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Reviews of The Cambridge History of South African Literature and The Cambridge History of South Africa

The Cambridge History of South African LiteratureVerdict: carrot

The Cambridge History of South African Literature is one of those books that is so substantial it stands up by itself. This is true in the physical sense (it is 877 pages long) as well as, conceptually at least, in terms of its content: it has such breadth and depth that it stands comfortably beside all those other magisterial overviews of world literatures from Cambridge. It almost feels like a country doesn’t have a national literature until Cambridge has summed it all up and put it between covers.

The Cambridge History of South AfricaVerdict: carrot

The late master Eric Hobs­bawm, in his biography Interesting Times, recalled his time as a young radical in the English fens in the 1930s and described what he called Cambridge University’s peculiar “principal of unripe time”: whatever somebody may propose and however good the proposal, the time is inevitably not yet ripe. Thus it is that the last time Cambridge University Press produced a general volume on South African history, pneumonic plague took the lives of 350 South Africans.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    January 9th, 2013 @13:46 #

    South Africa's 'Long Walk to Ordinariness'. The malaise starts right there.
    I've never liked the word, 'ordinary' in this context because it implicitly posits some sort of model of an 'ordinary' society against which other societies and their literatures can be compared.
    The term 'everyday' and its critical history is better, because it at least pushes one to look at the details of the society one is talking about.
    But it's not so much that the model has to be - given where it's coming from - an uncritical notion of western capitalist democracy.
    It's that it's teleological, for starters: but it is more specifically a form of wish-fulfillment, and not an accurate way to assess a society where e.g. the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger; where corruption is increasingly the order of the day; where the ruling party is both dysfunctional and keen to silence media criticism; and finally, of course, as far as literature is concerned, is enables publishers to start enforcing a kind of hidden censorship re works which are not 'ordinary' enough- for instance, may be too political.....
    The term shows up a brand of schizophrenia. It's a useless term.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Henrietta</a>
    January 11th, 2013 @10:28 #

    The MacDonald review is about The Cambridge History of SA - a different book.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Carolyn</a>
    January 11th, 2013 @10:55 #

    Thanks Henrietta, you're right. I've updated the post to reflect this.


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