There is a wide expanse of ground common to literary criticism and cognitive science; thus, there is no need doubting the fact that the search for knowledge is a cooperative exercise which interdependence of disciplines seeks to achieve. This type of cooperation has contributed immensely to research and has expanded the frontiers of knowledge since no discipline is an island.
Intrigued by the widening of cognitive studies into literary and cultural studies, Richard Hoggart, author of the Classic, The Uses of Literacy, says “it must be centered in literary studies because that’s where you learn a real discipline of criticism and reading.
A major domain in cognitive science is that which is associated with social cognition, or the mode of knowledge both shaping and being shaped by social experience. Habila’sMeasuring Time not only reflects but support or enables processes of social cognition. Social cognition as pointed out by Herman, involves problem-solving strategies used to manage the problem of other minds. Simply put, it involves the processes, by which humans attribute mental states, property, thoughts, desires, intentions, and dispositions to other people and to themselves, (Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies, 151).
Possibilities for Mind-reading in Measuring Time
We may open this analysis with a seemingly meaningless question – Why did Auntie Marina skip the unhappy aspects? When Auntie Marina, in Measuring Time, narrates to the twins the event of their mother’s death which is also the event of their birth, the novel records that she “never dwelled too much on the unhappy aspects of the story; she had a light touch, skimming and flying over the surface, always aiming for the folktales, happy reversals of fortune and resolutions” (15). How do we know that this skipping of the unhappy aspect is to be accounted for by Marina’s desire to draw sympathy for the beautiful but sickly mother of the twins who has passed away?
As a particularly attentive reader of Measuring Time, one could patiently explain that Auntie Marina’s skipping of the unhappy aspects of the events has been occasioned by the desire to portray Tabita in a positive light such that we become sympathetic towards her and not Lamang, her uncaring husband, who as it is obvious marries her because of “the financial benefit of such marriage” (14). Habila would have told us so. He wouldn’t have left us under the impression that Marina’s account betrays her sympathy for the poor Tabita. But writers have been using what certain characters say about other characters to inform us about their feelings since time immemorial. This is Habila’s experimentation with our mind reading capacity. Interestingly, Marina uses a theory of the mind to impute a triumphal heavenward journey to Tabita who died fifteen months after her wedding. The novel records: “The sound of thunder that roared outside as Tabita’s spirit left the room became angels’ trumpets welcoming the ascending spirit; the furious flashes of lightning became guide angels’ torches lighting the path to a new celestial home” (16). Marina’s account here is nothing but an attempt to make us believe that Tabitha is too blameless to have gone to hell instead of heaven.
Consequently, Auntie Marina, while watching the wedding photographs with the twins, would look at their mother and repeat over and over: “See how she smiles happily” (19). One could explain this as her way of making the twins, especially Mamo who inherited his mother’s blood disease, to feel that in spite of the sickle-cell anaemia, he can still be happy as the mother seems to be. This, of course, is a strategy to solve the problem of another mind. Measuring Time, like Habila’s other novels, demands that we process the complexly embedded intentions of the characters, configuring their minds as represented by other minds, whose representations may be subjected to various interpretations. The sickly Mamo himself confirms Auntie Marina’s intention to make him feel that all hope is not lost which we deduce when he comes to think that “it was these stories that kept him alive.” He imagines the stories insinuating themselves into his veins, flushing out the sickle-shaped, haemoglobin-deficient red cells that clog the nodes in his veins and cause his joints to swell painfully (19). Yet as the twins become older, doubts creep in as they see in the wedding picture that the glow on their mother’s cheek hid an incipient dark tinge of sadness and apprehension (19).
Also, with a character like Mamo, the cognitive mechanism which evolves to process information about thought and feelings of human beings is constantly alert right from his childhood, checking out his environment for cues that fit his impute capability. Thus as soon as he learns to read, Mamo builds a narrative around the words engraved on a blue plastic plaque above the living room door – Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation (57). The novel records:
Mamo had built a narrative around the words on the plaque: he’d imagine a famished, ghostly Christ hovering unseen as the family ate, occasionally stretching a nail- scarred hand over a family member’s shoulder to pick a piece of chicken, or akara, from a bowl (56).
From the above quotation, we can infer the mental state of a young sickly child with immense creative capability and with a potential for a rich array of intentional stances. As he grows up, Mamo’s mental alertness is noticed by his uncle, Iliya, who looks the young man directly into the eye and speaks: “You have a very good mind. It is up to you to do what you want with it. You can also go on a journey, like your brother, but a journey into your own mind. You’d be surprised at the things you will discover” (85). The uncle ends up offering Mamo a job as a teacher of history at the community school, an offer which the young man accepts.
We are told that while in the staff room, “Mamo would recede into his mind, to build an invisible wall between himself and the rest of the room. One of the ways he did this was by developing elaborate imaginary stories around people and events. He called it the ‘what if’ game. His favourite subject was the poet, Okigbo. He’d say to himself: what if the poet isn’t really dead? What if like uncle Haruna, he simply wandered away from the battle field? What if he and uncle Haruna wandered away from the battlefield together…? He remembers how his uncle had once mentioned the name Chris. What if it was actually Chris Okigbo he was referring? Through the use of theory of the mind, Mamo provides a cinematic account of an event at the warfront in 1967 involving his uncle Haruna, who suddenly appears in the village years after he was considered dead at the warfront, and the poet Chris Okigbo about whom he had read. While on a mission to destroy a bridge with his comrade Toma and a seargeant, uncle Haruna wanders off and is captured by a team of Biafran Soldiers led by Chris Okigbo (86). In fact, what comes to us as Haruna’s ordeal in the hands of the Biafran soldier is an attribution from the mind of Mamo and not what has actually taken place: this kind of narrative is in agreement with Lisa Zunshine’s assertion that:
As a sustained representation of numerous interacting minds, the novel feeds the powerful, representation-hungry complex of cognitive adaptations whose very condition of being is a constant social stimulation delivered either by direct interactions with other people or by imaginary approximation of such interactions (Why We Read Fiction 10).
The above quotation goes a long way in explaining why Mamo is found of allowing his mind to wander and interact with people whom he has not met and in places he has not visited. Interestingly, we are also told that when Haruna suddenly appears in the village, dirty and unkempt, at a time he is already considered dead at the war front by the villagers, and cannot even say anything about his war experience due to his gradual loss of memory and mind, everyone still continues to attribute heroic qualities to him. The narrator records that, “what impressed the twins most was how everyone in the village still talked about him, about his adventures; imaginary exploits and heroisms were attributed to him even by those who had never seen him” (46).
The above shows that the minds of people often hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe even where the reality is contrary to what they are being told. Measuring Times thus demonstrates, at various levels, Habila’s experimentation with our mind reading capacity.