States of Emergence

Day-registers, littoral zones and the sensual intelligence at the Cape.


This piece emerges from a larger enquiry into ‘literary non-fiction’ from South Africa, and in particular a consideration of the diary form: its genealogy in the region as a navigational aid, first on sea, then on land; its attractiveness (as historical document and private, closeted archive) to a contemporary literary imagination intent on re-presenting once obscure and ‘unofficial’ lives; and more recently, its ability, as a ‘day-register’, to log the quotidian during times of socio-political flux. In reading passages about the southern African coastline from Athol Fugard’s Notebooks 1960-1977 (1983) and Stephen Watson’s A Writer’s Diary (1997), I hope to explore how and why these writers are drawn to the figure of Albert Camus.  Much of this Nobel laureate’s oeuvre – his Carnets and in particular his lyrical essays like ‘Nuptials at Tipasa’ and ‘The Wind at Djemila’ – constantly returns to an Algerian coastline of similar latitude, light and climate to that of the Cape Peninsula; so too he writes out of a vexed political context which speaks to the situation of the liberal-humanist literary imagination in southern Africa.  The ‘invincible summer’ instilled by his Algerian upbringing was something which Camus imagined as the core of his creative being; yet how does a similar celebration of physicality, the body and ‘the sensual intelligence’ play out when relocated from a northern to a southern African coastline?

Hedley Twidle 2011.