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Alert! The programme for this year’s @OpenBookFest has been revealed! Click here to see it:

Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

Final Author List for 2014 Open Book Festival

The final list for the 2014 Open Book Festival has been released, with international authors Billy Kahora, Geoff Dyer, Mike Carey, Philip Hensher, Raymond E Feist, Sefi Atta, Taiye Selasi, Tony Park, Satoshi Kitamura, Kader Abdolah and Keyi Sheng, as well as Johnny Steinberg and Wilbur Smith, all confirmed to be in Cape Town.

This year’s Open Book Festival takes place from 17-21 September at the Fugard Theatre, The Book Lounge, the Homecoming Centre, the District 6 Museum and the Central Library.

The final confirmed complete list is:
Adam Stower, Alison Lowry, Amy Kaye, André P Brink, Andrew Brown, Andrew Salomon, Antony Loewenstein, Ari Sitas, Arthur Goldstuck, Athol Williams, Barbara Boswell, Ben Williams, Bibi Slippers, Billy Kahora, Blaq Pearl, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, Carol-Ann Davids, Damon Galgut, Dave de Burgh, David Klatzow, David wa Maahlamela, Deon Meyer, Derrick Higginbotham, Diane Awerbuck, Ekow Duker, Eusebius McKaiser, Felicitas Hoppe, Fiona Leonard, Francesca Beard, Futhi Ntshingila, Genna Gardini, Geoff Dyer, Greg Fried, Hakkiesdraad Hartman, Hedley Twidle, Helen Moffett, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Imraan Coovadia, Ivan Vladislavic, Jaco Van Schalkwyk, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Jacqui L’Ange, James Woodhouse, Jesse Breytenbach, Joan Metelerkamp, Joey Hi-Fi, Jolyn Phillips, Jonathan Jansen, Jonny Steinberg, Justin Fox, Kader Abdolah, Karen Jennings, Karina Szczurek, Kelwyn Sole, Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile, Keyi Sheng, Khanyisile Mbongwa, Koleka Putuma, Liesl Jobson, Linda Kaoma, Lwanda Sindaphi, Malaika wa Azania, Mandla Langa, Margie Orford, Marguerite Poland, Marianne Thamm, Marius du Plessis, Mark Gevisser, Mbongeni Nomkonwana, Melissa Siebert, Michele Magwood, Michiel Heyns, Mike Carey, Molly Blank, Nikki Bush, Niq Mhlongo, Oliver Rohe, Olivier Tallec, Philip Hensher, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Pieter Odendaal, Rabih Alameddine, Rachel Zadok, Raymond E Feist, Rebecca Davis, Richard Calland, Richard Peirce, Sally Partridge, Sampie Terreblanche, Sarah Lotz, Satoshi Kitamura, Sefi Atta, Shabbir Banoobhai, Simone Hough, Sindiwe Magona, Sixolile Mbalo, Songezo Zibi, Susan Hawthorne , Taiye Selasi, Thando Mgqolozana, Tiah Beautement, Tim Noakes, Toast Coetzer, Toni Stuart, Tony Park, Weaam Williams, Wilbur Smith, Zakes Mda, Zelda la Grange, Zethu Matebeni, Zoliswa Flekisi, Zukiswa Wanner.

Naughty KittyThe Other Side of SilenceDevil's HarvestTokoloshe SongProfits of DoomRough MusicTech-Savvy ParentingKwani? 05, Part 2Light on a HillThe Blacks of Cape TownArctic SummerJustice DeniedBetrayal's ShadowSejamolediCobraThe Ghost-Eater and Other StoriesWhite WahalaCould I Vote DA?HoppeThe Chicken ThiefDo Not Go GentleJeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
ParadiseA Girl Walks into a Blind DateNinevehTransformationsThe FollyThe Alibi ClubHow to Fix South Africa's SchoolsA Man of Good HopeWhoever Fears the SeaShort Story Day Africa: Feast, Famine Invisible OthersAbsent TonguesIf I Could SingRide the TortoiseMemoirs of a Born FreeThe Texture of ShadowsWater MusicHere I AmThe KeeperLost and Found in JohannesburgMbongeni Buthelezi
Garden of DreamsA Sportful MaliceThe Girl with All the GiftsDog Eat DogTaller than BuildingsSister-SisterMagician's EndThe Zuma YearsSharp EdgesWestern EmpiresThe ThreePot-San's Tabletop TalesA Bit of DifferenceInward Moon, Outward SunThe Ugly Duckling
Dear BulletRaising the BarGhana Must GoUnimportanceThis DayReal Meal RevolutionSouth AfricaIn the Heat of ShadowsDark HeartDesert GodRachel’s BlueGood Morning, Mr MandelaLondon – Cape Town – Joburg

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2014 Midlands Literary Festival Programme Features Marguerite Poland and Ashwin Desai

The 2014 Midlands Literary Festival will take place this weekend, with Marguerite Poland, whose new book The Keeper was released a few days ago, Kobus Moolman, who won the 2013 Sol Plaatje European Union Award, Ashwin Desai, whose most recent book is Chatsworth: The Making of a South African Township, and many others in attendance.

ChatsworthThe KeeperThe Abundant HerdsTaken Captive by BirdsLeft OverJu|’hoan Children’s Picture DictionaryField Guide to the Battlefields of South AfricaThe Landscape PainterInterviews with Neville AlexanderOne Hand Washes the Other Into the River of Life

The festival is held on Saturday and Sunday (23 and 24 August) at the Yellowwood Cafe in Howick. Tickets are R50 for the day.

Christopher Nicholson’s debut short-story collection will be launched at the festival, and other notable authors include Nicki von der Heyde, author of the popular Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa, Craig Higginson, who won the UJ prize for his novel The Landscape Painter, and Kerry Jones, co-author of the Ju|’hoan Children’s Picture Dictionary, which provides San children with a valuable piece of mother-tongue literature.

Festival director Darryl David says securing a visit from Poland was a big coup: “The exciting news is that after eight long years, I have finally bagged one of the great names in South African literature: Marguerite Poland.”

Other books that I am really looking forward to are Chris Albertyn’s book Keeping Time: The Photographs and Cape Town Jazz Recordings of Ian Huntley (1964-1974), Barbara Siedle’s book Breathe the Dust, Mike Hardwich’s memoir of being a vet in KZN and Kerry Jones with the first picture book dictionary of a San language ever to be published. Famous dancer Tossie van Tonder comes to the Midlands Literary Festival with the most poetic name and a book to match. And Howick High pupil Jonathan William will undoubtedly talk on the most fascinating topic of the festival: a history of Japanese comics. I met Jonathan while buying a bunny chow at Mac Curry in Howick. There was something about how he opened this tome that told me – here was a book lover. A talk not to be missed!

But what fills my heart with pride on this our fifth anniversary is the people who have supported us since year one. The likes of acclaimed Pietermaritzburg poet Kobus Moolman; the legendary Ian Player, a man who should surely be honoured in the Icons of SA project. Judge Chris Nicholson who will unveil his debut short story anthology and Ashwin Desai, undoubtedly the most prolific author in SA. His latest book is definitely going to feature in my top five reads of 2014.

For more information contact Darryl David, on 082 576 4489 or, or Sandra Murphy, on 033 330 2461.

2014 Midlands Literary Festival Programme

9 am — 9.30 am: Kobus Moolman – Left Over.
9.30 am — 10 am: Jonathan Williams – A Drifting Life (Japanese comic history).
10 am — 10.30 am: Kerry Jones — There’s a n!aq’u in my dictionary.
10.30 am — 11.15 am: tea.
11.15 am — noon: Marguerite Poland: Nguni — The Abundant Herds and Other Inspirations.
noon — 12.30 pm: Nicky von der Heyde — Field Guide to the Battlefields of SA.
12.30 pm — 1 pm: Craig Higginson — Working as a Novelist and Playwright.
1 pm — 1.30 pm: Beryl Arikum — Pilgrimage.
2.30 pm — 3 pm: Di Smith: You’re Awesome — Living a Fulfilled Life.
3 pm — 3.30 pm: Mike Hardwich — The Rhino and the Rat: Further Memoirs of a Vet.
3.30 pm — 4.15 pm: Tossie van Tonder: My African Heart.
10 am — 10.30 am: Ashwin Desai – The Archi-texture of Durban. A Skapie’s Guide.
10.30 am — 11 am: Darryl David – Interviews with Neville Alexander. The Power of Languages against the Language of Power.
11 am — 11.30 am: Chris Nicholson — Sacred Cows Make the Tastiest Hamburgers.
11.30 am — noon: Barbara Siedle — Breathe the Dust.
2 pm — 2.30 pm: Ian Player — Crisis in Rhino Protection.
2.30 pm — 3 pm: Chris Albertyn — Keeping Time: The Photographs and Cape Town Jazz Recordings of Ian Huntley (1964-1974).

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Submissions Now Open for Issue 13 of Itch


Online creative journal Itch has put out a call for entries for its 13th issue, and has also announced the appointment of a new editor.

London-based writer and filmmaker Elan Gamaker has taken over the reins of the journal, which is published under the auspices of the School of Literature, Language and Media at the University of the Witwatersrand. Gamaker says under his leadership Itch will be turning its focus outward. “While our base remains South Africa, we encourage writers and visual artists from around the world to contribute to what is rapidly becoming the pre-eminent publication of its kind in Africa,” he says.

“While our base remains South Africa, we encourage writers and visual artists from around the world to contribute to what is rapidly becoming the pre-eminent publication of its kind in Africa.

“This being said, it is important to us that we maintain our financial independence and editorial integrity. This is why, in spite of recent changes, we exist entirely thanks to the contributions of our readers.”

The theme for Itch 13 is “Detection”, and those interested have until 1 September (not 25 August as is stated in the press release below) to submit their writing, non-fiction, poetry or visual art.

detection |dɪˈtɛkʃ(ə)n| {noun} the action or process of identifying the presence of something concealed

French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye once wrote: “Every society emerges in its own eyes by giving the narrative its violence.” I ask: what is that narrative? And what is the violence? Perhaps it resides in the fact that in many ways we live in an unavoidable state of concealment: a domestic and vernacular world of secrets and half-truths, of suspicions nurtured and admissions withheld.

The idea of detection and its associated terms – investigations, clues, concealment, covering, uncovering – is one that has always fascinated us. It is subject of perhaps the most successful literary genre of all, and a key aspect of all our relationships, which derive their meaning from trust. It seems innately human, this desire to get to the heart of the matter, to discover as much as possible, to assume the deception and to resume its unearthing.

And now the nature of something concealed – in our post-Snowden world – becomes ever more elusive. Do we have the right to conceal; is there any privacy left? Have we all become private – and public – detectives?

Press release

itch 13 Open for Submissions by Books LIVE

Image courtesy of Itch on Facebook

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Babatunde Agbola Reviews Africa’s Urban Revolution by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse

Africa's Urban RevolutionVerdict: carrot

Africa’s Urban Revolution, edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse, presents a refreshingly new and detailed insight into the origin, growth and rapid expansion of Africa’s cities, the transformation of some of these into mega cities, and the consequences of such transformation. This edited book of fourteen chapters examines different aspects of Africa’s urban revolution starting from a kaleidoscopic analysis of the revolution through conflict and post war transition in Africa’s cities, religion, transport, planning education, infrastructure and economy, to urbanization and policy with a postscript to make the new urban transformation sustainable.

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Irvin Jim to Deliver the 12th annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture

University of the Witwatersrand Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib and the Wits Journalism Department cordially invite you to the 12th annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture.

Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War to End ApartheidVoices of Liberation: Ruth First117 DaysSouth Africa's Suspended Revolution

This year’s lecture will be presented by Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, and this year’s Ruth First Fellow Ebrahim Fakir will present his fellowship research on political protest and political participation.

In addition, on the same day there will be a colloquium entitled “Protest: Democracy in Action or Popular Insurgency?” at 3:30 PM in the Humanities Graduate Studies Seminar Room, SW Engineering (next to the Great Hall), where Ebrahim Fakir, Dr Jane Duncan & Prof Noor Nieftagodien will discuss the role of protest in South African politics.

RSVP by Thursday, 8 August, indicating which events you will be attending.

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David Attwell: Manuscripts Indicate JM Coetzee is Not Who We Thought He Was

David Attwell

The second of two lectures presented by David Attwell at the UCT Summer School Extension programme, “Autobiography Into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Disgrace”, took place at the Kramer Building on 14 July, a day made more poignant by the passing of Nadine Gordimer, the only other South African Nobel Laureate for literature apart from Coetzee himself.

Following on from his previous talk, “Autobiography Into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K Attwell, who is visiting from the University of York where he heads up the English Department, expressed his delight at returning to his alma mater, where he had studied under Coetzee.

JM CoetzeeDisgraceDoubling the PointAt the first seminar, Attwell said: “Known to be guarded, even reclusive, a self-conscious and accomplished stylist, an exponent of late modernism, a polemicist against the idea of fiction being a simple expression of selfhood, Coetzee’s manuscripts reveal him to be more autobiographical than we would have imagined. The provocations in his work are frequently personal and circumstantial; deriving from family history, from events in South Africa’s recent past, from personal losses, and from his returns to and emigrations from his home country.”

The focus of both seminars was informed by the research Attwell has undertaken at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, where some 155 document boxes, five filing cabinet drawers and an additional eight storage boxes of journals, manuscripts, correspondence, business documents and childhood artworks and school notebooks comprise the archive of Coetzee’s private papers, which were made available for scholarship in late 2011. Attwell’s critical biography, JM Coetzee & the Life of Writing: Face to Face with Time, is to be published in 2015 by Jacana Media, Penguin New York and in Dutch translation by Cossee Uitgeverij.

In light of this research, the essence of both of Attwell’s talks was that Coetzee is not who we thought he was.

“The Coetzee who emerges from an informed reading of his papers is very different author from the one we thought we knew,” Attwell explained. “Most surprisingly, his writing process turns out to be highly autobiographical, at least in its points of departure. It then involves a gradual, but determined process of writing himself out of the narratives, a ‘burning off of the self’ as it were.”

null“Another surprise revealed in the notebooks that accompanied the hand-written manuscripts was Coetzee’s confession of “radical insecurity” about what he was doing. The famously controlled, taut style we think of as signature Coetzee is matched by spells of quite debilitating self doubt, and seeing the work through to the end often appears to involve great effort.

Attwell said the period of the early 1990s, during which Disgrace was written, represented a highly productive phase of Coetzee’s life, which was marked by contradictory tensions. The story of Disgrace is less affirming than the story of Michael K and was written during a time of disaffection with the country of his birth. “Those critics, including myself, who argued that the book is about much more than South Africa, are not entirely right in the sense that the manuscripts show him to be thoroughly caught up in the country and its problems of the time. He wrote it during this productive period of ’94 to ’97, when he was working on a number of other projects at the same time; the autobiographies, Boyhood and Youth. He was also working on the earliest drafts of The Lives of Animals which was later taken up in Elizabeth Costello.

One of the most startling discoveries for Attwell was the sketch containing the seed of Disgrace; a journal entry dated December 1994 which indicates that The Truth and Reconciliation Commission catalysed the novel into being, despite the fact that Coetzee had been thinking about a novel based on a man’s public humiliation for some time. Attwell pointed out that this was long before the TRC hearing commenced in 1996.

In the period after TRC was mooted but before the hearings commenced, Coetzee conceptualised a novel about a distinguished writer who is invited onto a truth commission. He cites his objection to being fit to judge and declines, but he knows he is about to be exposed for sexual misconduct. These were transitional years in the country, but also for Coetzee who was redefining his working life. In 1994 he was appointed to the Arderne Chair of English at UCT. The honour was thrust upon him as the only obvious candidate. By 1997, he was already reconsidering his position, resigning from the chair and taking a reduced salary to make more time for his writing. This shows that by 1997 he was no longer an academic who was also a novelist; he had become a novelist who was also an academic.

“But the academy had marked him deeply. He had become an academic author. It was not a simple matter, therefore, of closing an office, handing in the key and walking away. In the early stages of his career, he saw the academy as a day job, but as his career developed, it became more and more important. The academy, the university, gave him resources, conversation and a readership for the kind of writing he produced. Looking back, ten years later, in 2007, his notes accompanying the manuscript of The Diary of a Bad Year reveal his thoughts.

“Coetzee wrote: ‘I calculated I could use the academy to support me while I surreptitiously followed a writing career. As is so often the case, I miscalculated. First I became an academic that did a little writing on the side. Later I turned into a writer marked deeply (too deeply?) by involvement with the academy. I would have been better off being just – just – a writer. But in order to be just a writer, I would have to be someone other than myself.’”

Attwell observed that the professor and artist had become inseparable. By the 1990s, universities were also undergoing substantial change. In an address to a UCT audience, Coetzee said, “Now, all over the western world the old model of the university finds itself under attack as an increasing economistic interrogation of social institutions is carried out.” The process referred to in Disgrace was that the “great rationalisation was well underway”.

“The academy was a necessary evil to Coetzee, but it was becoming more evil than necessary,” Attwell explained. “The Elizabeth Costello stories of this period were an expression of the situation. She is a square peg in a round hole who gives irritable lectures to academic audiences. It says much for Coetzee’s ingenuity that she became much more than a private joke as the stories flowed out. In fact, he was able to develop her into a vehicle for thinking about literature and literary life in the academy and in the global market place,” said Atwell, who also linked her character to Gordimer.

By the late 1990s, Coetzee was ‘globally mobile’,” Attwell continued, “spending a semester each year teaching in the United States, giving lectures on every continent. Seen in this light, the circumstances under which Disgrace was written become poignant. Just when the mood in South Africa was most buoyant, Coetzee was becoming more and more detached.”

Attwell referred to Thomas Hardy’s poem about the sinking of the Titanic, The Convergence of the Twain, offering the line “consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres” as a metaphor for how the country’s transitional years and Coetzee’s personal journey conflicted, creating the conditions under which Disgrace was written. The metaphor may seem hyberbolic, but the book is the most-written-about novel in South Africa’s literary history.

“The social ecology in which Disgrace was formed was a confluence of irreconcilable forces. Coetzee’s personal disengagement from the country took place at the precise moment in the mid-1990s when the country was embarking on transformation. Coetzee was skeptical about the rainbow nation, as the novel makes abundantly clear. The question he raises in the sketch is whether people are capable of living up to the spirit of moral triumphalism that was taking hold. It was a question Dostoevsky might have asked. In 1994, when he drew up the outline of Disgrace, part of Coetzee was still inside a Dostoevskian universe, because his previous novel, The Master of Petersburg, was about Dostoevsky. It was published the same year he wrote the sketch.

“On the evidence of the notebooks, Coetzee felt the moral climate of South Africa was increasingly anti-intellectual and potentially tyrannous,” Attwell said. “He copied into his notebook an extract of an account from Mao’s Cultural Revolution, in which an intellectual is made to appear in public wearing a dunce cap. In the published text, the reference to Mao is edited out, but a student activist carrying a wastepaper basket confronts David Lurie and a photo for the student newspaper is taken with the basket strategically positioned in comical fashion over his head. It appears above the caption, ‘Who’s the dunce now?’ It’s extraordinary to discover that the source of that incident in the novel is Mao!”

Atwell emphasised that Coetzee was writing well before the character of the TRC was established. “Given his anxieties about the anti-intellectualism that had started to surface, he worried that a truth commission might take the form of a Nuremberg style focus on retributive, rather than restorative, justice. Were one to ask Coetzee now about the TRC, he would almost certainly give a complex and nuanced take on it. To make that fragment indicative of his political judgement is not merited.”

A fascinating question and answer session enabled a dialogue between students, academics, the general public and Attwell.

This brief account of part of Attwell’s second lecture, “Autobiography Into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Disgrace“, offers just the tiniest flavour of what was a fascinating lecture and a delightful evening. To appreciate fully the depth of Attwell’s scholarship, his joyful wit and insightful attention to Coetzee’s work, readers are urged to look out for forthcoming book. Additionally, a podcast will be issued in due course from the UCT Summer School, giving fans of Coetzee an opportunity to hear this lecture in full.

Attwell concluded by reflecting on how Coetzee makes mundane aspects of humanity extraordinary. “This is a writer who takes ordinary perceptions and feelings and transforms them into extraordinary writing. That process of burning off the ordinary is the process I take seriously.” With reference to his forthcoming J.M. Coetzee and the life of writing: face to face with time, he said, “That’s the burden of the book – the creative process, the transformation of life into art. What’s unusual is that we’re discovering through the release of these papers that Coetzee is human after all. He turns out to be more like you and I than we imagined!”

* * * * * * * *

Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks

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David Attwell Reveals the Four “Surprises” he Discovered in Reading JM Coetzee’s Manuscripts

David Attwell

The UCT Summer School Extension programme welcomed South African academic David Attwell, visiting Head of English at the University of York, to the Kramer Building earlier this month for a series of two lectures on JM Coetzee.

The first seminar was titled “Autobiography Into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K”, and was attended by a cohort of Attwell’s students visiting Cape Town from the University of York.

Life and Times of Michael KJM CoetzeeDoubling the PointAttwell based the talks on an expanded analysis of the reclusive author’s papers. His exploration into Coetzee’s private world was facilitated by the opening of the JM Coetzee Archive by the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center last year.

Attwell, who is highly regarded worldwide for his in-depth analysis of Coetzee’s oeuvre, is the author of JM Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (Perspectives on South Africa). He edited Coetzee’s Doubling the Point, co-edited The Cambridge History of South African Literature with Derek Attridge, and Bury Me at the Marketplace: Es’kia Mphahlele and Company. Letters 1943–2006 with Chabani Manganyi.

Finuala Dowling welcomed Attwell, noting that since he edited Doubling the Point, Coetzee’s intellectual autobiography, it has been “almost impossible to write about either Coetzee or South African literature without beginning one’s bibliography at ‘Attwell’”.

“Soon,” she added, “we’ll be able to place besides Doubling the Point, as its matching book-end, David’s critical biography, JM Coetzee and the life of writing, face to face with time.” This manuscript is scheduled for publication in 2015 by Jacana Media.

Dowling said Attwell’s work was the result not just of his scrutiny last year of the original notebooks and manuscripts but “a unique and enduring rapport between a writer and his critic”. She said that relationship was an ongoing dialogue between two remarkably attuned minds, which began many years ago at UCT, when Attwell registered for an MA under Coetzee’s supervision. “It is particularly fitting that the subject of tonight’s lecture is The Life and Times of Michael K, a novel which was set in Cape Town, had its genesis in this city, and was written on this university’s stationery!” Dowling added.

UCT exam books bound between a piece of cardboard, and held together with what appears to be a
segment clipped from a wire hanger. Photo by Alicia Dietrich, courtesy of the Harry Ransom Centre.

Attwell began by expressing his delight to be back on the UCT campus, and to be speaking on Coetzee where the author had spent most of his academic career. “Coetzee’s studies are a global project, a global undertaking,” he said. “There are centres named after him, centres of creative writing, centres for creative and performing arts named after him, in places at other ends of the world – Adelaide, Australia, and Bogota, Columbia. There is even an asteroid named after Coetzee.”

In his talk, Attwell discussed the four main surprises that had emerged in the process of reading Coetzee’s manuscripts, and the interrelationship of fiction and autobiography, particularly in the genesis and development of The Life and Times of Michael K, which won the Booker Prize in 1983.

“The first surprise appearing in Coetzee’s manuscripts has to do with impersonality,” Attwell said. “For a writer who is so famously guarded, who polemicises against the idea of fiction being a simple expression of the self, Coetzee’s manuscripts reveal him to be much more autobiographical than one would have imagined.” With some exceptions, such as Foe, which is a reworking of Robinson Crusoe, Attwell believes Coetzee’s fiction often derived from personal experience, with his “confessional impulse at least as strong as the impulse to self-masking”.

Attwell said this discovery reminded him of the true meaning of aesthetic detachment: “It’s not a point of departure, it’s a point of arrival, a progressive writing out of the self. The taboo in literary criticism is that the text is a public document, but that taboo disables us from appreciating that the disappearance of the author into the work is actually a cultural artefact, the result of a particular orientation towards the creative process.

“The arch-theorist of impersonality was TS Eliot. His influence on literary criticism was very strong because of this. That influence was so strong that we’ve actually forgotten what he meant. For Eliot, the creation of a work of art was actually a process of self-extinction. The self must be present before it can be extracted from the text, as it were, before it can be extinguished. This is the direction that Coetzee followed in his early and mid career.”

The second surprise was insecurity: “Coetzee’s famous control, his minimalism, his taut management of materials, is related to procedural indirection, to an acute self-consciousness. We’ve known this because he’s spoken about writing as a matter of awakening the counter-voices in oneself. Carrol Clarkson’s study of Coetzee’s linguistics confirms this. What is seen in the papers, is just how much insecurity this version of creativity entails. At times it is almost debilitating insecurity. Getting through passages of self-doubt often involved Herculean levels of effort.”

The third surprise articulated by Attwell related to the metafictional quality of Coetzee’s writing. “Metafiction is writing about writing, the building into work of an implicit commentary on the work itself,” he said. “Coetzee is renowned for doing this but the metafiction is not developed programmatically as a way of making general statements about language or art or fictionality. Even though this is a widespread assumption of literary criticism – there is even a popular view that Coetzee writes novels to expound principals derived from post-structuralist theory, for example.”

Attwell believes this is wide of the mark: “There’s an existential impulse that informs the metafiction. A typical question he would pose for himself in his notebook, for example, would be, ‘Where in this work is there room for me?’ That was something he often writes to himself. Or, in a more sophisticated form, ‘When is this book going to achieve self-consciousness?’”

Attwell then referred to Robert Alter’s Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre, finding an observation recorded in Coetzee’s notes: “Alter correctly observes that the self-conscious novel is aware of impermanence and death in the way that realism cannot be. He’s on the right track. As a result of this strand of thinking in Coetzee’s work, I’ve subtitled my book, ‘Face to Face with Time’. The key element of his authorship involves pushing himself to the point at which he begins to confront existential questions, about himself and about authorship too.”

For Attwell, the fourth and final surprise had to do with the intertextuality that peppers Coetzee’s work. “However, these references don’t precede, rather, they follow the work of invention,” Attwell said. “The allusions enter only once the project has found its own feet. Often this intertextuality is a result of a reading campaign which he will embark on in order to resolve particular difficulties that have arisen in the development of the work.”

Should these surprises even be surprises? Or are they are startling only because of the myths that circulate about Coetzee? “Really,” said Attwell, “it should not come as a surprise to us to discover that Coetzee is human, after all.”

Attwell enjoyed discovering some of the “disarmingly personal gems” he’d come across in the archive. He shared an image of Coetzee’s school notebook dating back to 1948, when the author, aged eight, did a project on bees. “Critics write about his interest in animals, in particular his interest in insects,” Attwell observed. Another of Attwell’s favourites was a photograph of the top of an oak tree in the Coetzee home in Rosebank, which he says he hopes to use on the cover of his next book.

On screen, Attwell showed another remarkable find, a detailed hand-drawn map Coetzee had made as a young man visiting the British Museum. Coetzee, who was reading Burchell’s Travels in the Interior of South Africa, “constructed a beautiful map of where Burchell had been through the country. The isolated boy with an Afrikaner background was reinventing himself in London, but hanging on to a South African identity somehow, realising that that identity was fundamental to the writing”.

The next notebook entry, which illustrated the germination of Coetzee’s idea for The Life and Times of Michael K, was dated 17.X.79 in Coetzee’s neat, orderly script. The provocation was a household burglary in suburban Cape Town.

“Coetzee spent most of 1979 in the USA on sabbatical leave from UCT, refreshing his linguistics, attending seminars on syntax in the departments of linguistics at the University of Texas, at Austin, and at Berkley. He was also finishing Waiting for the Barbarians during those travels,” Attwell said.

Soon after returning to his Rondebosch home, Coetzee experienced a burglary. “The following month he sketched a plan: A man of liberal conscience returns home to discover his home has been broken into and vandalised. He reports the incident to the police but he quickly learns that they are more interested in keeping the lid on the suppressed classes than they are in petty crime. Having effectively no recourse to the law he succumbs to rage. He recklessly drives into the townships posting notices offering rewards, too angry to notice the squalor around him. Matters come to a head when there is another house invasion when he is present and he shoots the intruder. Inured to violence now, and out of control, he calls down a plague on both houses and begins a vendetta.”

Attwell outlined the model Coetzee chose for this story: Heinrich von Kleist’s Romantic novel of 1810, Michael Kohlhaas. “Set in the late medieval period, a horse dealer is stopped on the way to market and a license is demanded. Unable to produce one, his horses are confiscated. It turned out the officials are corrupt so Kohlhaas becomes an outlaw, embarking on a campaign of robbery and insurrection.”

Attwell described how the style of Kleist’s book interested Coetzee, and offered further extracts from journal entries that outlined the novel: “Michael K started with concept of vendetta, and Coetzee briefly imagined Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country rewritten as vendetta with the theme of the theft of the good land underpinning the novel. The protagonist’s rage was to be fuelled by the discovery that burglars used the typescript to wipe their backsides! Michael K then drifts from being a white intellectual to being a working-class coloured person, though the racial tag is soon removed.”

Attwell read out Coetzee’s fiery self-scrutiny about the state of the country: “I am outraged by tyranny, but only because I am identified with the tyrant, not because I love (or ‘am with’) their victims. I am incorrigibly an elitist (if not worse); and in the present conflict the material interests of the intellectual elite and the oppressors are the same. There is a fundamental flaw in all my novels: I am unable to move from the side of the oppressors to the side of the oppressed. Is this a consequence of the insulated life I lead? Probably.”

Attwell further examined the spiritual difficulties and contradictions Coetzee wrestled with. The notion of how to attach an outlaw narrative to the outrage he felt as a white victim of crime was one Coetzee pondered deeply. Attwell suggested that in the questions “How do I find my own voice?” and “How do I attain consciousness?” Michael K’s innocence existed as an expression of Coetzee’s own need to attain consciousness. He also explored Coetzee’s need to move away from verisimilitude, with his utilisation of the second narrator in the novel crucial to that requirement, enabling Michael K to become an elusive figure.

The lecture took place just days before the death of Nadine Gordimer, and Attwell mentioned how she had argued in a review that Coetzee did not recognise what victims were doing to liberate themselves. Coetzee had felt the smart of her criticism, which he perceived as an expression of his lack of political courage.

Attwell’s focus turned to the different literary critical elements in Coetzee’s work, to his elusiveness, insecurity and impersonality. “He was a very guarded figure, tremendously self masked. In each category we learn something new about his authorship. There’s a different game now, which is the making of art as much as the art itself.”

A vibrant question and answer session commenced with interesting responses and queries from some of the academics in the audience. Dowling, Leon de Kock, Lucy Graham and Herman Wittenberg offered in-depth insights, and Attwell fielded questions about intertextuality, as well as the ethics of scrutinising Coetzee’s journals. He posited that Coetzee was “such an enormous figure” and mentioned Hedley Twidle’s Bodley Head/FT Essay Prize. In the essay Twidle, who was also in the audience, had written about “getting past” Coetzee in a South African context. Attwell suggested that perhaps we had, rather, to “go through him, to immerse ourselves in him, to try to understand the James Joyce of South Africa”, adding that nobody in Dublin would trash Joyce, and nobody in the USA would want to circumvent William Faulkner. “It’s not the same, but Coetzee is as big a figure in our literary firmament,” he insisted.

“The notebooks are a rich resource for the students of the future. The entire archive, some 155 boxes of his papers, are now in the public domain and are very revealing. Some personal letters have been restricted. Coetzee has written humorously about literary legacies. He said that literary executors sometimes have to make decisions about an author’s material after his or her death. Against an author’s wishes, executors sometimes decide to disregard the author’s wishes. This has happened recently with Patrick White. If you want to destroy your papers, Coetzee said, make sure you do it yourself, while you still can, and don’t leave it to someone else.”

In conclusion, Attwell said that the full disclosure available from these documents will enable a vital debate to continue: “The integrity of Coetzee’s life, completely immersed in his art, will shine through.”

* * * * * * * *

Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks

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Anita Worrall Reviews How to Fix South Africa’s Schools by Jonathan Jansen and Molly Blank

How to Fix South Africa's Schools: Lessons from Schools that WorkVerdict: carrot

This very moving book, described as a “short and simple manual any community of principals, teachers and parents can use to ‘turn around’ a dysfunctional or ineffectual school” is anything but “simple”. It represents the combined efforts of Professor Jonathan Jansen, who identified 19 “successful” schools around South Africa, and researcher Molly Blank, who travelled around the country filming the schools and talking to their principals, teachers and students.

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Loren Kruger Clarifies Her Stance on Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls at WiSER Seminar

Lauren Beukes

Loren Kruger, who wrote a recent draft paper suggesting Lauren Beukes suppressed all traces of significant sources in The Shining Girls, defended her speculation in a WiSER seminar yesterday.

MoxylandZoo City (SA edition)The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters

Imagining the Edgy CityThe Drama of South Africa

Kruger, who grew up and went to university in South Africa but is now a professor of comparative literature at the University of Chicago in the United States, presented her paper at the University of Witwatersrand yesterday, and fielded some questions about her methods and choice of terminology, which had caused Beukes some consternation:

Kruger – who made it clear that her paper is a work in process – reiterated her belief that Beukes relied on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, an account of the real life 1890s-era serial killer HH Holmes, to form her character Harper Curtis. It was unclear whether Kruger had seen Beukes’ response on Twitter or her public Facebook page, where the author said: “I’m afraid I specifically avoided HH Holmes so he wouldn’t be an influence and while I own a copy of Devil and the White City, I still haven’t read it.”

“My concern with Beukes is not that she’s using multiple sources,” Kruger said. “I hope I make that clear, I think the pastiche of multiple sources is really what pulp fiction is about. What concerns me is that this [The Devil in the White City] is the key source for the character that Harper Curtis presents himself to be and it’s just striking to me that it doesn’t get a mention. And I wonder what that has to do with the way in which the research was conducted and the way in which the book was marketed.”

The Real vs the Imaginary

Kruger noted that her main criticism of The Shining Girls is the problematic relationship between the real and the imaginary. Kruger believes Beukes sets the novel up as having a solid grounding in the “real” Chicago, which is part of the reason for its success as the fantastic fictional events then become more surprising and powerful. However, she also believes Beukes fails to sustain that authenticity.

“What is interesting about Beukes’ fiction is that on the one hand she wants a certain grounding in urban specifics, but on the other hand moves away from them. What’s interesting to me about speculative fiction, or what [Margaret] Atwood calls social science fiction, is not that it’s simply happening in a galaxy far, far away but that it has some purchase on the way we think now about the world we might inhabit, say, 50 years hence. So it matters, for example, that she gets right where she puts Harper at a particular moment, in which Chicago, or when Chicago. So she’s thinking carefully about both time and place, and perhaps I’m just holding her to the standard that’s implied by the book itself, by its specificity, and by the claims, at least in the American edition, of her sources,” she said.

“Part of my dissatisfaction with The Shining Girls is that she does seem to want not just spacial specificity but temporal specificity. In other words ‘this is Chicago at a particular moment’. If the novel were simply set in some future space it wouldn’t perhaps be important but clearly she does want, and this is perhaps the background in journalism, to be very specific. At certain points, it seems to me, where she’s inviting us to look at the specificity she’s not being specific enough. If you don’t want to invite veracity questions then why be so specific?”

Kruger believes Beukes succesfully negotiated the “slipstream” between reality and the imaginary in both Moxyland and Zoo City, but that in The Shining Girls influences beyond her authorial power muscled in behind the scenes.

“Part of the frisson, part of the thrill of the book, that keeps you going, is the slipstream between plausibility and complete fakery, and it’s that that interests me; it’s a very fine line. It seems to me she pulls it off, that balance of plausibility and fakery, in the first two novels in a way in which she doesn’t in The Shining Girls, and I think part of that has to do with relying on a committee of researchers to a far greater degree than she did in the first two.”

Unintended Publishing Conspiracies and “Theft” – But Not Plagiarism

When asked about the insinuation of a “conspiratorial” relationship between author and publisher, Kruger said she would prefer the word “convergence”, and does not see the author as necessarily complicit in the intentions of a large publishing companies: “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy between her and the publishers. What I see is a convergence between her project and the project of multinational multimedia conglomerates to circulate product. Which isn’t to say that individual authors in their orbit are merely cogs in the machine, but the way in which this work is produced does make it difficult to decide, ‘okay, this is the authors work’ or ‘this is the author’s work in collaboration’, sometimes intentional, sometimes beyond the author’s intention. And it’s that that interests me.”

She also clarified her use of the word “theft”, saying she was in fact utilising a term originated by Eric Lott in his Love and Theft, and strongly denied that she was implying Beukes plagiarised in The Shining Girls:

“I should also make it clear when I used the word theft – as opposed to plagiarism, which is not a word I used because I don’t think what’s going on here is plagiarism – there is a very useful book on a completely different subject by Eric Lott called Love and Theft [...] Theft in the production of fiction happens all the time. But I want to see not just more of the love but also a more sustained engagement with the way you’re twisting the sources.”

Beukes, like many of the seminar attendees, got the distinct impression that a form of plagiarism is what Kruger was implying:

Author Interview on the Cards?

One of Beukes’ main complaints in her social media retort was that Kruger had not contacted her to discuss her sources:

Kruger said she had her reasons for doing so, but did not discount a dialogue with Beukes in the future, “if she will talk to me”.

“I didn’t conduct any interviews because I wanted to get a sense of the novels as I read them as other people read them, and the intentions as they are embedded in the text,” Kruger said.

“Having done interviews in the past, with theatre people rather than novelists, they’re a complicated form of fiction and I wanted at least in this initial round, this is far from publication, to work with the text.”

Kruger ended by saying the seminar discussion had been immensely helpful and thanked the participants for their observations.

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Gwen Ansell Reviews Marxisms in the 21st Century by Michelle Williams and Vishwas Satgar

Marxisms in the 21st Century: Crisis, Critique and StruggleVerdict: carrot with some criticism

The aim of this collection is not to define Marxism but, as its title declares, to explore the variety of positions, analyses and debates that have emerged under the banner. That provides a refreshing diversity. All the same, some readers – especially if their only previous encounters with the term are through media calumnies – might hanker after one essay drawing together the unifying threads.

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  • Marxisms in the 21st Century: Crisis, Critique and Struggle edited by Michelle Williams and Vishwas Satgar
    EAN: 9781868147533
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