer who would die twice. For one thing, he’s a hyper-canonized writer whose sainthood outstrips his actual literary currency: because he is more deeply revered than he is deeply read, one can fall easily into the orthodox reaction to news of his passing—gestures like #RIP—without the encumbrance of a personal relationship to the author himself getting in the way. To a great many people (particularly non-Nigerians), the ideaof Chinua Achebe means a lot more than does the actual writer himself. Their experience of him is socially mediated, and socially mandated: his books are praised, assigned, and mythologized. Sometimes they are also read, but not as often as you’d expect.