September 8, 2010

fragments on death

Filed under: i&I younity movement,literature,philosophy,stacy hardy — ABRAXAS @ 10:34 am

I did not know how easy the coming would be. I have been with you in dreams and night wishes, but often this was only when the world was not going well with me. Aches and fears and troubles brought my thoughts running to you.

I am confessing to you now. Be kind to me: a new child coming back to you. You knew me ready to die again and enter this world those here above think so real, this world which you know is only the passing flesh of everything that lasts, the soul of our people.

Coming home to you put fear into me at times. Do not laugh at me. I did not see you clearly, and I had been so long in this other world that I had no idea but fear.

Death. That was the frightening thing, the final sound. Now I see in it another birth, just as among you the birth of an infant here is mourned as the traveling of another spirit. Do not judge me harshly for the times I thought less of you than of the thousand things I had gathered around my body to give it comfort; they were to me then like living babies bound to me by thirty navels, and I thought I could never bear to cut them; there have been times when life was so sweet. For what purpose do you throw us such blinding sweetness when our aim is death?

I am reproaching you. Forgive me. I know of the screens of life you have left us: veils that rise in front of us, cutting into easy pieces eternity and the circle of the world, so that until we have grown tall enough to look behind the next veil we think the whole world and the whole of life is the little we are allowed to see, and this little we clutch at with such desperation. What a thing for you to laugh at, when we grow just tall enough and, still clutching the useless shreds of a world worn out, we peep behind the veil just passed and find in wonder a more fantastic world, making us fools in our own eyes to have believed that the old paltriness was all. But again we hold fast to the new shadows we find. We are fooled again, and once more taste the sharp unpleasantness of surprise, though we thought we had grown wise.

I am here against the last of my veils. Take me. I am ready. You are the end. The beginning. You have have no end. I am coming.

Ayi Kwei Armah
Fragments, 1969

September 7, 2010

alice walker in sa

Filed under: literature,politics — ABRAXAS @ 2:34 am

September 6, 2010

r.i.p. lewis nkosi

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 8:40 pm

Lewis Nkosi dies

Writer, composer and journalist Lewis Nkosi has died at the age of 73.

It said he died on Sunday after a long illness.

Starting his career as a journalist at the Zulu-language newspaper Ilanga lase Natal, Nkosi joined Drum magazine in the early 1950s.

When he received a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University in 1960, he was forced to leave South Africa on a one-way exit permit, exiling him from his country of birth for the next 31 years.

He held teaching posts at several universities including Zambia, Warsaw, Wyoming, London and Brandeis.

Among his works are the novels Mating Birds, Underground People and Mandela’s Ego. plus several volumes of essays.

His plays include The Black Psychiatrist, We Can’t All Be Martin Luther King, and The Rhythm of Violence.

Project director of the South African Literary Awards Raks Seakhoa said on Tuesday that Nkosi was “part of those talented few who took South Africa’s literary heritage to greater heights”.

“He was among the pioneers of South African writing during his stint at the Drum magazine,” he said.

A memorial service would be held on September 8 at the Museum Africa, Newtown Cultural Precinct, in Johannesburg at 5.30pm.

The funeral would be in Durban on September 10.

‘n Brief van afsny-lappies

Filed under: literature,melissa adendorff — ABRAXAS @ 9:07 am

Iets het verbrokkel. Die krake het groter gewords. Steke is uitgeskeur. Iets het geskeur. Nou is dit oop. Dit word vrot, vol van infeksie. Dit kan nie gesond word nie. Dit is ‘n ou wond. Die laslappie werk om die rantjies het uitgerafel. Hulle lê nou op die vloer, die afknip lappies, vir weggooi.

Dit klink asof ek in a liriese sirkel praat, om en om en om, vasgevang in woorde. En dit is, ek wil, want ek is net daai bietjie te bang om vir jou te sê dat jy vir my ‘n guns moet doen. Dat jy vir my moet laat gaan, sodat ek my exige slap kan kry. Wat ‘n lelike ding om the sê. Lelik om the voel. Lelik om te lees. As daardie woorde maar net onder ‘n stort vsn kokende water kon sit, en afwas … maar die letters klou, en sal nie af skrop nie.

Ek haat date k hierdie ding van iemand anders af moet vra, en ek haat die antwoorde wat ek sal kry. En ek vra dit vir jou. Want jy het gepraat en ek het geluister, en jy het my laat opstaan, op uit die afval lappies van my gevoelens.

En jy het gesê dat as ek myself doodmaak, dat jy my siel sal jag. En ek twyfel jou glad nie, en al wat ek vra is dat jy my siel laat gaan so dat jy op jou jag-uitstappie kan gaan. Ek is jammer dat jy hierin vas geborduur is … in my wond in. Wat het jy aangevang om my te verdien?

Dat ek so min beheer oor myself het maak my seer, maak my kop seer. En die seer word ‘n skree wat ek hoor en hoor en hoor, maak nie saak hoeveel keer ek my vinger oor my lippe lê nie. As ek maar net hierdie wond kon skoon maak, soos ‘n badkamer vloer waarvan af bloed afgewas word. Die pyn van my vel help met my siel se wond. Die pyn van ‘n sny wat ek gemaak het, in plaas van die pyn wan ‘n skeuring wat teen my wil gebeur het. Pyn is my leuen en my gebed en my redding. Donker laslappies om my gewrigte gedraai, vas gebind, verbande … ek is moeg. My bloed het nou genoeg gevloei, uit die sny en uit die skeur. En in die donker sien ek die asblik waarin die afsny-lappies beland, en ek wens date k maar net na die ding toe kon kruip, maar dit is ver, en ek is moeg. So moeg.

Ek weet date k nie hierdie ding van jou moet vra nie. Maar ek vra, ten spyte van jou. Dit, ek, is selfsugtig, maar jou stem en jou woorde het my opgetel, en nou moet jy my net tot daardie asblik dra, en jou hande afskud, sodat my rafels nie aan jou vasklou nie.

Here help ,my, ek is besig om dood te gaan. Ek bloei. Waar is jy? Jy’s altyd daar, en nou is jy net ‘n gedagte, net ‘n wasem … jy’t my asem gevat met jou hand oor my mond, en nou val my rafel druppels op jou voete, nat en taai. Nat en koud en vergiftig. Ek het jou noodig om my te verdoof. Dan is die pyn weg. Dan is die gedagtes stil. Dan is ek dood. Met my blinde oë oop.

Ek kan myself nie keer nie, en ek sal vir ‘n ewigheid jammer wees. Ek is al klaar, en was nog altyd.

Los my nou? Asseblief?

September 5, 2010


Filed under: ian martin,literature — ABRAXAS @ 10:27 pm

From The Life of Henry Fuckit, 1950-2015
by Ian Martin

On Saturday afternoon he committed adultery with the café owner’s wife. In his defence he could say it wasn’t premeditated. No, it was accidental, a fateful collision of incidents. In the morning he had alighted at Cape Town station and walked through the busy streets. As he passed the Commercial Union Building he shuddered with revulsion at the memory of his brief Insurance career, now more than seven years into the past but still painfully present in his psyche. On Greenmarket Square a preacher was shouting an important message:

“God will judge you, every one of you, according to your ways. Repent and turn yourselves from your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”

He strutted up and down, stopped abruptly, stretched out his arm and pointed an accusing finger at Henry as he passed by.

“Repent!” he screamed. “Ye drunkards and fornicators, repent! Your ways are an abomination to the Lord. Repent!”

Instead of heeding the maniac’s advice Henry showed him his fist, thumb protruding between first two fingers, and walked on up Berg Street to the library.

On the second floor he spent some three hours browsing through the shelves of the Art section. First he refreshed his memory by going to his old favourites, and then he began looking at unfamiliar artists in the hope of discovering some new genius. The time went quickly and it was past one when he emerged from the building and stepped into the harsh sunlight. After so much colour and intensity the emptying city had an over-exposed look to it, making him feel in need of succour.

At the City Hall Hotel bar he drank two cold beers. No, he drank three beers, because one beer is thirst-quenching, two beers you feel nice and mellow, and three beers you’re beginning to think recklessly and creatively.

The pleasant effect of three beers was wearing off by the time he reached Kalk Bay station so he went straight to the Majestic bar and had another two frosties. He also ate two cold fish cakes with lashings of tomato sauce and then went to the gentlemen’s convenience and pissed a bucket of wonderful relief before making his way down the road to the Olympia Residentia. At Basil’s Corner Café he went in to buy a pint of milk and a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits. As anyone knows, even someone of the meanest intelligence, the visual arts appeal to the senses. They tend to arouse the emotions, especially when they deal with the human form in an explicitly frank fashion. In the library Henry had encountered two new artists: Philip Pearlstein and HR Giger. Most striking among the former artist’s work was a large-scale piece of realism featuring two nudes. The seated female was Caucasian and in her early forties. Straight dark hair to her shoulders, high cheekbones, slightly puffy about the eyes. Heavy drooping breasts, some cellulite about the midriff and thighs. Standing next to her, leaning against the wall, a negro in his late twenties. Lean and athletic he was turned towards the woman and she was eyeing his circumcised cock with an interesting mixture of curiosity and indifference. This was youthful desire tempered by the experience of age. HR Giger, the other artist, was quite clearly a worshipper of the god Priapus. He was obsessed with penile erections and depicted them en masse, as in ‘Landscape’, half hidden behind a waterfall, as in ‘Cataract’, or as beautifully obscene, high magnification, action close-ups, as in ‘Erotomechanics’.

Thus, when Henry entered the café, he was not only under the influence of alcohol. He was so sensually aroused that the sight of Basil’s wife handling English cucumbers had a compelling effect on him, and he reacted with impulsive indiscretion. Standing very close beside her, brushing against her as she packed fresh produce onto the racks, he picked up one of the cucumbers and weighed it in his left hand. Then he held the long, well-formed, fleshy fruit jutting away from him and began to caress its smooth cylindrical length with his right hand.

She stood very still, transfixed like Lot’s wife gazing on the expressly forbidden. He turned slowly until the tip nudged her arm and the spell was broken. She looked up at him, her face flushed with colour, her eyes wide, her lips parted, and whispered urgently, “Come to the back.”

In the farthest corner of the shop, partly hidden from view by islands of shelving, was a door leading out into a service alley. He was vaguely aware of dustbins, the smell of refuse and Jeye’s Fluid, the side street at the end of the alley. He grabbed her and found her mouth, her breasts, her buttocks. Her passion seemed as eager as his, but she pulled away and motioned towards the storeroom door across the way.

Under the electric bulb stood a deal table bearing a grocer’s scale, measuring scoop and box of paper bags. On the floor were jute sacks of flour, meal, sugar and rice. The windowless walls were lined with shelves stacked with boxes and boxes of dry goods. She was soon bent forward across the table, resting on her elbows and forearms, and being mounted by the rampant Satyr. Grunts, groans and gasps mingled with cries, moans and sighs until, all too soon, the deed was done. Another nail in his coffin.

Ian Martin’s controversial novel Pop-splat is now available from http://www.pop-splat.co.za.

September 2, 2010

anton krueger reviews lesego rampolokeng’s “blackheart”

Filed under: anton krueger,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 2:11 pm

August 31, 2010

aryan kaganof reviews Johan Van Wyk’s “Man Bitch”

Filed under: johan van wyk,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 12:24 am

“There is such a vast difference between a thought, and writing a thought. The gap between them can never be bridged.”

I have never read a book that so perfectly describes the abject uselessness of being an academic as does Johan Van Wyk’s “Man Bitch”.

“Literature that is moral is boring.”

Man Bitch is structured as a tryptych – Durban/Europe/Durban followed by a lengthy coda – Durban/Mozambique/Durban/Poland/Durban. The European sections of the book describe the protagonist Johan Van Wyk’s journeys as a traveling literature Professor. The inanity and emptiness of “Professing”; of literature itself as a means of making a living – is excoriatingly portrayed.

“I read Dostoyevsky’s Possessed, an old Everyman’s edition. I was surprised by the relevance to my own situation. I felt like his character, Stephan Trofimovitch, who was overtaken by historical events, and who felt that all the social changes amounted to was ‘that he was forgotten and of no use.’, I thought that, similarly, my life was useless, and my book was an attempt to remind the world of my existence.”

The real life of protagonist Johan Van Wyk takes place in the seedy bars, clubs and hotels of Durban where he meets a succession of women whose working hours are after dark but not once in the book does he refer to them as “prostitutes”. He loves these women, or at least experiences the nausea that would appear to be the most consistent symptom accompanying the condition of love; and the many women that he is variously engaged in relations with all confess to varying degrees of love for him. But what is this love? Perhaps the book’s most important project is to try to understand what love means in the context of a life as unrelentingly grim as is lived by these characters who share a great deal in common with the ubiquitous cockroaches that, according to Van Wyk, “only fucked.”

“Why does one write a diary, why duplicate what is already in the mind, and why if you are only writing for yourself, I asked myself as I walked back from the consulate. Memory needs refreshing, I thought. Back at the flat, an Indian in the lift told his girlfriend: “Kaffirs like ants here. Need a can of Doom to spray.” I opened my flat window; the breeze, the voices of an excited drunken crowd and sirens floated in. I heard the sounds of hell. I sat on the toilet, trampled a small cockroach, and thought that cockroaches cannot communicate. They only fucked.”

That the women Van Wyk loves are all black is important. (There is one exception – Polish Ewa – “and for the first time in years my fingers traced tenderly the outlines of a pale white body…”) That Van Wyk is a boer is important. When, after many years away, Van Wyk returns to Bloemfontein to visit his parents, he is physically repulsed by his own kind. “In the early morning, the geese woke me. I played tennis against a wall until the retarded boy from across the road, joined me. He told me how he assaulted a maid with a golf stick, for misplacing the keys to his fishing trunk. I felt nauseous. Even the innocent and the disabled had internalized the abusive behavior of the place.”

Van Wyk’s monotone, his unhurried, dispassionate descriptions of the dystopia he finds himself in, echoes the best of Georges Bataille’s fiction (Madame Edwarda; The Dead Man) while his ruthless self analysis (of the protagonist “Johan Van Wyk” as well as of the author “Johan Van Wyk”) brings the early Céline to mind. This brief novel is on par with Raymond Radiguet’s “The Devil In The Flesh”. Nothing in South African literature prepares one for the scalding jolt of reading this book. Van Wyk has written from outside the paradigm of the geographically South African literatures that have appeared to date.

“Love is a kind of hell.”

This is not a cheerful book and the unrelenting detail of the filthy environment can bog one down and yet the overall achievement of Van Wyk is to populate this landscape with real human beings and a real sense of collective humanity. He is one of very few so-called white South African writers who has achieved this when writing about so-called black characters. Reading Van Wyk exposes the inhuman cyphers that pass for “blacks” in Brink and Coetzee as just that – cyphers. “Man Bitch” is also fascinating in its rich evocation of the underbelly of the city of Durban and it would be appropriate if the book is filmed by Claire Angelique, whose autobiographical film “My Black Little Heart” is a perfect companion piece for this unique and essential novel.

“I returned to South Africa through a misty Swaziland. The rivers were overflowing, and raindrops were gliding like sperm on the front windscreen. There was a feeling of elation, when the city of Durban became visible with its neatly painted high-rise buildings and shopping centres. I did not have money for a taxi, so I decided to walk to my flat. I walked past a tramp looking dead and rotting in a flowerbed next to the pavement. Back in my flat, the power was off, and the place was filled with a strong smell of death. I opened the fridge, and realized that it was blood from meat that smelt. I opened a bag of cashew nuts, to discover that it was full of maggots. On the switchboard, I saw that the electricity had tripped out. It must have been lightning. I was tired and collapsed on the bed, and then took a cold bath.”

First published in 2001 by Van Wyk himself, it remains scandalous that this book has not been picked up by a major South African publishing house.

Aryan Kaganof

August 29, 2010


Filed under: ian martin,literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:24 pm

From The Life of Henry Fuckit, 1950-2015
by Ian Martin

As part of Stores Administration, the Verification Section occupied an office on the second floor. But Ivan Schroder, Chief Verification Officer, conducted his research and experimental work in a basement situated deep under the Carpenter Shop. Formerly it had been a wood store with access to the sea via a sloping tunnel. In this tunnel the heavy hardwoods had lain curing in brine. Now only minesweepers were constructed from wood and there was no need for a large stockpile of timber, and the space stood empty.

There were four other Verification Officers: Old Tommy, Young Tommy, Mister Snow and Captain White. They were lazy good-for-nothing degenerates whose existence Henry chose to dismiss as irrelevant. Certainly they posed no threat. The desk he was assigned had been the workstation of another degenerate who had quit this world suddenly after a bad bout of multiple organ failure. In the bottom right hand drawer Henry discovered nine empty half-jack gin bottles. Before dumping them in the wastepaper basket he carefully drained their dregs into his coffee. In the bottom left he found some mysterious blood-stained rags. He held them up and his look of revulsion was met with eager jocularity. He was informed that the deceased man had suffered from prolapsed haemorrhoids. The strangulated, unretractable type, you know. Excruciating. Henry let the rags drop, slammed the draw shut and never reopened it.

The Dockyard was a perfectly controlled world – as near to perfection as Man can make. Everything there, everything, had both a number and a description. Nothing was permitted to subtract from or add to this world, and all was as it should be, and all was entirely predictable. It was the task of the Verification Officer to help maintain this state of orderliness by constantly verifying the continued existence of hundreds of thousands of items. Armed with a weighty ledger and swaggering with self-importance, he had the run of the Yard. At any time of the day he was entitled to enter, unannounced, any workshop, store or warehouse, and demand to be shown such and such an item as described in the tome. And if it couldn’t be found the entire structure trembled. It HAD to be found. And it always was found, with a little ingenuity and deviousness. Then the item could be ticked off and all involved heaved a sigh of relief. This was Henry’s new job, but only part of it.

Harry Bergson had promised him something more stimulating, and a month after joining the Verification team he was summoned to Ivan Schroder’s office.

“Are you fond of cats, Mister Fuckit?”

“You mean as a delicacy?” He liked this question. It was wide open. “Or do you mean as a substitute for beef in something like a nice, freshly baked steak and kidney pie?”

“No, no. I’m talking about the domestic cat, Felis catus, kept since ancient Egyptian times as a household member and prized and pampered and petted as both adornment and companion.” Schroder was not displeased with Henry’s initial response to his question. If one was to discuss something, then one should do it thoroughly. “Anyway, if I had meant it as food I would have said ‘cat’, and not ‘cats’. Are you fond of cat?”

“Quite so. Point taken. Funny you should broach this subject though, for only the other day I bludgeoned a cat to death whilst under the influence of a particularly cold and vicious rage. I suppose that’s a measure of the antipathy I feel towards the species. Broke my bloody chair, too. No, Mister Schroder, I can’t say I am fond of cats.”

“I see. Well that’s a good thing. Bodes well. A cat-lover might feel a little squeamish about conducting the experimental work I have in mind.”

The Chief Verification Officer occupied a small room on the shady south side of the building, facing away from the yard. Beyond the perimeter wall and a line of gum trees the hillside rose steeply to meet the base of Simonsberg, and on days like this, when the cloud was low, the mountain loomed close and seemed overbearing. This was a very different aspect to the one Henry was used to and he idly wondered whether one’s thought processes were significantly affected by the view. On the wall behind Schroder was a framed certificate from Charlatan College conferring on Ivan O. Schroder a Master’s degree in nuclear physics. On the back of the door hung an academic gown, and on the wall behind Henry a bookcase bore the weight of some astonishingly varied reading matter.

Ivan Schroder was a tall, fit looking man in his mid forties. His long, dark, almost black hair was worn off the forehead in a brylcreamed profusion of finger-raked strands. His clean-shaven face was elongated and rectangular, as were his incisors, which gleamed white and demanded the viewer’s attention. Equine, definitely equine, Henry thought. Half expect him to tip his head back, flair his nostrils, roll his eyes, and whinny. And Henry had already spotted a distinguishing mannerism: the sudden loud laugh. It was always unexpected and jarring, acting as a precursor to its own explanation. Most people laugh AFTER something has occurred. Not Schroder. He laughed, thought of something funny, then verbalised it. Could be damned irritating.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “I hope this dislike for cats isn’t pathological.” He paused, then laughed suddenly and loudly, causing Henry to jump.

“Fuck it, man, I wish you wouldn’t do that. What’s so funny?”

“It wouldn’t do to have you going about thumping all our laboratory specimens over the head, now would it?”

“Humph! Don’t imagine I’m some kind of psychopath. I’m not given to violent outbursts.” He looked thoughtful, almost melancholy. “Took me by surprise, actually. Most unlike me. Strange, no remorse though.”

“You’d probably had a bad day or something.” Schroder was vaguely sympathetic. “You could have had something on your mind troubling you. A build-up of frustration maybe, waiting to boil over. You’re not married, are you? Could have been something like pre-menstrual tension. You know, the male equivalent.”

Henry regarded him suspiciously. A bit of a wiseacre? Bit of an oddball, for sure. He chose to ignore the remarks.

“I suppose it serves to further confirm an impression I’ve had of late that I don’t really know much about myself. I’m twenty-five years of age and yet sometimes when I look in the mirror it’s as if I’m seeing a stranger there. How much do I understand myself? What am I capable of? Does one really get to know oneself?”

“Know oneself?” Schroder felt something funny coming his way but managed to stifle another loud and sudden laugh by placing his left hand over his mouth. “All the holy men in history have spent their lives trying to get to know themselves, and here you are, an intemperate nonentity skulking in a dark corner of nowhere, worrying about not knowing yourself at twenty-five. You’re familiar with the famous last words attributed to Jesus Christ on the cross?”

‘Famous last words’ was one of those phrases which Henry found irresistible, regardless of circumstances.

“‘Oh Allah! Pardon my sins. Yes, I come.’ No? Silly me, It couldn’t have been. That was Mohammed, peace be upon him. And it couldn’t have been ‘Is that you Dora?’ Because I’m pretty sure that was croaked by one of the great poets. And it certainly wasn’t ‘Kiss me, Hardy.’ Ha, ha, ha. No, It was something like ‘Let down the curtain, the farce is over.’ But it wasn’t, because it was Rabelais who came out with that one.”

“Most amusing, Mr Fuckit. But to get back to Jesus, it’s quite clear from his final question that even HE was afflicted with self-doubt. He too must have been surprised at himself after all that build-up!”

“Yes, I see what you mean. I’m not alone. It should be a comfort to know I’m in such illustrious company. But I’m afraid it doesn’t really do anything to settle this growing unease that I feel. It’s a kind of whimpering inside me.”

He fell silent and Schroder waited patiently, sensing the young man’s need to ameliorate his anguish by describing it from every angle. Henry, however, was hesitating before launching into a lengthy monologue. He was mindful of the exasperation he had detected in Harry Bergson’s voice the last time they had spoken. “Henry,” he had said, ushering him from the office, “there’s nothing I can do to help this internal whimpering, whining and winging of yours. I’ve told you a hundred times what I think: you are in need of spiritual revitalisation. It could happen tomorrow, or it might be years before you experience an awakening. In the meantime I must get on with the task of tracking down the central source of Oxyastonishing energy flows.” That had been more than three weeks ago. He decided to spare the Chief VO a conducted tour of his tortured soul.

“The whimpering inside me,” he continued, “Is probably the result of mental and physical, not to mention emotional, exhaustion caused by overwork. I repeat: OVERWORK. That unrelenting tyrant, Alf Whitehead, is to blame for my condition. It’s a good job I insisted on a transfer from Central Store to Verification. Otherwise I dread to think what would have become of me. A complete breakdown culminating in suicide, probably.”

It was common knowledge in the Dockyard that Alf Whitehead had threatened to shoot himself if Henry Fuckit were to return to Central Store after his expedition to South West Africa. He had also made it clear that before shooting himself he would first shoot Fuckit.

“Yes, that man’s a total maniac. Completely off his rocker. And a brain the size of a pea.”

Ivan Schroder could be relied on as the staunchest of allies in any verbal attack on the said Whitehead. It was Schroder who had been assistant to A. W. before Henry took up the post five years ago, and the two men had rowed bitterly over the interpretation of time. Schroder had been forced out on the assertion that the Morgan’s Pomade with which he plastered his greying hair was causing the Senior Stores Officer to come out in an allergic reaction. Instant anaphylaxis at the faintest whiff of Morgan’s Pomade. Agitation, flushing, heart palpitations, tingling, prickling, itching, a throbbing in the ears, coughing, sneezing and wheezing. All at the same time. It suddenly occurred to Henry that the man sitting opposite him had just raked his fingers through a dark head of hair entirely devoid of grey. Funny it had never struck him before. Five years ago he was greying. There were three possible explanations. Had Morgan’s Pomade lived up to the extravagant claims on the bottle? Had the ageing effect of constant attrition been the root cause of depigmentation, and had the removal of the cause allowed for rejuvenation? No. It was more likely the man was dyeing his hair black. Huh! The long hair raked back off the forehead. The Brylcream. Must be a potent streak of vanity in him. Henry was entertaining some doubts concerning this man. Could signify a sexual perversion, this. Probably indulges in a bit of sodomy in his spare time. Hairless young fellows with narrow hips and tight balls. Or flagellation? Henry summoned up a vision of a woman in boots and military helmet wielding a long whip.

“Mister Fuckit? Mister Fuckit! You seem distracted.”

“Ahh, yes. Yes, quite so. As I was saying, or rather, as you were saying, brain the size of a pea. Mmm. Yes, I’m quite prepared to assist you in your important research which involves quantum mechanics, as I understand it, as well as some squeamish business with cats. Sounds most intriguing. And it’ll be a relief to get away from those degenerate colleagues of mine. As long as the work isn’t too demanding. Please bear in mind the fragility of my constitution.”

“Don’t worry. Although this research work will one day result in a profound shift in the way the international scientific and philosophical communities view their separate disclipines, it could hardly be called burdensome work. It’s the ideas which we are concerned with, not the physical work expended in attempting to illustrate the veracity of our suppositions. Do I make myself clear? If it’s a good idea it will stand on its own two feet anyway, without having to be propped up by volumes and volumes of explanation, hypothetical conjecture, experimental shenanigans, spurious conclusions and co-masturbatory congratulations. Ninety-nine percent of our work can be accomplished whilst reclining in a comfortable armchair. Once the concept has been formulated it is up to the acolytes to pounce, seize the idea, bear it on high, and proceed with the sedulous labour. They must explain, proclaim, and disseminate. That’s the thankless work. We don’t have to have anything to do with that.”

Henry nodded his head thoughtfully. The man’s enthusiasm was infectious. And he found the ‘comfortable armchair’ analogy most alluring. In the past month he had not been required to over-extend himself. He was prepared to concede this, cautiously. It had been a month of orientation mostly, and he had only verified one item in the course of the four weeks. He had chosen the item carefully after perusing many a ledger and after much deliberation. The foreman of the Heavy Plate Shop had led the way to the centre of the workshop, raised his eyes to the steel roof trusses high above them and pointed with a theatrical gesture reminiscent of the one employed by Cecil John Rhodes when designating which corner of Southern Africa should be plundered next.

“There she is,” he had declared with pride. “Crane – gantry type – complete with 25 ton hoisting mechanism – 2 synchronised electric motors for self-propulsion – 2 by 120 metre steel tracks. As per the description in the inventory.” Henry had viewed the towering machine from different angles and then called for a welder’s chipping hammer. In due course the hammer was placed in his hand and he tapped one of the steel uprights, listening attentively.

“Alright. No evidence of fatamorganic distortion or unauthorised metallurgical debasement.” And he had handed back the tool, noting with satisfaction the open-mouthed bafflement on the faces around him. Then he had required the foreman to climb the service ladder and call out the number stencilled on the winch housing. Fortunately for the foreman this number tallied with the one in the ledger and Henry was able to pencil a tick next to the entry. All present sighed with relief. The gantry crane had not been stolen, mislaid, lost or destroyed. Back in the Verification Office he had poured himself a coffee cup of Vrotters, lit his pipe and put his feet on the desk, content with a job well done. And that was enough for the first month.

“So you’re at loggerheads with the other chaps in the team, are you? That’s unfortunate.” Schroder felt it his duty to familiarise himself with what was going on in the Verification Office, even though his real interest lay in quantum mechanics and an entirely different type of verification.

“Well, no, not exactly. Can’t say I’m at loggerheads with them. It’s just that we don’t seem to have anything in common. Their interests are so commonplace, their opinions so bigoted and inconsequential, their emotions so shallow and inappropriate, that I view their behaviour as childish to a degree verging on the infantile.” And to illustrate his point Henry described an incident which had occurred on the previous Friday.

The last two hours of the day, from afternoon tea until the final siren, were regarded as playtime in the Verification Office, especially on a Friday. Noughts and Crosses, Battleships, Hangman, Matches, Rock-Paper-Scissors – any game which could be played at one’s workstation without detection in the event of a surprise inspection by Commodore van der Rektum of the Productivity and Diligence Branch. And in addition to games there were pranks, which were more dangerous.

One of the stock tricks played by Young Tommy was to leave the room and, from an adjoining office, phone Old Tommy. When Old Tommy picked up the phone and said “Verification Office,” a voice would say something like “Wake up, you old cunt.” Or, “This is your Captain speaking. Gaan kak in die mielies!” Old Tommy never failed to be irritated and the other degenerates always fell about laughing.

On the Friday afternoon Henry was referring to, the phone rang just after three o’ clock. Young Tommy was out of the room. Old Tommy snatched up the instrument, shouted “Go pull your wire!” and slammed it down. A minute later hurried footsteps were heard in the corridor. They all jerked into working stances, pulling ledgers over dirty magazines and games they were busy with. (Henry had been reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘Philosophical Investigations’, and finding them as dull as ditchwater.) The door burst open and Commodore van der Rektum stood glaring from one miscreant to the next. He had worked himself into a rage and was spitting venom – BAIE GIFTIG. He demanded to know who had answered the phone. Fortunately, Captain White had the presence of mind to take charge and declared that he had put down the receiver just as Sir opened the door. (Captain White was the ex-skipper of an ill-fated fishing trawler which had sunk under mysterious circumstances whilst trying to enter Durban Harbour shortly after rounding Cape Point. Damn Admiralty charts!)

“A spot of trouble down at the Machine Shop you know, Sir. The foreman was having difficulty in accounting for two items without numbers on them. All in order now though, Sir, thank you.”

The wind was taken out of the sails of the vessel of vengeance. The Commodore spluttered ineffectually as the implication sank in: he must have had the wrong number. His bloodshot eyes seemed to be smouldering and his fists clenched spasmodically.

Again the telephone began to ring. He lunged for it, placed it against his ear and heard a loud and cheery voice say “This is the Admiral here. Pull your finger out, cocksucker!”

When Henry reached this climactic point in his relating of the incident Ivan Schroder threw back his head and brayed like a donkey. For a moment every tooth in his upper jaw was clearly displayed, as if inviting orthodontic examination.

“You know, two months ago I too would have been incontinent with laughter at this buffoonery.” Henry shook his head ruefully. “But I seem to be losing my sense of humour, and it worries me. Instead of laughing at the idiotic antics of my colleagues I gasp in fear. The future is beginning to terrify me. I ask myself, Is this what I have to look forward, to day in and day out, year after year? Is this all there is? I try to tell myself that this is merely an interlude and my life will change and become charged with meaning and interest. But I know I’m lying. Apart from the odd extraneous detail nothing will alter. This is the pattern, to be repeated over and over.” He slumped forward on the desk, head on hands, a picture of dejection.

“Haw-haw, ho-haw!” Schroder’s sudden loud laugh was quite different to his donkey mirth. That was “Hee-haw-haw, hee-haw-haw-haw!” Henry flinched and raised his head.

“For Christ’ sake. Now what?”

“Sorry, but you look just like the poor bugger in one of Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos aquatints. Maybe you know it. Number 43. The Sleep of Reason.”

Henry sat up. “La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos impossibles. Do I know it, you ask me. My mate, all eighty of them are engraved upon my imagination. They have been catalogued and neatly stored in the archives of my memory, awaiting effortless retrieval at the twitch of a nerve. Certainly I know it, and it does indeed seem rather apposite right at the moment.” He already looked brighter, and as the moments passed he became increasingly animated and cheerful. It was as if the mention of Goya’s drawing had acted as a catalyst in his brain, causing a large quantity of neurotransmitter to be released. Now his head was abuzz with fusillades and barrages of synaptic firing, and he was suffused with a feeling of alertness and euphoria. This was better than amphetamines. Who needs Benzedrine when there’s Goya?

“Yes,” Schroder was looking at Henry with guarded interest. This fellow might turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help if his better qualities couldn’t be harnessed. ” ‘ Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters.’ The weird owl-bats and that huge cat. I suppose it’s a cat. But imagination allied with reason is the source of great wonders. I think we might have stumbled upon something here, young Fuckit. A rampant imagination, undirected and undisclipined, might be what you’re suffering from.”

“You think so, do you?” Henry was quite prepared to discuss his malaise and its origins. “You might be right, Sigmund. I must admit to spending much of my life in a world of fantasy. I always have, as far back as I can remember. It’s probably the reason why I’m such a misfit in the real world where one is required to ‘work for a living’. I can see from your general demeanour that you’re about to make a recommendation. How do you suggest I get my imagination under control? Has it anything to do with quantum mechanics?”

Schroder grinned toothily and admitted his thoughts were camped in that area. But he needed more time to formulate his ideas.

“Anyway,” he said, “it’s already Thursday and there’s no point in starting something so important right at the end of a week.” He rose to his feet and Henry reluctantly followed his example. “Have a nice restful weekend and we can start fresh on Monday”.

As he made his way back to the Verification Office he could feel the exuberance, burning fiercely only a few minutes ago, beginning to gutter and die down. He resolved to take the train to Cape Town on Saturday morning and visit the art library. He was in need of stimulation.

Ian Martin’s controversial novel Pop-splat is now available from http://www.pop-splat.co.za.

August 28, 2010

francis bacon and william burroughs

Filed under: art,just good friends,literature — ABRAXAS @ 1:37 pm

August 26, 2010

man bitch: johan van wyk interviewed by judith coullie

Filed under: johan van wyk,literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 10:02 am

published in “selves in question: interviews on southern african auto/biography”, edited by Judith Coullie, Stephan Meyer, Thengani Ngwenya, and Thomas Olver, University of Hawai Press, Honolulu,2006, isbn-13: 978-0-8248-3047-2

August 25, 2010

fred de vries reviews “hectic!”

Filed under: 2002 - hectic!,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 10:50 pm

August 24, 2010

kathy acker

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 2:29 pm

chris dunton reviews uselessly

Filed under: 2006 - uselessly,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 9:29 am

buy uselessly now (in south africa)

ISBN 1-77009-100-9
published by JACANA


Filed under: ian martin,literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:24 am

From The Life of Henry Fuckit, 1950-2015
by Ian Martin

He climbed the stairs to his room. Olympia Residentia, Kalk Bay. Five years now he had been climbing these filthy stairs to the dark and airless corridor. The foyer and stairs were never swept. Cigarette butts and spent matches mingled with dust and grit, and the southeaster blew scraps of paper in from the street. They whirled in an eddy and were sucked out again. The stairwell smelt of rancid cooking oil from the fish and chips shop and there was the sharp sour stink of cats’ piss.

He let himself into his room and shoved the door closed behind him. He immediately saw the cat curled up on the bed. Fuck it, he had left the balcony door on its hook. They stared at one another for a moment and then both moved. He sprang to the door, knocked aside its hook, and slammed it shut. Thin and mangy and grey, it crouched in a corner, a miserable specimen, a useless failure of a creature. A cold, unstoppable hatred welled up in him. He sought about for a weapon. There was only the straight-backed wooden chair. He picked it up, raised it, advanced on the cat. It cowered for an instant and then leapt sideways across the room. As it tried to climb the wall he swung the chair against it and it fell to the floor, screeching and hissing. One of the chairlegs had broken off. He picked it up and smashed it down on the feline skull. He hit the animal several times until it stopped twitching.

He felt warmer after the exercise and lay down on the bed as the light began to fade.

When it was dusk outside and dark in the room he roused himself, feeling stiff and cold. He turned on the light, it was after seven. Glancing at the cat in the corner he wondered what to do with it. Out on the balcony the wind was blowing without pity. In the street below Basil’s lorry revved, its indicator lights flashing, waiting to feed into the evening traffic. Swinging it by its tail, he sent the dead cat sailing out in an arc to land amongst the empty crates as the vehicle pulled away.

Ian Martin’s controversial novel Pop-splat is now available from http://www.pop-splat.co.za.

August 23, 2010

A South African Nation?

Filed under: andile mngxitama,literature,politics — ABRAXAS @ 4:38 pm

‘[South Africa's] past [is] a paradise lost that nobody wants to go back to,’ says Lewis Nkosi, a South-African writer based in Switzerland

Depite Mandela’s ‘Rainbow Nation’, Lewis Nkosi, a South-African writer based in Switzerland, claimed that the people of South-Africa cannot be described as a nation. “The idea is so unfamiliar, so very astonishing even in contemplation, that the existence of a South African nation, rainbow-coloured or not, is like some rumour that has yet to be confirmed,” said Nkosi. Referring to the past as a paradise lost that nobody wants to go back to, he quoted Jonathan Steinwand, who claimed that “nations make use of nostalgia in the construction of national identity” and pointed out that the South-African novel, for one thing, has traditionally been homeless and characterized by a striking lack of nostalgia. “Until now the principal expression of our South African literary culture has been a novel of refusal and resistance, apartheid its particular cross and its affliction,” said Nkosi.

first published here

fred de vries reviews johan van wyk’s “man bitch”

Filed under: johan van wyk,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 1:00 am

August 21, 2010

Koekemakranke: die pad van Vernie February (1938-2002)

Filed under: literature,vernie february — ABRAXAS @ 6:06 pm

Erik van den Bergh and C.J.M. Kraan (eds.)
Leiden: African Studies Centre, 2004.


This publication has been put together in memory of Vernie February, a former ASC staff member, who died in November 2002. It consists of a comprehensive bibliography and of contributions written especially for this book by some of his friends. The main section is made up of Vernie’s own writings, some previously published, some not, and includes, amongst others, the columns he wrote for Die Suid-Afrikaan under the titles ‘Brief van ‘n Bolandse balling’ and ‘Hulle pad het myne gekruis’, and also some poems. The main article and the one that provides the book’s title, ‘Koekemakranke’, is published for the first time here. The volume gives a good impression of Vernie as a scholar, a poet and an exile from his beloved South Africa – the country where, at the time of his death, he was planning to settle permanently.

August 20, 2010

joan hambidge reviews johan van wyk’s “man bitch”

Filed under: johan van wyk,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 4:05 pm

on good writing

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 10:26 am

I more-than-half suspect that all “good” writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of “alteration in consciousness,” i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. [Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.]

Robert Anton Wilson

August 19, 2010

johan van wyk

Filed under: johan van wyk,literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 2:00 pm

Johan van Wyk was born in Jansen Street, in the suburb Dagbreek of the mining town, Welkom in 1956. The family moved to Mozambique in about 1968, and he continued his schooling at Bothashof in Salisbury (now Harare), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The family returned to South Africa around 1972/3 and he enrolled as a first year at the Rand Afrikaans University in 1974. He changed to study at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1975, leaving the university at the end of 1976, fleeing the country as objector to military service. His first volume of poetry Deur die oog van die luiperd was published in 1976. He lived in Swaziland in a tent for a few months and was arrested during a return to his parents farm in 1977. He was in military prison3 for a day and during a breakdown was taken to the military hospital where he was for a few weeks. He was returned to prison where he eventually agreed to join the army, knowing that without basic training he would be sent back home, which would give him the opportunity to seek outside help from psychologists and enroll at the university again. He was eventually discharged from military duty based on his psychological condition. He returned to university and completed his BA and Hons degree. He then enrolled at Rhodes University for an MA degree, which was eventually changed into a Ph.D. The MA had as its topic Die dood, die minnaar en die Oedipale Struktuur in die Ingrid Jonker-teks. His second (Heldedade kom nie dikwels voor nie 1978 ) and third volumes of poetry (Bome gaan dood om jou 1981) appeared. He was appointed as a junior lecturer in Afrikaans at the University of Durban-Westville in 1983. He left in 1988 and was appointed again in 1990. In 1989 he compiled, with Pieter Conradie and Nic Konstandaras, the anthology SA in poësie/ SA in poetry. After returning to the University of Durban-Westville, he soon became the director of the newly established Center for the study of Southern African literature and languages until promoted to the position Head of the School of Languages. In 1996 his fourth volume Oë in ‘n kas: Aantekeninge van ‘n onbewuste appeared. He married Elizabeth Brazelle Grobler in 1985 and had two children, Andreas and Katrina, with her. He also has a child, Tembelani, with Spilile Ndlela. His English novel Man Bitch (2001) is about the people of the Point Area, in Durban. He had a stroke in 2002, and about two months later was attacked in his flat by a lover. His output diminished dramatically after this. The photo book Trollop slaap te veel was published belatedly in 2006.

more info about johan van wyk on his website

ben okri discusses his approach to writing

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 10:22 am

in translation: walter benjamin on the task of the translator

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:59 am

“The intentional, innermost relationship between languages is that of a particular convergence. It consists in the fact that languages are not ‘foreign’ to one another but instead are a priori and regardless of any historical links related to one another in what they are trying to say.

“The task consists in finding in the language into which the work is being translated the intention on the basis of which, in the translation, the echo of the original will be struck.

“A proper translation is transparent, it does not cover up the original, does not stand in its light; instead it permits pure language, as it were reinforced through its own medium, to fall the more fully on the original.

“To redeem that pure language that is banished into otherness in one’s own language, to release the language held prisoner in the work by rewriting it – that is the task of the translator.

“As the tangent touches the circle fleetingly and only at a single point, and as that contact (though not that point) is prescribed for it by the law in accordance with which it continues its straight course into infinity, so the translation touches the original fleetingly and only at that vanishingly small point of sense before (obedient to the law of fidelity) pursuing its unique course in the freedom of linguistic usage.”

Benjamin then quotes Rudolf Pannwitz, a beautiful passage without punctuation:

“the fundamental mistake of the person translating is to set the fortuitous state of his own language in stone instead of letting the foreign language shift it by force, particularly when translating from an extremely remote language he must push his way back to the ultimate elements of language itself where word image tone merge into one he must widen and deepen his language with the foreign language people have no idea how far this is possible”

August 18, 2010


Filed under: johan van wyk,literature — ABRAXAS @ 12:45 pm

Shanta Reddy takes a look at the book behind the scandal as author Johan van Wyk receives death threats for his controversial novel, Man-Bitch.

For months, much of Durban’s intellectual community has been gripped by battered photocopied versions of an unpublished novel by the respected Afrikaans poet, Johan van Wyk. And the word has been spreading. Book shops have asked Van Wyk to read from his book and the country’s leading writers have been knocking on Van Wyk’s door. The book, Man-Bitch, is an account of Van Wyk’s relationships with a number of black women, some of whom take money in return for his love. A Sunday newspaper recently published an article sensationalising Van Wyk and his novel. He has since received death threats and there have been strident calls from certain quarters for his dismissal from his post at the University of Durban-Westville.

So here’s an author who loves sex – no problem. In true red-blooded hormone-bursting style, he’s attracted to beautiful and sexy women – nothing wrong with that. He wants to be loved for who he is – nothing out of the ordinary. He can barely exercise control over his spending – with the weak rand and the high cost of living who can? He’s outgrown his parents – don’t we all at some stage? He’s middle-aged and balding – no cause for concern.

So why the self-righteous outrage at this Man-Bitch? The answer is multi-layered and interwoven. But it starts with the fact that Van Wyk is white and Afrikaans-speaking and many of the beautiful, sexy African women, with whom he associates are members of the world’s oldest profession.

Van Wyk is uncomfortable with the words “prostitute” or “sex worker” and the layers of stereotypes and connotations they invoke.
Likewise, the easy association of an Afrikaans-speaking male with the routine Christ-worshipping, apartheid-supporting persona persists for many of us. It’s as crisp and clear as any other stereotype.

Like the common assumption that poor Africans and women who have sex for money (and especially poor African women who have sex for money) are filthy, disease-ridden and immoral. We might acknowledge their presence but they are South Africa’s untouchable caste.

It is also difficult to separate the artist from the work of art. How, we wonder, lying on our hire-purchased Sealy Posturepedic, can a middle class, Afrikaans-speaking university professor and father of two abandon his home and family in Glenwood to live in a seedy building in Gillespie Street, even if it is a declared monument? Why does he spend more time with the children of his streetwalker lovers than with his own flesh and blood? Where did good education and religion go wrong? The questions don’t stop pricking at the bourgeois balloon.

Then there are the images, created with cinematic clarity that a reader must deal with: the worms that tickle his arse, the maggots in his fridge. His descriptions are sometimes crass and vile, but they are relentlessly honest. He refuses to seek refuge in middle class euphemism. He is never politically correct nor boorish – reare and exquisite attributes in any man. More so in a professor.

But what do we do with these images? How do we become reconciled with the idea of a man who has chosen this life?

For me the images are purified by their spontaneity. Van Wyk’s attention never waivers from detail of the here and now – this Durban, this cockroach, this orgasm. What remains however, is the truth that while he has freed himself from suburban regime, he is still in a state of unfreedom.

He is caught between desire for a conformist relationship with a woman (he wants to be the sole provider; the only man in her life, the master to whom she must explain the spending of money and the time she spends away from him – ironically killing the sense of freedom which he found appealing in the first place) and a greater and more absolute defiance of the role that conventional morality has assigned to him (father, pedagogue, wise man, white.)

His thoughts oscillate between the freedom he has earned and the indecision that weighs him down as a result of that freedom. He floats around in a haze of depressed anxiety, awaiting the bounty that sexual and moral liberation is supposed to bring.

His exasperation sometimes courts death (“Then I went to bed lying curled up in the dark and crying, muttering “It would be good to be dead, but how to get there?”). One gets the sense, sometimes, that he cannot deal with this vertigo of freedom.

But it’s not all bleak. Van Wyk is immensely entertaining. The cling-wrapped penis episode is an eye opener (apparently it’s better than a Viagra-condom combo: it’s cheaper; stays on longer; allows for prolonged pleasure and is an excellent contraceptive). What more could the new, improved globalised South Africa want?

Despite the book’s title, it’s not all about sex. The women who trade their bodies for money exist on more complex levels than we are prepared to acknowledge.


They fight to realise the same aspirations and dreams that the average home-owner merely steps into by accident of birth. They are intelligent, street-wise and more in touch with the Rainbow Nation than any politician. On the street, stories are told and lessons are taught more effectively than in any Outcomes-based education system. Man-Bitch takes the humanity of the “bitches” very seriously and I would venture that Van Wyk’s portrayal of them is more dignified than the unctuous and paternalistic studies one gets from well-meaning but antiseptic university researchers.

The book is profoundly and powerfully philosophical. Without uttering a phrase of economics, it’s one of the most powerful critiques of our economic system I have ever encountered. Van Wyk’s narrative wrenches the reader’s breath away. Man-Bitch is about more than a mid-life crisis. He hasn’t just abandoned his family, reputation and home in a secure neighbourhood in a search for sexual excitement. (Which, in any case, he doesn’t always sustain – the odd erectile dysfunction interrupts). He’s looking for meaning too. For wisdom, which he defines, with captivating eloquence, as “reason without institution”.

People are calling Man-Bitch everything from “sensationalist pornography” to “the best critique of neo-liberalism yet written” to “nothing more or less than art”. Because it is necessary to separate the author and the protagonist (in order to read without stereotypical prejudices) and to unite them (in order to fully appreciate the philosophical impact of this book), the book unsettles easy judgements. But the message that burns so brightly is that our lives are not our own until we choose to disintegrate into who we want to be – irrespective of the consequences. Van Wyk has done this. Our streets are filled with the living dead but Van Wyk has defended the life of his soul.

Sensational it may be, but that’s not reason enough to discard it as cheap pornography. We listen to rap artists and rock stars chant the words “bitch, fuck, devil, whore” and don’t bat an eyelid. We see pornography on soapies but don’t turn the telly off. His expressions are sometimes grammatically incorrect and simple. His lovers cannot converse fluently in English. Yet, admirably, his challenge to conformity rears its head again when he includes their compositions in Man-Bitch.

Insofar as shocking but widely read literature goes, Man-Bitch can be compared to the likes of Lolita, Incest, Tropic of Cancer and the depraved masterpiece The Story of O. Lolita was banned. Tropic of Cancer was not published in America until it became a worldwide best-seller. Incest was not published until after Nin’s death, for fear of reprisals. We don’t cast aspersions on any of these books and now we call them literature.

We may be unable to fathom the reasons for Van Wyk’s exclusive attraction to African women. It may be foreign to what our institutionalised, pro-forma thought process would make us accept as proper, righteous and moral.

“Progressive” women I’ve spoken to scoff at this professor’s attraction to African women. They concede that physical beauty plays a role, but argue that one can only be attracted to an intellectual equal. Both the assumption of an intellectual imbalance and the blindness to communication beyond language, and beyond English, sentence many of us to being foreigners in our own country and in our own bodies. Other critics point to the obviously exploitative nature of his buying the “love” of women in need.

What this Man-Bitch brings home is that the words “sexy” and “beautiful” are both relative and fluid. Van Wyk challenges, yet again, the Western idea of beauty. For him the image of an appealing woman is different to the image historically forced onto him and also something which changes over time.

Man-Bitch is a record of a man’s journey through the barriers of convention. It is inspiring and jolting. I was jarred and unsettled for days after the first reading. The second reading focused me on the reality that our only duty is the duty to be free.

It is absurd that no publisher has yet had the courage to publish this book and sad that the public is missing out on an honestly written and truly remarkable story of a spirit that is at one with conformicide.

this article first published here

August 17, 2010

henry miller on new york

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 11:07 pm

Obituary: Ernst Junger

Filed under: bo cavefors,literature — ABRAXAS @ 10:41 pm

by james Kirkup

Wednesday, 18 February 1998

ERNST JUNGER first beheld Halley’s Comet during its 1910 passage, when he was a boy of 15. In 1987, he made a special journey to Malaysia for a second glimpse. He was one of the very few writers to have seen the comet twice in his lifetime.

All this is described in Zwei Mal Halley (“Halley Twice”, 1988), a book filled with Junger’s characteristic meditations on time and place, on dreams, nature, crystals, stars, mountains, the sea, wild animals and insects, especially butterflies, a passion he shared with Nabokov. Throughout his very considerable body of work, there is an obsession with time, with dates, with temporal coincidences, with the fatidic power of numbers over our birth and death. In a volume of his journals covering the years 1965- 70, Siebzig verweht (“Past Seventy”, 1980), he makes this revealing entry at Wilfingen, his home between the Danube and the Black Forest, in sight of the castle of Stauffenberg, on 30 March 1965:

I have now reached the biblical age of three score and ten – a rather strange feeling for a man who, in his youth, had never hoped to see his 30th year. Even after my 23rd birthday in 1918, I would gladly have signed a Faustian pact with the Devil: “Give me just 30 years of life, guaranteed, then let it all be ended.”

A similar expression of his fascinated awe of time and numbers appears in an earlier work, An der Zeitmauer (“At the Wall of Time”, 1959). But one of the most extraordinary examples of this obsession can be found in a journal entry for “Monday, 8.8.1988″ -

a date with four units. 8 is special (four 8′s, and a fifth one by subtracting the 1 from the 9). Odin rides an 8-legged horse . . . Dates have often brought me surprises.

One of his many hobbies was the collection of antique sandglasses, on which he was an authority. He also collected sundial inscriptions.

Ernst Junger’s birth at Heidelberg is recorded precisely. It fell on 29 March 1895 on the stroke of noon, under Aries, with Cancer in the ascendant. He was the eldest of seven children, one of whom, his beloved brother Friedrich Georg (who died in 1977), was also a writer, a poet and philosopher.

Junger spent the greater part of his childhood and adolescence in Hanover, where his prosperous parents settled shortly after his birth. They possessed a beautiful villa by a lake, where Ernst made his first entomological investigations. He soon developed a dislike for bourgeois life, and spent a couple of unhappy years in boarding schools, whose reports complain of his dreaminess and lack of interest in the boring curriculum. He was later to write:

I had invented for myself a sort of distancing indifference that allowed me to remain connected to reality only by an invisible thread like a spider’s.

He spent hours reading unauthorised books, and with his brother lived in an exalted universe of their own. They would go wandering round the countryside, and Ernst struck up happy friendships with tramps and gypsies. He was already the Waldganger (wild man of the woods), the anarchist hero of his 1977 novel Eumeswil.

It was the beginning of an unending passion for travel and exotic lands. He took the first big step in 1913 by running away from home to join the Foreign Legion, in which he saw service in Oran and Sidi-Bel-Abbes. After five weeks, his father bought him out. Ernst was to write about this escapade in Kinderspielen (“Children’s Games”, 1936). His father promised that if he passed his Abitur (school-leaving examination) he would be allowed to join an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro. So Junger swotted away at the Gildermeister Institut, whose grim atmosphere is evoked in Die Steinschleuder (“The Catapult”, 1973), a novel in the great tradition of German school stories.

Junger passed his exam in August 1914 and at once volunteered for the army, in which he fought on the French front with exceptional courage all through the First World War. Wounded four times, he received the highest German military honour, the Order of Merit created by Friedrich II: he outlived all those who also received it. Out of his wartime experiences was born Stahlgewittern (“Storm of Steel”, 1920), which he had to publish at his own expense. This story of the horrors of modern warfare was drawn from his wartime notebooks, often written in the heat of battle on the Western Front. It remains one of the greatest works about the First World War, along with those by Erich Maria Remarque, Henri Barbusse, e.e. cummings, David Jones and Lucien Descaves.

Junger stayed in the army until 1923, when he left and began studying zoology at the University of Leipzig and at Naples. He married Gretha von Jeinsen and his son Ernst was born in 1926. In 1927 they moved to Berlin, where he became a member of the national revolutionary group led by Niekisch (arrested by Hitler in 1937 and kept in a concentration camp until the end of the Second World War). He also got to know Ernst von Salomon, Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Toller and Alfred Kubin, as well as the publisher Rowohlt. He began travelling widely, to Sicily, Rhodes, the Dalmatian coast, Norway, Brazil and the Canaries, and made the acquaintance of Andre Gide in Paris. These travels had a great influence on all his writings, most noticeable in his superb novel Heliopolis (1949) – the most elegantly learned, eloquently written and hauntingly convincing science- fiction story ever written.

Goebbels tried in vain to draw him into the ranks of the Nazi hierarchy in 1931, and he refused to be elected to the German Academy of Letters because it was dominated by national socialist timeservers. In 1932 Junger produced a very significant book, Der Arbeiter (“The Worker”), which is nevertheless one of his least-known works. It was long out of print until Martin Heidegger, himself besmirched with Nazi collaboration, persuaded him to risk letting it be reissued in 1963. It presents the mythical figure of standardised modern man as “The Worker” whose pragmatism and nihilism destroy the old traditional categories of peasant, soldier and priest, foretelling an unprecedented reversal of temporal power in our collapsing cultures where an intellectual and artistic elite has no place.

Related to this theme is a later work, Das Aladdinproblem (1983), in which he asks who will rub the magic lamp of destructive science and dehumanising technology: “With the heavens empty, we live in the Age of Uranium: how can we believe our modern Aladdin’s lamp will not produce some unimaginable monster?”

Der Arbeiter is also an important theoretical study of the political history of the Thirties in Germany, and has been considered by critics like Georg Lukacs and Walter Benjamin to have been the ideological matrix of national-socialist ideas. But Junger’s links with national socialism were infinitely complex. He was a serving officer, partisan of the revolutionary right, a sort of conservative anarchist, hostile to the Weimar Republic, yet he refused all honours and promotions.

Unable to bear the rising tide of Hitlerism, he left Berlin for the quiet of the countryside at Kirchhorst, where in February 1939 he began the painful drafting of Auf den Marmorklippen. Its anti-Nazi tone is obvious, but the book was published in September, the month war was declared. On the Marble Cliffs was part of my wartime reading, and I well remember the excitement it caused when the translation was published by John Lehmann just after the war.

With the outbreak of war, Junger was given the rank of captain and took part in the invasion of France, during which he did his utmost to spare civilians and protect public monuments. Posted to Paris, he became a well- known figure in the literary salons of the time like the Thursday reunions of artists and writers at Florence Gould’s. He made good friends of authors like the acid-tongued critic Leautaud and above all Marcel Jouhandeau, whose scholarly ease and wit in writing seemed to Junger exceptional at a time of growing artistic barbarity. Even after their condemnation for collaboration with the Nazis, Junger praised the characters and writings of Chardonne, Celine (whom he did not like), Brasillach and Drieu de la Rochelle, while his admiration for Cocteau, Sasha Guitry and actresses like Arletty was as sincere as that for artists like Braque and Picasso, whose studios he frequented.

His journals of this period are studded with all these famous names. However, he was indirectly implicated in Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944, and requested to leave the army and return home to Kirchhorst, where he spent the rest of the war, composing a text on Die Friede (“Peace”). His son Ernst, in prison for opposition to Hitler, was despatched to the Italian front and killed on 29 November in the marble quarries at Carrara by Allied snipers.

After German defeat and capitulation, despite his firm denials of having supported Nazism, Junger encountered the shrill hostility of Marxist and so-called liberal critics who accused him of being its predecessor. They even criticised his scholarly, noble, refined style, calling it frigid, elitist and academic.

He writes of his experiments with drugs in Annaherungen (“Approaches”, 1970), influenced by Aldous Huxley’s works on the same subject. He finally settled at Wilfingen in the house of the Master Forester attached to the ancestral home of his executed friend Graf Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, where in 1959 he founded the literary review Antaios with Mircea Eliade. By 1977, his father, mother, brother and wife had all died. He remarried, taking as his wife Liselotte Lohrer, a professional archivist and literary scholar.

All through the Seventies and Eighties Junger travelled widely. In 1979, he visited Verdun and was awarded the town’s Peace Medal. In 1982 he received a final literary consecration with the award of the City of Frankfurt’s Goethe Prize, which aroused violent protest among his detractors. In 1984, he again made a pilgrimage to Verdun, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand to pay homage to the victims of two world wars.

In 1992, there was extraordinary confirmation of Junger’s anti-Nazi stance with the discovery of a top secret document proving that his fate was in the balance just before the Third Reich’s capitulation and during the final days Hitler spent in the Wolfs-Schanze, the very headquarters where he was wounded by the Stauffenberg bomb.

The document is dated December 1944. It is addressed by Dr Freisler, president of the Volksgericht (People’s Court) to Martin Bormann, Hitler’s right-hand man. Freisler informs Bormann that the proceedings to be taken against Captain Junger are to be cancelled. Junger had been indicted on account of his novel On the Marble Cliffs and the “defeatist” opinions he had expressed at his old colleague Commandant Stulpnagel’s HQ in Paris, not long before the latter’s suicide. Freisler reveals that on 20 November 1944 the Fuhrer himself had given the order by telephone from the Wolfs- Schanze that the matter was not to be pursued any further. Freisler ends his letter with “Heil Hitler!”, then adds a postscript: “I am sending you three dossiers on the affair. The Fuhrer wishes to have his orders executed immediately.”

In his Journals, Junger notes that the Gestapo had described him at that period in Paris as “an impenetrable, highly suspect individual”. He comments in a 1992 interview:

It was no surprise to me. After all, it conformed to the pattern of my horoscope. Ever since my schooldays I’ve been accustomed to that kind of unpleasantness.

Ernst Junger’s work is all of a piece – highly literary, beautifully sonorous, excitingly visual, intellectually profound and stimulating. It is the life work of an aristocrat of letters, and one of the best tributes to it has been made by another literary patriarch, Julien Gracq:

The hard, smooth enamelling that seems to armour his prose against the touch of too great a familiarity would seem to us perhaps a little frigid if we did not know, and if we never lost consciousness of the fact while reading, that it has been tempered in an ordeal of fire.

That is a fitting eulogy for one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Ernst Junger, writer: born Heidelberg, Germany 29 March 1895; married 1925 Gretha von Jeinsen (died 1960; two sons deceased), 1962 Liselotte Lohrer; died Wilflingen, Germany 17 February 1998.

this article first published on independent.co.uk

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