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Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

Njabulo Ndebele and Mia Couto Among Speakers at 40th Annual ALA Conference (9-13 April 2014)

DisgraceAfrican-language LiteraturesPoetry and ProtestMaruThe Children of SowetoSouth Africa's Suspended RevolutionYoung Blood

The annual African Literature Association (ALA) 2014 Conference is being held from Wednesday 9 April to Sunday 13 April at The Professional Development Hub at University of the Witwatersrand.

Professor Njabulo Ndebele is one of the confirmed keynote speakers, along with Simon Gikandi, who is Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University.

There Was A CountryRethinking Eastern African Literary and Intellectual LandscapesWeep Not, ChildThe Opposite HouseSister OutsidersMatigariHalf of a Yellow Sun Thirteen CentsThe Lazarus EffectWhat Hidden LiesJust a Dead Man7 DaysDog Eat DogThe Sculptors of MapungubweAccented FuturesWe Need New Names

Caucus speakers include award-winning Mozambican author Mia Couto, Tanella Boni, writer and Professor of Philosophy at Houphouet-Boigny University in Abidjan, Liz Gunner, senior researcher at the Centre for Anthropological Research, University of Johannesburg, writer and activist Sindiwe Magona and Jared McDonald, post-doctoral Fellow in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Texts, Modes and Repertoires of Living In and Beyond the Shadows of Apartheid” and IT will include discussions, books launches, performances and film screenings. Read more about the event and have a look at the full programme:

April 2014 marks an auspicious moment in African history and experience: 20 years after the demise of official apartheid. Elsewhere, the seemingly intractable challenges of poverty, social inequality, discrimination and tyranny continue to bedevil the continent. The conference presents a fitting occasion to embark on the kinds of retrospection, introspection and predictions that look both at the past and the future in more fluid and dynamic ways – particularly in relation to the shadows and unfinished business of apartheid and the possibilities for imagining and creating a more just, egalitarian and humane world.

Rediscovery of the OrdinaryThe Tuner of SilencesRadio in AfricaFrom Robben Island to BishopscourtRichard RiveReconsiderationsThe WeddingThe Institute for Taxi PoetryDouble NegativeNo Time Like the PresentThe Promise of HopeLiterary LandscapesThe Place We Call Home and Other PoemsUnbowedLong Walk To FreedomAmericanahOpen CityExhibit A

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  • Literary Landscapes: From Modernism to Postcolonialism by Harry Garuba, Ina Grabe, Merry M Pawlowski, Carrol Clarkson, Johan Geertsema
    EAN: 9780230553163
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Breyten Breytenbach: Don’t Stop Dreaming This Shared “Space” We Call South Africa

KatalekteImagined LiberationSpeaking at the recent launch of Imagined Liberation: Xenophobia, Citizenship and Identity in South Africa, Germany and Canada by Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley, Breyten Breytenbach remarked on how quickly the “the flicker of common purpose” for a united multicultural South Africa seems to have died down.

“Can it be argued that the falling apart of this ostensible purpose and the absence of a centre accounts for the extreme pathological expressions and acts of xenophobia?” he asked.

Breytenbach believes that, while “utopian thinking does not have good press”, it can be a useful tool in the South African context. He said that “without a utopia to strive for we are condemned to killing one another” and that “if we were to stop dreaming this shared ‘space’ we call South Africa we shall revert to fighting factions”.

The acclaimed poet and artist, who had been imprisoned for “high treason” during apartheid, went on to suggests ways in which we can move towards utopia. Read his speech, shared by the Mail & Guardian:

The merit of Imagined Liberation, by Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley, is that it reminds us of the imperative of hospitality and of encompassing differences in background and in origin, and that a society can also be measured by the way it reacts to the amakwerekwere (foreigners) in their midst – indeed, that there is interaction between the quality of its liberation and the policies applicable to those who came from elsewhere.

For a moment in our South African history, there seems to have been the flicker of common purpose, maybe even a skyline where – to borrow a phrase from Moodley out of context – “difference was incorporated as a common good and not simply evoked for ‘cultural maintenance’ purposes”.

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Is JM Coetzee’s Idea of the University Too Idealistic? Damian Garside Meditates on John Higgins’ Academic Freedom

JM Coetzee Academic Freedom


Academic Freedom in a Democratic South AfricaDamian Garside believes the argument presented by JM Coetzee and John Higgins in Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa “has poetry” but neglects to address similar pre-existing social and economic critiques of universities in South Africa.

Writing for the Mail & Guardian, Garside hones in on Coetzee’s preface to Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa, which he takes as a flawed “appraisal” of Higgins’ argument.

Garside, professor of communication at North-West University’s Mafikeng Campus, insists the idea of the university put forward by Coetzee is “distinctly idealistic, even utopian” in an age of free digital information. Additionally, he argues that literary studies is the field least suitable to take up arms in support of academic freedom, because of the problematic relationship between text, power and reader. He argues that as the power associated with literature has shifted from text to reader, it is the reader and not the implicit “value” of literature that should be prioritised.

Garside also believes there is a “wider context” at play in Coetzee and Higgins’ position; a global drive – powered by a paranoid elite – which involves the “controlling of citizenries through a process of dumbing down”. He insists that the only valid means to defend the idea of the university would be to reinforce its role as a “force contrary to power elites and dominant orthodoxies”. In this respect, a university would align itself with the “critically literate citizenry” – deemed vital by Coetzee and Higgins – and play a crucial role in the participative democracy that is South Africa’s ultimate ideal.

Higgins and Coetzee share a common pessimistic outlook, expressing a fear that the university is going to lose its true identity and become a “university” in name only. That is, an institution that has lost its essential connection to the long-standing practices and traditions through which its dedication to the custody of important knowledge, the fostering of human intellectual development and the preservation of our intellectual integrity has been preserved.

The argument is appealing (it has its “poetry”). However, the danger in mounting this kind of noble and high-minded defence of the university is that its terminology and ways of thinking do not address similar critiques of the current system of educational transformation that emerge from materialist forms of social and economic theory and analysis.

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Hannah Gibson Reviews Africa’s Urban Revolution Edited by Susan Parnell and and Edgar Pieterse

Africa’s Urban RevolutionVerdict: carrot

As a contribution to scholarship, Africa’s Urban Revolution is a welcome and vital addition to a burgeoning field. If there were to be a criticism, it would concern the relative shortage of practical suggestions for “managing” the urban revolution.

That said, the stated objective of the book is to draw attention to the growth of African cities and some of salient characteristics of that growth – in other words to frame issues rather than solve them – and this is achieved in a highly readable and engaging manner.

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Sunday Read: JRR Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary to be Published with His Story “Sellic Spell”

JRR Tolkien’s 88-year-old translation of the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, will be published for the first time this May along with his academic commentary on the poem and a story, titled “Sellic Spell”, which it inspired him to write.

HarperCollins, the publishers of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, have revealed little about “Sellic Spell”, only mentioning that it is “JRR Tolkien’s idea of the kind of folk tale that might have been shared by the Anglo-Saxon bards”, writes John Garth in The Guardian. Garth is the author of Tolkien and the Great War.

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, Together with Sellic SpellTolkien and the Great WarThe Lord of the RingsThe HobbitBeowulf

Although there have been other translations of Beowulf, the oldest-surviving epic poem in English, including one be Seamus Heaney, Garth believes that this one, by the author of The Lord of the Rings and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien, is sure to be of special significance. Critics such as Dr Stuart Lee of the University of Oxford and Emeritus Professor Edward James of Anglia Ruskin University concur in an article in The Independent.

While other translations might be purely academic or purely literary, Garth points out that, “Tolkien bridged the gap between the two worlds astonishingly well.”

Tolkien’s commentary on Beowulf is worth reading because “it decisively changed the direction and emphasis of Beowulf scholarship”. While other scholars had focused on linguistic, historical and archaeological detail, dismissing the fantastical elements of the poem, Tolkien “pushed the monsters to the forefront”, arguing that “they represent the impermanence of human life, the mortal enemy that can strike at the heart of everything we hold dear”.

Futhermore, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary might be of interest because of the influence the poem had on Tolkien’s own fiction. “It should be interesting to fans of his fiction, because Beowulf was probably the medieval text that influenced him the most,” Lee says.

This week, HarperCollins announced that a long-awaited JRR Tolkien translation of Beowulf is to be published in May, along with his commentaries on the Old English epic and a story it inspired him to write, “Sellic Spell”. It is just the latest of a string of posthumous publications from the Oxford professor and The Hobbit author, who died in 1973. Edited by his son Christopher, now 89, it will doubtless be seen by some as an act of barrel-scraping. But Tolkien’s expertise on Beowulf and his own literary powers give us every reason to take it seriously.

Beowulf is the oldest-surviving epic poem in English, albeit a form of English few can read any more. Written down sometime between the eighth and 11th centuries – a point of ongoing debate – its 3,182 lines are preserved in a manuscript in the British Library, against all odds. Tolkien’s academic work on it was second to none in its day, and his 1936 paper “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” is still well worth reading, not only as an introduction to the poem, but also because it decisively changed the direction and emphasis of Beowulf scholarship.

JRR Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, the epic that helped inspire The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, is to be published for the first time almost 90 years after completion.

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary will be published in May with the “distinctive” 1926 translation alongside a commentary taken from his lecture notes made throughout the 1930s.

Book details

  • Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, Together with Sellic Spell by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
    EAN: 9780007590063
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Donald Powers Reviews Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa by John Higgins

Academic Freedom in a Democratic South AfricaVerdict: carrot

Intellectual dissatisfaction is the default position of the scholar, observes Stefan Collini in his 2012 book What Are Universities For? The defining function of the scholar in society is to question and reflect: not just to discover or produce new knowledge through new research, but to examine how that knowledge has been discovered or produced and how it might or is being practically applied beyond the university; and if that knowledge does not seem immediately or strictly useful or applicable, then to think again about the difference between “usefulness” and “value,” “knowledge” and “understanding,” the acquisition of technical expertise and the ability to be an active, critical citizen – one who is able to question and reflect on how things actually are but could be otherwise. This is the core set of issues, framed by the larger question of the social value of academic freedom, that John Higgins engages with in the five essays and three interviews collected in Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa.

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Rashiq Fataar Reviews Afropolis: City/Media/Art

Afropolis: City/Media/ArtVerdict: carrot

Against the backdrop of rapid growth, urbanisation and globalisation across Africa, Afropolis: City, Media, Art showcases the evolving nature of 5 African cities through a showcase of media, art, and narratives; each exhibits of contemporary urban African life.

Born as an exhibition at the opening of the Rautenbauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne in 2012, and then translated into English, the book is produced with the support of the Goethe-Institut and edited by Kerstin Pinther, Larissa Förster and Christian Hanussek.

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David Attwell Traces JM Coetzee’s Creative Process through Newly Available Manuscripts in Face to Face with Time

Cossee, the publishers that have released many a Dutch translation of JM Coetzee’s work, will this year publish David Attwell’s English book on Coetzee’s creative process and the development of his novels.

Face to Face with Time is based on Attwell’s research of Coetzee’s manuscripts and documents made available to scholars since the opening of the Coetzee Archive at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center last year. In his book, Attwell traces the genesis of such works as Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians and Life & Times of Michael K by comparing manuscripts in various stages of writing.

Providing a peek at this research, Attwell recently revealed his discovery that Waiting for the Barbarians had originally been set in Cape Town. Also divulged in Face to Face with Time is the fact Coetzee wrote a novel called The Burning of the Books on the dilemma of censorship, which was never published.

About the book

JM Coetzee is one of the most revered but elusive of authors in world literature. In Face to Face with Time, David Attwell gets closer to the genesis of Coetzee’s authorship than any other study to date. Using the author’s papers housed at the Ransom Centre of the University of Texas at Austin, Attwell describes Coetzee’s often-surprising beginnings and follows the fiction’s development through its idiosyncrasies and triumphs. This is an unusual critical biography, which tells a moving story about one of the most fascinating authorships of our time.

Face to Face with Time gives us a behind-the-scenes view of such literary masterpieces as Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians and Life & Times of Michael K. By comparing JM Coetzee’s manuscripts in several stages of writing, we discover some of the magic of one of the world’s most important contemporary writers. Face to Face with Time is an essential study for all who have read and loved Coetzee’s novels and fascinating insight in the mind of the Nobel Prize winner of 2003.

Whereas JC Kannemeyer’s biography (JM Coetzee: A Life in Writing, 2011) concentrates on Coetzee’s life, David Attwell focuses on the relationship between the work and the author, as this emerges from the manuscripts and the published novels. Attwell discovers that Coetzee is a meticulous writer, rewriting almost every sentence, who is not afraid to drastically alter storylines, settings and perspectives while writing his novels. And although the finished novels are distant from the author, Attwell finds that the start of every book is very personal.

We learn that Waiting for the Barbarians was originally set in Cape Town, that Michael K derives his initial from 18th century German author Heinrich von Kleist and that Coetzee wrote a never published novel called The Burning of the Books in which he discusses the dilemma of censorship. Face to Face with Time is a unique book on the authorship of JM Coetzee. For his devoted readers, for those who appreciate good literature and for writers who want to learn more about this fascinating creative process.

About the author

David Attwell (University of York) has written several books about and with JM Coetzee. JM Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (1993) and Doubling the Point (1992). He has spend five weeks researching the 155 boxes of literary archive that is currently available at the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas in Austin, USA. Face to Face with Time is the first book to feature detailed information from the various stages of JM Coetzee’s manuscripts.

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Martin Flanagan Reviews Knowing Mandela by John Carlin

Knowing MandelaVerdict: carrot

Carlin is an exemplary journalist. He had a personal connection with Mandela (a keen newspaper reader) but doesn’t overstate it. He is candid in expressing his doubts about Mandela, particularly after his first public speech upon being released from prison. The speech, read from a prepared text, was wooden. South Africa was on the edge of chaos: was too much being expected of this elderly man? (Mandela saved his charm for the following day’s press conference, which ended, remarkably, in a spontaneous bout of applause from the journalists.)

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Call for Papers: “Writing South Africa Now: Twenty Years On” Colloquium at the University of York

The University of York in association with University of Cambridge is holding a one-day colloquium on “Writing South Africa Now: Twenty Years On” on Saturday, 7 June and is calling for papers reflecting “on the complex changes and continuities concerning South African literature and literary studies”.

The event will be part of a series initiated by the University of Cambridge that aims to feature critical voices from the UK and elsewhere. The event will be conducted in English but papers on texts in other languages are also welcome. Professors Derek Attridge and David Attwell will be encouraging questions and discussions on the colloquium’s theme in the concluding session. Admission to the colloquium is free.

Dog Eat DogCoconutDouble NegativeSkinnedLittle Liberia

Abstracts should be submitted to the convenors Fai Suthipinittharm and Imke van Heerden at by April 15th and can be up to 300 words for 20-minute papers. Candidates also need to include a one-page CV. The inclusion of panel suggestions is optional.

The Shining GirlsDavid\'s StoryOf Cops and RobbersThe Childhood of JesusThe Cambridge History of South African Literature

Press release:

Call for Papers

Writing South Africa Now: Twenty Years On

University of York in association with University of Cambridge

June 7, 2014

Venue: University of York, United Kingdom

CFP deadline: April 15, 2014

Two decades after apartheid, South Africa remains a land of contrasts. A compelling though somewhat under-theorised generation of newcomers, including Niq Mhlongo and Kopano Matlwa, joins the ranks of heavyweights like Ivan Vladislavić and Antjie Krog in grappling with the host of complex challenges – social inequality, HIV/AIDS, and violent crime, to mention a few – which continue into the post-apartheid era. As Jonny Steinberg investigates prisons and AIDS clinics, Lauren Beukes shifts South African cities into cyberpunk overdrive. As Zoë Wicomb interrogates racial identity and belonging, Mike Nicol’s characters slug it out on the streets. And Coetzee, well, Coetzee now looks to other shores.

This year sees the twentieth anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, and offers timely cause for reflection on the complex changes and continuities concerning South African literature and literary studies. In what ways have post-apartheid texts responded to the socio-political changes following the downfall of formal apartheid? Who are the noteworthy new voices of the past two decades, and how do their texts draw on and depart from South African classics? How should scholars go about identifying contemporary currents in a critical landscape that often simplifies or elides any substantive scholarly or social distinctions between ‘now’ and ‘then’?

“Writing South Africa Now: Twenty Years On” is a one-day colloquium on South African literature to be held at the University of York on Saturday, June 7th 2014. The event is the second in a series initiated by the University of Cambridge aimed at making new critical voices from within the UK and elsewhere heard. It follows that the convenors privilege proposals from postgraduate students and early-career researchers dealing with any aspect of South African textual cultures. Possible research fields include but are not restricted to: literature, media, theatre, film, spoken word, publishing, and translation studies.

Although all conference proceedings will be conducted in English only, considerations of South African texts produced in other languages would be welcome. A range of submissions would help achieve “Writing South Africa Now”’s overarching goal: to facilitate critical conversations across literary genres and relevant disciplines. For this reason, the convenors also accept proposals based on research being conducted ‘now’ on South African literature of any period, in order to help situate contemporary research projects within broader historical, national and transnational contexts. A concluding interview with Professors Derek Attridge and David Attwell from the University of York will encourage questions and further discussion on the conference theme as a whole.

Please submit abstracts of up to 300 words for 20-minute papers, one-page CV’s, and panel suggestions (optional) to the convenors, Fai Suthipinittharm and Imke van Heerden, at by April 15th, 2014.

Attendance is free, and “Writing South Africa Now” warmly welcomes all those with an interest in South African writing to attend, given that a generous provision of time has been dedicated to discussion. Refreshments will be provided. Please confirm attendance at least, one month in advance.

Feel free to contact us if any questions should arise.




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