In the Book of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Everything else comes from the evil one.” My priest quoted it recently as a statement against spiritual wishy-washy-ness, along with an analogy about coming into the cathedral or going out, but not standing in the vestibule. It’s best, of course, to say yes to God and come in, but those who have firmly rejected God and gone out are better off than the mopes lingering in the vestibule, who have no convictions at all. In my priest’s hopeful formulation, those who have firmly and clearly rejected God might still be convinced to change their minds.
I thought of this passage while reading Vagabonds!, the celebrated debut novel by rising literary star Eloghosa Osunde, the paperback edition of which appears on Feb. 28. Vagabonds! is a work of queer liberation that, in line with current academic orthodoxies, celebrates the power of speech to shape and reshape reality for the oppressed. At its best, it does so with fire, intensity, and conceptual elegance.
The most striking dimension of Osunde’s novel is her metaphorical embrace of the figure of Satan. In an interview with Astra magazine, the Nigerian author explained the rationale for this as follows: “In the Bible, when God casts out Lucifer, we hear from God’s perspective, but we don’t get to hear what it would feel like to be a powerful spirit—God’s favorite angel—and then lose that link to the creator. What happens as a result, what madnesses can begin there?” If Satan wanted God’s power to create and name, Osunde’s repurposing of Satan is the ultimate act of redefinition; it gains its moral force as an answer to the punitive treatment of gays and lesbians in religiously conservative Nigeria. To be sure, this philosophy is ultimately of debatable value for her protagonists, and has drawbacks as literature. But her no means no, and is thus worth discussing.