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Michael Titlestad Meets The Literature Police

The Literature PolicePeter D McDonaldAlert! Wits academic and literary lightning rod Michael Titlestad has unearthed and brought to our attention a new book about censorship during apartheid, The Literature Police by Peter D McDonald, published by Oxford University Press.

Did you know that JM Coetzee once applied to become a censor? Now that is a humorous, heart-gladdening piece of literary trivia. (He didn’t get the job.)

McDonald’s work, of course, goes beyond the trivial, bringing to light “a wealth of new evidence – from the once secret archives of the censorship bureaucracy [and] the records of resistance publishers and writers’ groups both in the country and abroad”, according to the blurb. The result: “strangely tangled stories of censorship and literature [that uncover] an extraordinarily complex web of cultural connections linking Europe and Africa, East and West”.

Sounds quite fascinating. Titlestad certainly was hooked:

Remember Scope magazine, complete with nipple-obscuring stars? Do you remember Glenda Kemp and her three-metre-long python, Oupa, both of whom starred in the 1976 film, Snake Dancer? It was, you may remember, cut: all nude scenes were excised. It flopped when word got out.

Do you remember the frisson of leafing through a banned André Brink novel? Did you ever handle a copy of Sechaba, the in-house ANC magazine, perhaps one wrapped in brown paper?

Our memory of the practices and architecture of apartheid censorship risks becoming anecdotal. Most of us recall the oppressive sense of constant surveillance, the knowledge that everything we read and watched had been deemed suitable for us. But it is another matter to flesh out this elaborate, sinister and occasionally ludicrous story of that control.

Book Details

Photo courtesy the New Chaucer Society

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    March 24th, 2009 @11:04 #
     
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    My mom ran a bookstore in Maseru that sold porn and banned books, and it seemed to me that South Africans visiting Maseru bought lots of Playboys, Penthouses, Forum - I was ten, eleven - quite liked browsing the magazine section myself at that age. But grew up for all sorts of reasons not being keen, one of the main ones though is that is associated with my mom.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    March 24th, 2009 @11:05 #
     
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    already commented on facebook that you will never know what folks will up and do! I wonder how SA Lit might have been different if he had got the job?

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    March 24th, 2009 @12:15 #
     
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    Impish indeed.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    March 24th, 2009 @12:40 #
     
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    Bloody interesting site as well:

    http://www.theliteraturepolice.com/

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  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    March 26th, 2009 @11:47 #
     
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    http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-25-some-symbols-may-be-found

    Shaun de Waal on The Literature Police - killer review

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 26th, 2009 @14:57 #
     
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    Brilliant work by Shaun. If only all reviewers could write like this.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    March 26th, 2009 @15:30 #
     
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    Eh, I just sent Ben-editor a link to the De Waal review before checking here. Yep, good, comprehensive review.

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