Title: Autonomy of Values
Author: Udenta O. Udenta
Publisher: Kraft Book, ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Udenta O. Udenta admits, in the introductory portion of Autonomy of Values, that it is a more mature work, intellectually speaking. Surprisingly, it is a book written, in most parts, without recourse to reference materials, as the author did not set to write a rigorous academic work but one that follows an untrodden path.
This untrodden path, however, isn’t a blind alley that leads to nowhere –it leads to somewhere. A master of consciousness, Fredrick Nietzsche, for one, has trodden this path many years ago. Another is Bertrand Russell. Reading them inspired the author to embark on the intellectual excursion interrogate the various forms of reality, values and life-forms.
Philosophy as a field of study isn’t dead, no matter what you may think. Udenta makes claims to being a modern-day philosopher with this thought-provoking work with a philosophical mural and snippets from metaphysics, literature, natural science, cultural studies, genetic biology and mystic knowledge.
Using them as a canvas, the author sets out to interrogate the signification of ultimate values, life and death, literary values, eugenics, cloning and man’s search for immortality. The language of this work appears to be couched in esoterica, but it calls for patience and carefulness to digest the simple things being imparted in our minds and implanted in the world of knowledge.
What is involved in the production and transformation of values? Udenta offers the answer to this question in the first chapter: “The production of values relates primarily to the generation of cultural image-types in their pure, autonomous state.” While all values appear amoral in their generation, writes the author, transformation implies a system and structure of encoding of meaning to the extent that the presence of a value is no longer dependent on its original, autonomous declaration but as a consequence of other ascribed and ascribing cultural forces that have been worked into its awareness of being (p.24).
Rather than adumbrate, Udenta explains succinctly the primary vehicle of this transformation process is language, which, in itself, is over-conditioned by the new state of cultural independence that men have achieved for themselves.
We learn, furthermore, that value formation based on sacred writings are of a different nature altogether, for, here, nature is a design, an organic entity with ascribed meaning and hierarchical functions. Furthermore, the engine is the Godhead who provides all answers to human needs and who has the design of existence fully developed in his consciousness. However, the spiritualisation of culture, he says, has led to the production of untransformed values with ultimate claims.
In the next chapter, Udenta is concerned with cultural reinventions vis-à-vis belief, faith and the immortal instinct. Belief and faith, he affirms, are cultural quantities of hope that anticipate, reinforce and sanction the conduct of men in the process of their justification.
Interestingly, literature provides a wide vista on which the experience of both the danger and tragedy of cultural conditioning (belief and faith), on one hand, and the autonomy of cultural values are tested. Citing Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, he contends that when Raskolnikov, in the work, decides to murder the old pawn broker, he has the belief that he is not just doing any wrong in ridding society of a miserly vermin but the faith that his act will benefit a large number of people who desperately need material help.
The third chapter breaks down the “Five Life-Forms” as nature and super-nature, the naked state, sex and existential rhythm, work ethic, and chaos and disorder (please, read the book to get the details). However, “Ultimate Values” is at the nucleus of the fourth chapter. Cultures, says Udenta, incarnate values, and in their freest state, values exhibit only the most basic form of affirmation or determination.
Despite all the externalising complications worked into its form and content, the author avers that death remains an absolute cultural value. One example of this process of externalization is the idea of life after death whereby immortality or even divinity is achieved through the covenantal unity between man and God.
The fifth chapter dwells on literary values, that is, literature as an incarnation of material life, as a form of cultural expression which, though appropriates to itself a unique form of affirmation of values, is organically interlinked with other existing life-forms. Udenta’s book teaches that the production of literary values follow the same patterns as the production of other cultural values –through the process of individualisation. They are, above all, values produced from life.
The Elysian Fields and the quest for eternal bliss occupy the writer’s interest in the sixth chapter. He writes: “The Elysian Fields is nothing but an incarnation of a new paradise, a new state of blessedness, with new human angels performing the task of ageless Charon who ferried bodied and disembodied entities over the overflowing and everbusy purgatory river of fate to be deposited on the opposite shore, from where they will proceed to the different regions of cultural transcendence depending on how well they lived their lives in a world of material culture” (p118).
The book contains other interesting topics, such as the “Babi Yar: A Metaphor of Humanity”, “Masters of Consciousness”, “Illumination (An Account of Conscious Life), and a Postscript on “Reinventing Decadence: The New Culture of Contentment”. Indeed, philosophy isn’t dead. Udenta has, compellingly, delayed the swansong with Autonomy of Values.