Land and literary non-fiction from Sol Plaatje to Jonny Steinberg.
The ‘story of an African farm’ is one of the most overworked motifs in South African literary history. Within ‘white writing’ from the region, it seems that almost every novelist has (along the lines of Dinesen’s 1938 memoir) ‘had a farm in Africa’, whether actual or imagined. At the same time, from RRR Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy (1928) onward, much writing by black South Africans has been classed as fundamentally urban: underpinned by a move away from rural areas to the city, and taking as its subject the encounter with modernity that ensues. This paper hopes to unsettle these familiar trajectories, by tracking how South Africa’s arable land appears in long-form non-fiction. Ranging from Sol Plaatjes’s Native Life in South Africa (1916) to the work of Charles van Onselen and Jonny Steinberg, it considers major South African texts that return to the rural, and ways of writing about land that rely on testimony, oral history and reportage. As such it asks for an alternate genealogy of the African farm, one that includes the voices obscured or effaced by South African versions of the pastoral (or anti-pastoral). Yet at the same time, the complex projects of collaboration and cultural translation that produce texts like Van Onselen’s The Seed is Mine (1996) and Steinberg’s Midlands (2002) pose other, difficult questions about how access to land and access to narrative become implicated in each other.
A Land Divided | 24-27 March 2013 | University of Cape Town.
Land and South African Society in 2013 | A Comparative Perspective.
The N2 is the longest highway in South Africa. It starts at an intersection near the docks in Cape Town, follows the eastern seaboard of the country (roughly), then bends inland below Swaziland to end at the town of Ermelo in the province of Mpumalanga.
It is 2241 kilometres long. Can it be done justice in 2241 words?
The N2 we are concerned with here is not a United States Navy term for a senior military intelligence officer. It is not a London bus route, nor the branding used by a certain Irish television station between 1997 and 2004, nor the model number of the Yamaha AvantGrand Piano. Neither is it the name of a 2011 song by the Japanese indie rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation.
It is not the road connecting Brussels and Maastricht, or Tananarive and Toamasina, or Kaolack and Kidira. Or Brazzaville and the northern border of the Republic of Congo.
Also (I feel this is important to mention): it is not the N1… [Continue reading]
A winning piece written by a South African academic working in the shadow of the Booker-winning author. Financial Times | 28 December 2012.
Ebook | (Vintage Digital)
There remains the matter of getting past Coetzee.
There is an odd made-for-television documentary from 1997 which shows footage of JM Coetzee conducting a guided tour of Cape Town’s southern suburbs. From the slopes of Table Mountain he points out the hospital where he was born; the suburb of Plumstead where he lived as a young boy; the university campus where he spent much of his academic career. A colleague recalls how Coetzee would not take calls from the Booker prize committee because he was invigilating undergraduate exams: a measure of his professionalism. We visit his Standard Three classroom at Rosebank Primary and the grassy common where he participated in school sports days. He recalls taking gold in the running backwards race of 1948, as if enjoying a wry joke at the expense of anyone who thought that such an exercise might grant some privileged insight into his work… [Continue reading...] [Read as PDF: Page 1 | Page 2 ]
Bodley Head / Financial Times Essay Prize | 2012.
Simon Schama | Long-form writing is alive and kicking.
First published in Bokvennen litterært magasin | Oslo | nr. 3.12
These somewhat unfair thoughts are stirred by Disgrace, which is a very good novel, almost too good a novel…It sometimes reads as if it were the winner of an exam whose challenge was to create the perfect specimen of a very good contemporary novel.
James Wood, ‘Coetzee’s Disgrace: A Few Skeptical Thoughts’,
The Irresponsible Self (2004).