July 27, 2010


Filed under: ian martin,literature — ABRAXAS @ 12:36 pm

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

He dozed fitfully and then at first light he packed his belongings and wrote a short note: “Urgent personal business necessitates my immediate return to Cape Town. Regret not able to explain in person. Keys and week’s rent enclosed. Henry.” He left the envelope on her doormat and, Lady Provider at his heels, trudged through the town as it began to stir. His water bottle was full and his suitcase was tanked up with Vrotters. At the last café he bought a loaf of whole-wheat bread and a slab of cheese and made his way out onto the open road, ready to resume his expedition.

It was not long before a Roads Department bakkie pulled up and he was offered a lift. The driver was surprised to learn that Henry was only going a few kilometres, just as far as the first side road leading off to the north. They soon cleared a rise and saw the turnoff in the distance on the left. He ignored the man’s inquiring eyebrows, thanked him for the short ride, and alighted in a harsh landscape devoid of all vegetation.

Perched on Lady Provider he examined Bergson’s map and tried to orientate himself. The dirt road led some three or four kilometres north to a small black rectangle signifying human habitation. Thereafter it meandered eastward in a diminished status, a dotted line designating a track or footpath. The red circle was about half a kilometre east of the gravel road, midway between highway and black rectangle. The air was still cool but the sky was empty and the winter sun was gaining in strength as it rose higher. It was his intention to investigate the Oxyaston site and be back on the tar road before noon. That would allow him sufficient time to get to Keetmanshoop by nightfall.

By no stretch of hopeful imagination could it be called a road. This was just a route between points A and B that avoided the major obstacles and sought out the smoothest and easiest of inclines. Lady Provider didn’t take kindly to such surfaces and stumbled and overbalanced at frequent intervals. How sensitive was the electronic equipment? After the third tumble Henry took the suitcase by its handle and began to carry it; all thirty kilograms of it. Dedication to duty? Sense of responsibility? Self interest?

The site lay in a shallow dried-out valley between two dykes of black basalt. These dykes were a dominant feature in the area and from the air must have resembled ribs in the pale sand and gravely detritus. Sweating freely he plodded through the sand away from the track and saw ahead of him, in the harsh, uncertain light, a dark mound. On closer examination it proved to be one of those ridiculous welwitschias, lying in a horrible sprawl of tangled rubbish. He paused to urinate in the dust and then headed for the nearest outcrop of rock.

In the shade he sat down and rested. The faintest breeze was stirring from the west, coming in from the Atlantic as the landmass began to warm itself like a lizard in the sun. It was extraordinarily quiet. He could hear his heart pumping away, keeping the six litres of red fluid flowing and flowing and flowing. A shard of rock, which had been prevaricating for a hundred years, decided the moment was right, let go and fell to the sand with a self-effacing clatter.

For breakfast he cut a slice of bread and a hunk of cheese and tapped off a mug of Vrotters. The emptiness of this stark moonscape impressed him. Stark? He flipped a rock with his foot and two dark beetles scurried for cover. Turn the stone, cleave the wood. This jumble of broken rock might well conceal one of the elusive vents of which Bergson was so convinced. With a pang of guilt he rose to his feet and began to do what he was supposed to be doing – investigating the Oxyastonishing phenomenon of universal telepathic interaction.

He extended the antenna, he plugged in and donned the headphones, he flicked the switches, he fiddled with the knobs. All he heard was a faint hissing noise, like the sound of the sea in a shell cupped to the ear. He swung the antenna this way and that. He picked up the equipment and moved along the rocky slope. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Niks, fokall. Here he was, tramping up and down in the middle of the desert, pointing his feelers here, there and everywhere like some giant insect, stumbling, cursing, sweating and farting in search of some crazy impossibility. For half an hour, an hour, an hour and a half. Fuck Bergson, sitting in his office drinking rooibosch tea and twiddling his stupid moustache. This is KAK! So saying he kicked Lady Provider squarely in the ribs, sending her crashing sideways down the slope.

Just before the three-metre headphone cable pulled taught and the terminal was jerked from its socket on the end of the case, Henry experienced the strangest of sensations. It was like nothing he had ever felt before. A brief vibration, a kind of buzz, not in his ears but right inside his head. Had he somehow received a shock? His annoyance forgotten, he hastened to Lady Provider’s aid, put her back on her wheels with a muttered, “Sorry about that. These damn conniption-fits, you know,” and plugged in his headphone.

“Holy Jesus!” The tingling sensation was back in the depths of his brain. The antenna was pointing away form the black ridge of rock and he quickly swung it back. The sensation disappeared. What the hell was going on? He was on the wrong track. Picking up Lady by the handle he turned his back on the ridge and aligned himself until the feeling was at its most perceptible. He was facing back the way he had come. Slowly he made his way down the slope and began plodding through the sand of the valley floor, all the while concentrating on what was happening inside his head. As he walked the sensation strengthened and then he looked ahead and realised in a flash of insight that he was headed directly towards the Welwitschia mirabilis and the word TAP ROOT exploded in giant technicolour letters before his mind’s eye, fizzing, crackling and spluttering with significance. God’s mistake? Professor Albert Adendorff’s mistake!

He set Lady Provider before the freak of nature and removed the headset. He now knew that he didn’t need it and, on all fours, crawled in under the tattered leaves. The sweet spicy scent of Oxyaston was in his nose, his mouth, his lungs.

“Bergson, Bergson!” he called. “Are you there, Harry baby?” Prostrate upon the desert floor, head and shoulders buried under the torn and frazzled foliage, he lay and listened intently. Again he called. “Harry Bergson! Where the fug are you?”

“Henry, Henry!” Bergson’s voice was so faint Henry wondered whether he was hearing it or merely imagining it. But again it came and he could detect the excitement in the raised tones. “Henry, you fool, don’t you know it’s Saturday? I’m not at the Dockyard. This is incredible! Just as I hoped. This is nothing less than telepathy!”

“Shit!” Henry had not given a moment’s thought to the days of the week since he had left Cape Town. “So where are you, then?”

“I’m at home. I’m actually on the toilet right at this moment. But Henry, this is going to exhaust you. Stop now and make contact again on Monday morning. Goodbye, my boy. This is…”

Henry’s head was spinning and a heavy weariness was descending upon him. With difficulty he got to his knees, stood up and then staggered to the basalt ridge. In the shade of overhanging rocks he lay down with his head on his pack and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

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

stacy hardy: I fucked the underground

Filed under: art,literature,politics,stacy hardy — ABRAXAS @ 11:14 am

A small, insignificant white chick’s journey from bad-assed boyfriends, capital complicity and oral obscurantism to subaltern sex, popular promiscuity and play

It starts with a email from Fred. This is 4 years ago. A lot changes in four years. A lot stays the same. Fred’s email explains he is organizing a conference and he wants me to speak. The topic is the underground. He wants me to talk about women, women in the underground, underground women.

I stare at the screen. My first thought is that I should say no. I’m not qualified. What do I know about women? Sure I am one. I have tits and an arse but that’s where it ends. I’ve never studied the theory. Feminism pisses me off. I mean, why me? I think that maybe there’s been some confusion. Sure I tend to write about sex. But when I say sex, I mean sex. Sex as in, well, fucking. Sex as in you and me. Not all this gender stuff – male, female, bi, straight, trans, politics, whatever, you know the story.

It doesn’t stop there. I’m not too sure about this idea of an underground. I’m not too sure it existed? And if it did was I ever a part of it? Sure there were parts, scenes I participated in – and I use participated loosely. For me the scene was more about seeing and being seen. For me it was about the boyfriends, you know, the sex – as in the fucking.

I flash back.

Jo’burg. Post-1994 underground fallout. A couple of us in the back of a car parked outside a club in Melville. I’m not really hearing the things that are being said – drugs, black market body parts, Doc Martens – because right now I’m busy sucking off some hot young underground writer. His work is white-trash-ultra-hip. His cock is cold and hard. Another scene. Another time. Cape Town. A soundtrack of wordcore, dub poetry, rap and rock steady, whatever.

The list goes on.

I phone Fred up and tell him I can’t do the paper. I say I have nothing to say. I say you’ve got the wrong girl. I’m not really part of this story. I’m just a bit part, you know, an extra. I say sorry baby, but I’m just the girlfriend.

Fred obviously isn’t listening, or else he has other ideas … maybe he’s trying to chat me up? He’s silent for a while then he says, well why not talk about not being in the underground? I’m not following. He says, you know about how few women are in the underground? About how it’s a man’s game, a way to wage war without lethal weapons?

Jesus! I hang up and light a cigarette. War without lethal weapons? What does he want me to say? That Kendell Geers fucked me so hard that I cried? I’ve heard this all before. That was the 90s or whatever. Afterwards Kendell takes me to an exhibition opening. His head is shaved to number one. Under the glare of the gallery lights it shines like the sun. He pours me a glass of wine and tells me his art works are deadly bombs, cultural weapons strategically placed to blow up in the heart of the Capitalist beast.

I walk home alone. I sit in front of the TV. I’m waiting to see if Kendell’s bombs make the news. The screen flickers. Afghanistan blast. Bombs in Iraq. 1 000 suicide bombers “ready” in Iran. Who is kidding who? I mean even if Kendell’s bombs did make the news I probably wouldn’t notice. The footage is all the same. A roof convulses. Windows smash half a block down. Bodies on the pavement. Instant horror and fear. The enthralled spectator. How can we hope to compete with that?

I phone up a friend and organise to meet for coffee. Let’s call her J. She has her own story to tell. She’s been making underground films for years. She used to work with her ex. They worked together. She says his name. And I say, of course, wow, he’s like famous. J nods. This is her point. They made films together but it’s his name that sticks. Biological inheritance, economic forces, cultural biases, media hype conspired to cast her as the pretty little girlfriend.

I order another skinny latte. I sit there stirring it so the white foam mixes with the espresso below. I’m starting to piece things together. It’s not that there were so few women in the underground, it’s just that they weren’t given the same status. Women were seen as girlfriends. Like it or not, I wasn’t alone, we were all just there to fuck the underground.

I take a sip of the latte. I’m thinking about power. Like if you cut all the crap, turn down the soundtrack, forget all the theory, fancy language tricks and dances. If you cut to the essence, the system of power, the structures underpinning it all, it’s the same old story. The same HIStory. White male dominance. Capital. Command. Control. Containment. C for yourself.

I’m starting to wonder: if the enactments of power are exactly the same, then how underground is this underground really? I’m starting to wonder if what we’ve been calling the underground isn’t something more like a cocoon or a bunker system. An agoraphobic? structure which covertly mirrors the white security village, where there is no discomfort around things like poverty or sexism or racism because only well-educated, white men are allowed. And if that is the case, then don’t we need some other kind of underground? A different underground? One that is different from that which it seeks to oppose and destroy?

J must be able to tell I’m feeling kind of bummed because she tells me a joke to cheer me up. She says, “What did the female suicide bomber say?” I shake my head. She stands to deliver the punch line. She says, “Does my bomb look beeg in this?” We both piss ourselves laughing. We laugh so loudly that the people in the café all turn and stare.

And maybe laughing is the only – the best – thing left to do. One can take this even further. A few days later I come across a piece in an old Chimurenga by South African writer Ashraf Jamal. Like me, Jamal is skeptical about the strategies employed by white male bombers like Kendell. Jamal writes, “What is profoundly absent in South Africa’s creation of itself is modesty. Its maniacal belief in closure, its festering recourse to pain, its toxic pride, has left it standing like the proverbial emperor enfolded in its naked pomp. A soap opera, South Africa is a country that chooses to serialise itself into oblivion …”1

As an alternative to this soap-opera-gore-fest Jamal looks to the idea of play. I like that. I like the idea of breaking down barriers instead of erecting them. I’m talking about crawling out of our safe white sanitised bunkers and actually getting down and dirty for a bit. I’m talking about confusing the boundaries – between, yes, the political and the personal, inside/outside, male/female, white/black, one/many, but also between the underground and the over-ground, the centre and the periphery.

After all what exactly is the underground in a country that’s economy was built on a superfluous labor force used to extract extravagant material wealth from the depths below, a country were a surplus population is marginalized, pushed underground, out of site in squatter camps?

How do we begin to talk about underground in a city built on top of the bodies of dead slaves; a city where the train station is being sent underground, keeping the workers out of sight/ site, buried below a well lit mall?

What the fuck am I, a stupid white chick doing talking about the underground at an art conference in a country where so many black artists were literally forced underground during apartheid?

How can we begin understand underground on a continent were the political situation has forced everything including economics “underground.” Where everything operates via fixes, dodgy deals and illegal practice.

If I’m underground then how deep is someone like Zebulon Dread buried? Why aren’t we digging that groove? What is it we Dread?

What these examples point to is the need for new strategies. What I’m saying is we need to move beyond the myth of the hero, that single lone assassin, the solitary white male bomber, and start to work in other spaces: in the in-between, on the borders, in the holes, the silences. In the slippages. I’m talking about fucking with the underground instead of just fucking it. This requires that we become double agents. And this isn’t just some stupid white chick’s fantasy either. This is history. Or maybe HERstory. See, whether we realise it or not, the greatest double agent the South African underground has ever had was a chick. I’m talking about Brenda Fassie.

The thing about Brenda was she always worked in the in-between: straight/lesbian, mother/sex kitten, feminist heroine/lost little girl, drug addict/role model, lo-life/hi-art. But perhaps most significantly for the underground, Brenda refused the distinction between public and private. She did it all and she told about it too. And it’s this rupture that’s at the heart of Brenda’s challenge to the mainstream, to the status quo. It’s this that makes her ungovernable3. See, Brenda wasn’t just a symbol of freedom. She was freedom. She made personal the cold, abstract political and metaphorical quest for freedom. She brought the experience of freedom – of living in a world that is open and limitless – intimately, dangerously close.

1. Jamal, Ashraf. The bearable lightness of Tracey Rose’s The Kiss in Chimurenga, June 2004.
2. See Botha, Nadine. ants moving the house millimetres, Deep South Publishing, 2005.
3. Ndebele, Njabulo. Thinking of Brenda, www.music.org.za. 2004

het sierlijke niets of “CELLULOID CASANOVA”

Filed under: dick tuinder,film,literature — ABRAXAS @ 8:34 am

Voor iemand die van zo’n beetje alles wat hem in zijn leven overkwam verslag heeft gedaan zij er betrekkelijk veel pogingen ondernomen om dat leven, met behulp van meer of minder fictieve novellen, romans, toneelstukken en films, nog verder uit de doeken te doen. Niet zonder reden uiteraard, want in al zijn openheid van zaken blijft Casanova een raadselachtig persoon wiens vele tegenstrijdigheden gelijkwaardig worden in de onnavolgbare wijze waarop hij ruim 3500 pagina’s lang de aandacht van de lezer moeiteloos vasthoudt met de herinneringen aan een plotloos leven. Om iemand goed te kennen moet je vaak niet te veel van hem weten.

In Dennis Potters’ ‘CASANOVA’, de zesdelige BBC televisieserie uit 1971, centreert de vertelling zich rondom Casanova’s gevangenschap in de Venetiaanse Piombi gevangenis, waaruit hij na vijftien maanden voornamelijk eenzame opsluiting op spectaculaire wijze weet te ontsnappen. Zijn gevangenschap onder de strenge wetten van de Venetiaanse Republiek had hij te danken aan een combinatie van vrijzinnig gedrag, openlijke interesse in het occulte en filosofie (welks laatste de indirecte verdenking van godsontkenning voedde) en een vete met een vooraanstaande Venetiaanse partricieer met vrienden hogerop. Vrienden van Casanova met dezelfde connecties hadden hem gewaarschuwd voor een aanstaande arrestatie en hem geadviseerd de stad althans tijdelijk te verlaten, maar de 27 jarige is overtuigd van de ongrijpbaarheid van zijn handelen en de zuiverheid van zijn intenties en slaat het advies in de wind.

De gevangenschap en de ontsnapping daaraan zijn natuurlijk uitstekende PR voor een 18-de eeuwse avonturier, en maken ook dat hij voor de dertig jaar die daarop volgen in ballingschap moet leven, waardoor het twijfelachtig is of wij, zonder die gevangenschap, ooit van Casanova hadden gehoord.

Potter, die merkwaardigerwijs beweerde de Memoires nooit in haar geheel te hebben gelezen, gebruikt de barre omstandigheden van de kleine cel waarin Casanova opgesloten zit – grauw, donker, te laag voor zijn 1 meter 96 om rechtop in te staan, vlooien overal en onverdragelijke hitte in de zomer – als contrast met het rijke en kleurige leven waarin hij zich voor en na die ongelukkige periode beweegt.

In de beroemde en levendige beschrijving die Casanova zelf van die episode geeft overheerst – naast toegegeven enige wanhoop – voornamelijk zijn intellect. Hij beraamt plannen, bespeelt de weinige mensen met wie hij te maken krijgt (zijn cipier en een aantal medegevangen) en zint, nadat hij heeft ingezien dat de reden en de duur van zijn opsluiting hem niet duidelijk zullen worden gemaakt, al vrij snel op een ontsnapping. Potter gebruikt de episode van de gevangenschap als een dramatische snelkookpan waarmee hij de diepere lagen van de persoon Casanova aan de oppervlakte brengt en de acteur Frank Finlay leeft zich er met de ongeremde emotionaliteit van zijn tijd in uit. Hysterisch gelach, koortsdromen en naar krankzinnigheid neigende werkelijkswanen maken van de eenzame opsluiting een hellegang. Het doet in zekere zin denken aan de wijze waarop Tim Rice jezus in musicalvorm voor zijn eigen tijd actualiseerde.

Het is voor iedere liefhebber van een boek pijnlijk om, na de innerlijke beleving van het woord, de held van zijn verhaal in beeld te zien. Bij Casanova, die zo’n enorm gedetailleerd en tegenstrijdig portret van zichzelf heeft nagelaten, en die mede gevormd werd door conventies waarvan wij de verstrekkendheid hedentendage niet meer waarlijk kunnen doorvoelen, is dat misschien nog wel meer het geval dan bij andere historische figureren, met als voornaamste uitzondering de bejaarde Casanova zoals die door Marcello Mastroianni in Ettore Scola’s La Nuit de Varennes werd neergezet, waarover later meer. De Casanova die Heath Ledger speelt in Lasse Hälstroms, wederom niet bijster origineel gedoopt film ‘Casanova’, uit 2005, neerzet heeft weinig met de naamgever en zijn tijd te maken anders dan door de onontkenbare charme van de hoofdrolspeler en de rijke aankleding van kostuums en decors.

Frank Finlay, de vertolker in Potters vrije adaptatie, speelt Casanova als een man die buiten zijn eigen wil om handelt. Zijn acteren pendelt tussen uitgelaten krankzinnigheid en de meest beheerste elegantie. Hij is een man gevangen in zijn eigen woorden en in het beeld dat hij met zoveel inzet en succes van zichzelf heeft gemaakt. De werkelijk gevangen Casanova, verstoken van een buitenwereld die hij zo hard nodig heeft om zichzelf te kunnen zien, neemt onvermijdelijk de trekken aan van de schrijver van het stuk. Een schrijver die net als zijn personage met woorden probeerde te ontsnappen aan zijn achtergrond – een thema dat hij nog verder zou uitwerken in The Singing Detective – maar altijd tussen twee werelden zou blijven zweven. Zich aan woorden vastklampend die tenslotte nooit de werkelijkheid volledig buiten de deur kunnen houden, en die terwijl wij denken hen te gebruiken om ons los te denken, feitelijk degenen zijn die ons als instrument gebruiken om zich te uitten. Een mooie leugen wordt eerder geloofd dan een lelijke waarheid. Wat je verzint wordt echt. Maar waar loopt het uit de hand? Waar eindigt het voordeel van de tovenarij met woorden? Op welk moment wordt de grens overschreden waarlangs de illusie onverbiddelijk haar tol eist? Het zijn van die vragen waarop je pas het antwoord weet als het al te laat is. En in een sleutelscene van de serie, in de voorlaatste aflevering, is het zover.

Casanova bevindt zich in London, en heeft onder valse voorwendselen een advertentie gezet in de krant waarin hij een etage in zijn huis aanbiedt aan een alleenstaande, jonge vrouw, zonder kinderen en die geen bezoek ontvangt. De vrouw die hij uiteidnelijk kiest is knap, maar gruwlijk eerzaam en draagster van een groot geheim waardoor zij zich niet aan hem kan geven. Zij is in afwachting van een brief van haar echtgenoot. En als die komt zal zij moeten gaan. “Vraagt u alstublieft niet meer aan mij.”
Een situatie die de gevoelens van smachtende verliefdheid bij haar gulle verhuurder sterker zouden aanjagen is niet denkbaar. Gedurende een zestal weken waarin niets gebeurd maar veel wordt besproken en de spanning tussen beiden hoog oploopt, onstaat er desondanks een vertrouwdheid in het gedeelde lot van een onmogelijke liefde, waardoor de twee zich vrijelijk tegenover elkaar uitspreken.

Casanova, tastend naar de motieven voor zijn liefde legt zijn twijfels en gedachten aan de vrouw voor wier gevoelens daardoor niet minder verward worden. Nergens uiteraard is in de vertwijfeling die hij tegenover haar uitspreekt de bijgedachte ver, dat het juist deze verklaring van onwaardigheid zal zijn die uiteindelijk haar hart zal winnen. Maar als na lang smachten de verovering inderdaad bijna daar is hoort Casanova, in extase, zichzelf woorden herhalen die hij jaren daarvoor, ten overstaan van een andere eeuwige liefde, in volle overtuiging uitsprak. En hij voelt zich betrapt en duwt de vrouw bruut van zich weg.

In het begin van de scene verklaart hij haar enigzins zakelijk de liefde. Hij bekent dat vele malen eerder te hebben gedaan maar dat hij is veranderd.

“Mijn liefde voor u doet er niet toe. Ze is er. Ze bestaat. Ze zal niet veranderen, ze hoort nu bij me. Laat me het gewoon zeggen. Laat het me mezelf horen zeggen, terwijl ik van binnen weet dat ik nog nooit zulke ware woorden heb gesproken. Lieve God, ik meen het. Kunt U mij geen hoop geven?”
De jonge vrouw weet niet wat ze moet zeggen: “U bent zo aardig voor me geweest. U hebt geluisterd en u hebt gepraat waardoor ik de afschuwlijke toestand waarin ik mij bevind op momenten kon vergeten.”
“Ik probeerde U te verleiden”
“Ik weet het.”
“Maar ik ben blij dat ik het niet heb gedaan.”
Casanova geeft de jonge vrouw de tijd om de schok te laten inzinken.
“U heeft een prachtig lichaam, het is sierlijk. Uw ledematen drukken, zonder dat ze het zelf willen, sierlijkheid uit. Iets dat ontoegankelijk is voor iemand zoals ik. Iets dat ik maar net herken, maar wat ik niet kan vinden, niet kan vatten, niet kan vasthouden.”
“Doe uzelf niet tekort.”
Casanova loopt naar het raam. Kijkt naar buiten en naar zijn eigen spiegeling in het glas.
“Vreemd deze weerspiegeling… ik zie mijn gezicht vemengt met de achtergrond, alsof ik daar op een bepaalde manier deel vanuit maak. Mijn gezicht gaat op in andere dingen, andere beelden. En mijn woorden? Gaat het daar ook zo mee? Zijn mijn woorden een weerspiegeling vermengt met andere geluiden, andere momenten, andere situaties, andere verlangens?”
Woorden die voor hem van levensbelang waren omdat ze niet alleen toegang gaven tot een wereld waar hij op grond van zijn afkomst en rijkdom niet zou zijn toegelaten, woorden die, meer dan welke vrouwlijke schoonheid ook, zijn zintuigen voedden. De woorden die als enige echt zijn hart veroverd hebben en hem hebben gemaakt tot wie hij is: een bijna volmaakte, half-automatische woordenmachine, die niet zozeer bestaat door zijn daden maar hoe hij er over spreekt. En zelfs wanneer hij die machine afvalt, in een moment van bitter inzicht, doet hij dat met woorden die een verdediging waardig waren geweest.
“Ik heb ze allemaal eerder gehoord. Ik heb altijd naar mijzelf geluisterd. Ieder woord voorzichtig plaatsend als een kat op het dak, een roofdier op jacht. Alle woorden. Ik heb alle woorden verbruikt. Zodat, wanneer ik de waarheid wil uitdrukken alles wat ik zeg me bespottelijk maakt. Alles kaatst terug naar tijden toen ik precies diezelfde woorden gebruikte, met schijnbaar precies dezelfde oprechtheid.”

Er is een theoretisch oneindig aantal vrouwen dat hij zou kunnen veroveren, maar de wijze waarop is pijnlijk beperkt voor een man die van geen einde wil weten. Uiteindelijk is het dus onvermijdelijk dat hij zichzelf en zijn woorden – twee grootheden waarvan het individuele bestaan, los van de ander, niet te bewijzen valt – in exact dezelfde vorm maar in een geheel andere omgeving weer tegenkomt. Over dat wat zijn diepste verlangen is, zijn zintuigen te voeden en te verklaren met tijdloze extase, komt nu de grauwe sluier van de herhaling te liggen die zijn blik op de schoonheid vertroebelt en hem doet twijfelen aan het gelijk van zijn zintuigen.
“Zijn er geen nieuwe woorden? Is er voor een libertijn geen manier om de woorden uit zijn ziel te trekken die uiteindelijk alle vreugde, alle pijn en waarheid uitdrukken?”
Pauline, de jonge vrouw zegt dat zij hem geloofd. “Dat zeiden ze allemaal,” is het onnodig harde antwoord.

Casanova is het soort bron waarin iedereen wel iets van zijn gading kan vinden. Van de meest stijve moralist tot de meest vrijzinnige denker. Hij is een vignet dat op vele wijnen past. De raadselachtige voorkeur van Federico Fellini voor Donald Sutherland boven de veel voordehandliggender keuze voor Mastroianni als hoofdrolspeler in zijn ‘Il Casanova” uit 1976 had uiteraard met het rijzige postuur te maken dat Sutherland, anders dan Mastroianni, met Casanova gemeen had. Daarnaast speelde nog iets mee. “Sutherland,” schijnt Fellini te hebben gezegd, “heeft de ogen van een masturbator.” Een observatie die naadloos aansluit op Fellini’s visie op de figuur Casanova die aan het einde van de film fameus verliefd wordt op een 18-eeuwse mechanische love-doll. Casanova gebruikte de wereld als een zakdoek om zich in af te trekken, zegt Fellini wiens ambivalente weerzin voor de Casanova zoals die uit de memoires op ons afkomt, niet moeilijk te ontmaskeren is als een vorm van zelfhaat van de man die net als Casanova de wereld zozeer nodig had om zichzelf te kunnen zien dat hij een tweede schiep.

Bij Fellini’s Casanova ligt er een waas van onechtheid over de mensen en de dingen. Ze lachen te hard, ze maken te veel lawaai en ze bewegen zich als acteurs die van hun rol hun leven hebben gemaakt. De nonchalante realiteit die in bijna al zijn andere films, met uitzondering misschien van Satyricon, aanwezig is ontbreekt nadrukkelijk in deze verfilming. Het lijkt er zelfs op dat Fellini na zijn triomfen van het decennium daarvoor, net als Casanova op het midden van zijn leven in wantrouwen omkijkt naar zijn eigen meest succesvolle verhalen. Zoals alle vormen van liefde evenvele variaties op masturbatie zijn, zo is ook de kunst uiteindelijk niet meer dan een spiegeling waarin men zijn eigen portret ziet zweven, zonder dat het de dingen waartussen het zich beweegt ooit echt aan zal kunnen raken. Een ongrijpbaar, maar sierlijk niets dat zich even makkelijk tooit in liefde als in wanhoop.

Een filmscene die met enig recht voor altijd aan de herinnering van Casanova zal zijn vastgekleeft komt uit het eerder genoemde La Nuit de Varennes, het briljante en op bijna alle vlakken perfect uitgevoerde kostuumdrama, waarin in het spoor van de op de vlucht geslagen Lodewijk XIV en zijn gezin – die incognito onderweg zijn naar het buitenland en Koningsgetrouwe militaire troepen – een aantal historische figuren samen komen. Daaronder Thomas Paine, een spick & span vertolking van een nog jeugdige Harvy Keitel, die blinkt van rationalisme en het triomfantelijke gelijk van de Amerikaanse onafhankelijkheid, en voor eigen zaken onderweg is naar Metz. De schrijver en drukker Nicolas-Edme Retif die een journalist avant la lettre is en door nieuwsgierigheid en goede kopij voor zijn legendarische maandkrant Les Nuits de Paris gedreven wordt de vlucht van de koning te volgen. Een hofdame van Marie-Antoinette – een in koele bloei staande Hanna Schygulla – en haar aandoenlijk nichterige kapper, die koning in het geheim volgen, een aristocratische grootindustrieel, een italiaanse operazangeres en haar norsige minnaar en het nodige personeel.

Er ontvouwd zich een roadmovie met postkoetsen die de hedendaagse kijker onbewust doet terugverlangen naar deze wijde wereld van spierkracht en wind die ooit door mensen werd bewoond. Door een verkeersongeluk met een paard maakt De Retif kennis met Giacomo Casanova die, zeventig jaar oud, terug op weg is naar het kasteel Wallenstein in Dux (Bohemen) dat hij enige maanden daarvoor is ontvlucht, om nog een keer rusteloos en zonder doel ¬– behave zich te verwijderen van dat wat achter hem ligt – door zijn geliefde Frankrijk te reizen. Maar hij reist door een wereld die hij niet meer herkent. De revolutie heeft het land lelijk en de mensen ontevreden gemaakt en de koning heeft het volk, door vermomd als een lakei te vluchten, een onweerlegbaar bewijs voor haar minachting gegeven.

De hofdame bekent tijdens een tussenstop dat zij Casanova vroeger aan het hof heeft gezien, toen zij nog een meisje was. “U was mijn eerste liefde,” fluistert zij.
De oude man kijkt haar weemoedig aan. “U bent te laat geboren, en ik te vroeg.”
Met een klein gebaar haalt hij zijn schouder op.
“Als wij ons straks weer bij de rest voegen zullen ze denken dat ons gesprek van amoreuze aard was,” zegt de hofdame met droeve koketterie.
Casanova, stram als in de houding en met plechtige ernst: “Dat was het ook voor mij.”

Zoals hij van vrouwen hield, zo hield hij ook van Frankrijk. Als een vanzelfsprekend verlengstuk van zijn eigen persoonlijkheid. Rijk, gelukkig, vrolijk, potent en binnen haar eigen grenzen oneindig. Na zijn vlucht uit de Piombi zette Casanova bijna onmiddelijk koers naar Parijs, het licht van de wereld in die tijd. Binnen een jaar zou hij er miljonair zijn en vertrouweling van hoogggeplaatsten aan het Franse hof. Welke zeventigjarige die in melancholie terugkijkt op zijn leven waarin hij met niets begon zou geen goede herinneringen overhouden aan het land waarin hem al dat fortuin ten deel is gevallen? Een fortuin overigens dat hij binnen enkele jaren weer geheel zou verliezen door dezelfde levensstijl als waarmee hij het verworven had. Als geen ander belichaamd hij de wereld die met de uiteindelijke aanhouding van het Koninklijk gezin in Varennes, tot stilstand komt. Een wereld van toevallige rijkdom, ver doorgevoerde vormelijkheid en liefdadigheid bij gebrek aan rechtvaardigheid, snakkend naar verstrooing voor wie zich de verveling kon permitteren. Een door God zelf gesanctioneerde, neo-liberale natte droom waarin voor een ongebonden man met ideeen, talent, gevoel voor theater en een grote mate van doortastendheid meer te vinden was dan in een wereld die in alles streefde naar gelijkheid. De ondergang van die wereld loopt parallel aan de ondergang van zijn fysieke leven waar een revolutie van de dood onder de organen en gewrichten sluimerde waarvoor de rusteloze geest, zoals de Franse koning voor zijn volk, tegen beter weten in op de vlucht was geslagen.

Ook Mastroianni doorspekt zijn Casanova ongetwijfeld met veel genoegen met nuances uit zijn eigen leven. De ongeneeslijke meidengek die een tiental jaren eerder in Le Garnde Bouffe nog uitschreeuwde dat hij minstens eenmaal per dag moest neuken omdat hij anders gek zou worden, speelt die andere ongeneeslijke meidengek op leeftijd, met de vermoeidheid van persoonlijke ervaring. Het is opvallend dat deze Casanova, wiens persoonlijkheid in de periode die de film beslaat, eigenlijk al opgehouden had te bestaan – hij is een mythe geworden van wie alleen mensen van een bepaalde leeftijd nog weten – dichter bij ons vermoeden van de werkelijke Casanova komt dan de veel diepgravender poging tot analyse die Potter op hem los laat. Uiteraard heeft dat te maken met de wijze waarop Mastroianni hem vertolkt, als een man die ooit groter dan het leven was maar nu zijn onweerstaanbare zelfverzekerheid en charme met zich meezeult in een haperend lichaam, dat de last van die charme nauwelijks meer kan dragen. Maar ook omdat de film ons Casanova niet alleen als mens laat zien, maar als produkt van zijn tijd die, in de contex van de Franse revolutie, plotseling een onbedoeld exentriek en enigzins naief voorkomen heeft gekregen, als een reliëf dat van opzij aangelicht als bij toverslag groteske contouren krijgt.

Aan redenen om ontevreden te zijn met het bestaan was ook in de 18de eeuw geen gebrek. Literatuur was een geaccepteerde vorm van escapisme die het mogelijk maakte – door toespelingen, dubbelzinnigheden en door wat verzwegen diende te worden heel hoorbaar niet te zeggen – te ontsnappen aan een vormelijkheid die zij naar buiten toe bevestigde. Voor zulk een lucide nuancering van de werkelijkheid is in tijden van revolutie geen geduld. Casanova’s voorliefde voor makerades, verkleedpartijen, intelligente oplichterij en ver doorgevoerde practical jokes waren het kenmerk van een elite die in grote mate buiten de werkelijkheid leefde waardoor de literaire verbeelding van die werkelijkheid – die dus al van zichzelf in grote mate virtueel was – voor waarachtige realiteit kon worden gehouden. Ondanks dat men begin en einde van het touw niet ziet loopt men door wolken van verbeelding over het slappe koort van de taal. En meer nog dan van zijn moeder was Casanova een kind van die taal. Een in zichzelf opgesloten draagbare werkelijkheid die zich als door een poreuze wand met het echte leven vermengt. Woorden maakten hem tot wie hij was. Eerst in het echte leven, en tenslotte in zijn verslag daarvan.

Naast de gebeurtenisvolheid van dat leven lijkt de voornaamste oorzaak voor de omvang van zijn memoires dan ook de noodzakelijke aanwezigheid van woorden in zijn leven, zonder wie niets echt bestaat of gebeurd is. Niet de liefde, niet de avonturen, niet de voorspoed en tegenslag, niet de vele ontmoetingen, maar alleen wat in woorden gevat werd was echt, en is echt gebleven als het niets met heel veel krullen.

26 juli 2010

July 26, 2010


Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 5:41 pm

Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind — PRE-ORDER

Filed under: literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 3:51 pm

2010 will see the release of Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind: 400 pages of essays, poetry, prose, and visual art in color and black-and-white, sandwiched between a CD attached to the front cover and a DVD attached to the back.

Unlikely 2.0, the web-magazine of art and culture, is changing the definition of a literary anthology. Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind will be an extensive examination of all the excitement art can be: the physical embodiment of all things Unlikely, featuring videos, music, visual art, prose and poems by 50 Cent Haircut, Shane Allison, David Amram, Jim Andrews, Grace Andreacchi, Ron Androla, Michael Aro, David Aronson, Cassandra L. Atherton, Joe Balaz, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Orna Ben Shoshan, Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal, Bill Berry, Kristy Bowen, Tom Bradley, Alan Britt, Ray Brown, John Bryan, Luke Buckham, Ric Carfagna, Wendy Taylor Carlisle, Justin Carmickle, Bob Castle, Jim Chaffee, Cecelia Chapman, Robert Ciesla, The Clockwork Dolls, K. R. Copeland, Ginnetta Correlli, Leslie Council, D. B. Cox, Guy Cranswick, Will Crawford, Jeff Crouch, Michael Cuglietta, Steve Dalachinsky, Leon De la Rósa, Martha L. Deed, Richard Denner, Mary Ellen Derwis, DEVI, The Dirty Skirts, Doug Draime, Arthur Durkee, Paul Dutton, Amanda Earl, R. C. Edrington, Deidre Elizabeth, Brad M. Elliot, Leah Erickson, Michael Estabrook, Kane X. Faucher, Jack Feldstein, Cecilia Ferreira, The Folding Chairs, Michael C. Ford, Skip Fox, Vernon Frazer, Gloria Frym, Kirpal Gordon, John Grey, Danielle Grilli, gui.ra.ga7, Ira Joel Haber, Michael Haeflinger, Micah Harold, Michael Harold, Stephen Harrison, Sydney Harth, Jonathan Hayes, Kyle Hemmings, Leigh Herrick, Lily Hoang, Martin Hoeldtke, Justin Hyde, Liesl Jobson, Tyke Johnson, Joja, Aryan Kaganof, Adeena Karasick, John Keaton, Gene Keller, Tsipi Keller, Karl Kempton, Olivia Kennett, Adrien Kenyon, Amy King, Debbie Kirk, Amy Kohut, Kurtice Kucheman, Donna Kuhn, John Kuligowski, David LaBounty, Delphine LeCompte, Linda A. Lavid, Jim Leftwich, Louise Landes Levi, Robert Levin, Anthony Liccione, Lyn Lifshin, Richard Lighthouse, James Lineberger, Rick Lupert, MC Frontalot, Sean McCluskey, David McLean, Anne McMillen, Dennis Mahagin, Anna Maly, Diana Magallón, Peter Magliocco, Michael Medaglia, Tim Millas, The Molotov, Nicholas R. Morgan, David Nakabayashi, NeBa, Jason Neese, J. D. Nelson, Paul Nelson, Millie Niss, Alex Nodopaka, Carol Novack, Dean Omori, Joe Pachinko, John-Ivan Palmer, Claudio Parentela, Brent M. Parker, Jonathan Penton, Utah Phillips, Randel Plowman, Elisha Porat, Kerryn Potgieter, Bob Powell, Brent Powers, Don Pyle, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Dan Raphael, Ray Ramos, Gabriel Ricard, Charles P. Ries, Luis Rivas, Phil Rockstroh, Randall K. Rogers, T. S. Ross, Brenton Rossow, David Rovics, Miriam Sagan, Salvage My Dream, Iftekhar Sayeed, Eric Schwartz, Peter Schwartz, Rion Amilcar Scott, Matt Sesow, Paul E. Sexton III, Jen Shugert, Sidewalk Beggar, Sigerson, Eric Smiarowski, Willie Smith, Janet Snell, Donna Snyder, Felino A. Soriano, Sounds Like Fall, Jeffrey Spahr-Summers, George Sparling, Constance Stadler, Belinda Subraman, Dee Sunshine, John Sweet, Violetta Tarpinian, Gay Tastee, Chuck Taylor, Randy Thurman, Ryan Undeen, Gabriela Anyana Valdepeña, Sam Vaknin, C. Derick Varn, Joel Van Noord, Monina Verano, Derek Von Essen, Dan Waber, George Wallace, Alex Walsh, Alek Wasilweski, Lawrence Welsh, Derek White, Earnst Williamson III, A. D. Winans, Jasiri X, and Thea Zimmer.

Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind will be released at Burning Man in the first week of September. If you pre-order now, we’ll give you free shipping to the U.S. and Canada!

* ISBN: 978-0-9822934-5-4

order your copy here

fred de vries on the new south african literature

Filed under: literature,stacy hardy — ABRAXAS @ 12:07 pm

July 25, 2010

9 notes from lisbon: 1. love letters

Filed under: anton krueger,fernando pessoa,literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 11:57 am

fernando pessoa courted her with ten years of words,
but finally, indignant, she tells him he’s a personne…
he was in love with words and not the flesh,
his love extinguished him –

July 24, 2010

van gogh’s ear volume 6: the love edition

Filed under: kagapoems,literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 9:51 pm

includes aryan kaganof’s poem “dissolution love”


french connection press
12 rue lamartine
75009 paris

isbn 978-2-914853-09-5

speaking for the generations

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 8:07 pm

includes stories from the following south african writers: aryan kaganof, kobus moolman, yewande omotoso, becky apteker, and kagablog contributor arja salafranca. of the many nigerian writers represented in the anthology tanure ojaide’s the benevolence of the dead really stands out.

published by africa world press, inc.
p.o.box 1892
trenton, nj 08607

isbn 1-59221-719-2
first printing 2010

more info here: http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com/spip.php?article5303

Hector Kunene reviews Omoseye Bolaji’s Tebogo and the Haka (2008)

Filed under: free state black literature,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 11:21 am

For the first time in years I managed to read a book and finish it without putting it down! It is not because I know, and I’m fond of the author of the pertinent book (Tebogo and the Haka), but because I love literature and would like to read as many books as I can in my younger days whilst I am still energetic and dynamic.

I picked up a copy of Tebogo and the Haka, written by the enigmatic and unfathomable writer (Mr. Bolaji) at the library for personal interest, and my interest was glued on the characters such as Tim who seems to have all the information yet he keeps it in a 4 page notebook “under his pillow”

Yet I must admit that I feel sad that at the end of the book, the author in this case lets the female criminal go scot-free, whereas she should have ended up behind bars with the keys thrown away. Could it be that the author is indicating that in our society criminals can be let loose as the community keeps quiet about it! We are talking of the death of two men who died almost at the same time due to poisoning by the same beautiful woman whom Bolaji describes as a “peach” with her height, light complexion and long legs!

Could it be that beautiful women can get away with murder, as jail does not accommodate external beauty? In my reading of the book, I looked at the Haka and I must admit that I saw the Haka in my illusions as I even pictured the tavern, the snooker, the bedroom of Sol and even could see other characters like Mpho doing a bit of mopping the floor. I could even imagine the jew box machine and the dance floor (which is not mentioned in the book) – that is how the book led me to have my own imagination as Bolaji’s fictitious skills took me to greater heights and I concluded with the sad, yet happy ending that after all the criminal was finally figured by the investigator Tebogo.

I am glad that the author remained morally spot-on, as I thought that perhaps the sexy lady was going to “bribe” Tebogo seductively to keep him quiet after he had figured the truth about the murder she committed. I also thought that if Tebogo was not so loving and faithful to his wife then he could have fallen for the dangerous lady’s charms, as they even shared a questionable kiss on the mouth! To me, this kiss means something for a reader to figure out!

Nothing much is said about the character of Tebogo’s wife, Khanyi. As a result I ask myself if Tebogo is morally outstanding in his gesture towards women, or his character limits him to explore as the cliché “every man’s weakness is a woman”. Tebogo does us well for a change that a man can be faithful to one partner, so I give the author a pat on the back for this one as he promotes faithfulness and being trustworthy to our partners.

Going back to the character, Tim, I question his integrity as he apparently knows the killer of two men. How many crimes does this character witness and keeps quiet since the tavern is not such a safe place after all? He remains a “coward” in my own opinion, and I would not like to see this happening in our communities as this could perpetuate crimes committed and unreported. One of the questions that remained in me after reading Tebogo and the haka was: what will the “ flamboyant protagonist” do after Tebogo has returned with the report of what happened in Ladybrand?

I discovered that the Haka is actually a song that is sung by the New Zealand rugby players and I imagined our people in the townships doing even the riveting dance! I discovered that the late Sol was quite an influential personality, as it was said that whilst he was still alive the performers of the Haka were more energetic than after his demise. What a fiction by Bolaji! The song is sung in a Maori language from New Zealand.

Well, Sol on the other hand richly allows us to learn and acknowledge his death as a womanizer and also keeps us aware that one way or the other, every soldier must die in his own warfare!

Another impression I got as regards Khanyi (Tebogo’s wife) was that I would have loved to savour more glimpses into her romance with Tebogo (but of course this has been done very well in earlier Tebogo adventures like Tebogo Fails, and Ask Tebogo). In Tebogo and the Haka, was the author trying to explore the possibility of a long distance relationship, or she was not really in his mind much? ; as a result she was “suspended” throughout the book? We are only told of pictures and few phone calls and SMS’s.

Call me over-sentimental, but I personally missed Khanyi in Tebogo and the Haka and I am happy that in earlier, and subsequent adventures, she had returned to the bosom of her husband, so to speak! But I am realistic enough to accept that the Tebogo adventures involve detection and mystery, and are not supposed to be stories of romance! (like in Tebogo Fails – 2003) Detective work can be dangerous, and Tebogo won’t be expected to involve his wife is such investigations, eh? …but maybe it is a possibility worth exploring? I am a lover for literature, so lovers do explore!

July 22, 2010

gary cummiskey interviews arja salafranca

Filed under: arja salafranca,dye hard press,literature — ABRAXAS @ 2:30 pm

Arja Salafranca: embracing short fiction
Arja Salafranca has published two collections of poetry, A life stripped of illusions, winner of the 1994 Sanlam Award, and The Fire in Which we Burn, which was published by Dye Hard Press. Her collection of short stories, The Thin Line, was recently published by Modjaji Books. She edits the Sunday Life supplement in The Sunday Independent and is studying toward an MA in Creative Writing. She is the recipient of the 2009/2010 Dalro Award for her poem, ‘Steak’, published in New Coin. You can visit her blog here.

DH: Short fiction has been referred to as a sort of poor relation of the novel. What are your thoughts on that, and why do you prefer short fiction over the novel?

AS: I think short fiction is certainly the “poor relation” to the novel, but only in the way it is perceived by the majority of publishers, readers and booksellers. The majority, not all, otherwise we would have no collections by single authors out there at all! It’s been all a bit of a catch 22 – with stories not selling in significant volumes, publishers seem to have cut back on publishing collections by single authors in the last ten, fifteen years. In addition, magazines from the late 1980s onward stopped publishing short fiction, which they used to do quite regularly. So stories became quite marginalised, off the radar as a genre. Instead, in this country, we saw interest in South African novels peaking, as well as in nonfiction works.

There has been a rise in the number of short fiction collections and anthologies published in SA recently – do you think the tide is turning?

Yes, thankfully the tide is turning, albeit slowly. I wrote a piece for The Star in 2008, titled The short story renaissance in which I asked a number of writers, booksellers and publishers for their views. The assumption, generally, was that there was a bit of a shift. For a start, some magazine had began publishing stories again, or running competitions for short stories, bringing them back into the public eye. This year we’ve seen a “flood” of short stories – I call it a flood, because compared to the amount being published in previous years, this is a delightful amount. There was Home Away, an anthology edited by Louis Greenberg, which has done very well; Modjaji Books has published two volumes of stories, my own, as well as Meg Vandermerve’s This Place I call Home, and The Bed Book of Short Stories, David Medalie has a collection out, Ivan Vladislavic’s early short stories have been reissued, and Henrietta Rose-Innes’s Homing has just been released. Usually we see a single volume every couple of years by a single author, so I think stories are receiving more prominence now. They are being published again – and that’s the first step to getting readers.

There’s still a long way to go, of course – we need to demand their prominence as readers and writers. We need to ask more magazines to publish them; we need to buy more collections, ask booksellers to stock them, or shop online. We need to read and buy short story collections – for lovers of short stories that’s not a huge ask, of course. But some readers are a little afraid of reading short fiction, whether it’s because it’s not a familiar read, as poetry isn’t, or whether that “quick fix” offered by stories isn’t seen as satisfactory. We need to write stories that draw readers in, and very importantly, as writers, we need to read short stories and read widely. As I said before, if you can’t find volumes of stories in your bookshop, go online, there are collections and anthologies out there that don’t make it to our South African shelves. Go explore.

keep reading this interview on the new dye hard press interview blog: http://dyehardinterviews.blogspot.com/

sunnyside sal

Filed under: anton krueger,literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:16 am


Filed under: ian martin,literature — ABRAXAS @ 8:55 am

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

He began to wonder, crouched at his spy hole, about the husband of Frau Klee. Herr Klee. He already disliked and feared the man and felt the pain of jealousy as he gazed with one-eyed lust upon this delightful creature. Not that she was perfect. Yet he couldn’t remember a woman who had appealed to him more, in such a rounded way. Long ago he had excised Kaye Goldblatt from his memory. Desirable, down-to-earth, intelligent, spirited. His type of woman, if that were at all possible. So what type of man was this husband of hers, the ‘Artist’? Nothing like himself, of that he was pretty certain. It was unlikely that she would go for someone like Henry Fuckit. A smoother type with definite, even fixed views. She would be attracted to someone with conviction, not to a tormented character like him who questioned the necessity of taking his next breath, let alone being able to follow a distinct path through life.

Seeing her alone at the table, after the children had been put to bed, was particularly moving and intense. Wouldn’t she sense his eye on her? Sometimes she would look up from what she was doing, finishing a meal, mending something, reading the paper, and glance about her in a distracted way, uneasy like a dog, listening and intent, and then resume her occupation. Once she sat staring straight at him in such a fixed way that he was sure she could see his eyeball glinting through the grille and he shut it. But not knowing whether or not she was getting up and striding over to his hiding place caused him such terror that he immediately opened it again.

When she yawned, stood up and left, her hand automatically going to the switch and flicking the scene into darkness, he slunk back to his room and an old brown brandy. He knew nothing about women, they were entirely strange to him. Even when he lay on top of one, having entered into one, having covered and enfolded one in complete physical intimacy, he was ignorant of her. When his eye bored into her from a distance of ten feet, his whole being concentrated upon her, the chasm between them was as wide and unbridgeable as if he were a light year from her. He must resign himself to despair. The chasm existed all about him and only a fool would believe that the chasm was bridgeable. Unless … No. Unless was weakness and self-delusion. Unless was back to magic, superstition and religion. A pathetic attempt to refute the obvious. Why be afraid of the obvious? It was one thing to huddle together for comfort, to partake of the drug and bask in its warmth; that was acceptable human behaviour. Who could be blamed for trying to keep warm and for driving back loneliness with sentimentality? He knew all about that and understood if in a brotherly way. But to deny one’s essential aloneness was not acceptable behaviour. He couldn’t condone the delusions of holy men who communed with a higher being. Higher beings, lower beings or fellow beings, there was no communion. The only communion was with oneself. Was that so bad? He shouldn’t talk of despair.

To drink alone was preferable because then he could better appreciate the inner conversation. He needed to drink less, too. A glass and a half could last him an hour if taken with a bit of external reality, the external reality feeding the internal dialogue. Dialogue or monologue? There were so many questions and tentative answers he supposed it had to be a dialogue, conducted in the manner of a man working out chess moves, playing against himself. The bits of reality could be lines from a poem, the smell of fog (or dog, for that matter), a photograph in a magazine or a snatch of something on the radio. Just about anything could provoke a discussion…

He was jolted from his reverie by her laughing and giggling and the low tones of a man’s voice. He had been sitting on two boxes of newspapers, immersed in his thoughts and the darkness of the passage-cupboard. What was going on? He thought she had gone to bed. It was late. With a feeling of dread he crouched down once more and peered through the spy-hole.

They were already undressed, their clothes scattered about the room. A tall fair-haired man in his late thirties, bearded, fit looking. So this was the bastard. God, she’s beautiful! Henry’s heart was pounding furiously, he breathed in shallow gasps and his whole body was prickling with shame. With noisy sighs of ecstasy they were in the process of coupling. She was lifted, she wrapped her legs about his hips, she hung from his neck. Slowly he made his way toward the door, paused, bounced her up and down. Then the strangely entwined mythological creature was gone from his view.

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

July 16, 2010

walter rhein interviews danila botha

Filed under: danila botha,literature — ABRAXAS @ 7:38 pm

Can you tell us a little bit about “Got No Secrets”?

Got No Secrets is a collection of twelve short stories, told in the first person, about the private lives of twelve different women. Some of the stories are set in my native South Africa, some are set in Toronto, Canada, and one is set in the States. The stories explore the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden or feel ashamed of, even if they are a big part of who we are. They explore the idea of what it means to be good-and what it means to be able to live with yourself, no matter what decisions you’ve made. Some of them deal with addiction, drugs, and using sex to escape. Others are about childhood and relationships, and existential crises. They were all really interesting to research, and enjoyable to write. I tried to understand what people experienced, to live in their heads and hearts as much as I could. I hope they all seemed authentic and real- and that the characters felt like real people that you know after reading about them.

What’s your background with writing?

I studied Creative Writing at York University in Toronto and at the Humber College School for writers. I wrote even as a young kid, and I always loved reading. I guess I got more serious about writing as I got through university. I always knew it was what I loved to do above all other things, but my confidence grew as I got older. It’s important to believe in your own voice and in your own writing. I’m still working on it as we speak.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

I’m really influenced and inspired by some of the writers from where I’m from in South Africa: Rian Malan, Marlene Van Niekerk, Aryan Kaganof, Andre Brink, K Sello Duiker, Phaswane Mpe, JM Coetzee, Rene Bohnen, Michelle Mcgrane, Toast Coetzer, Melinda Ferguson and more.

I love American writers like JD Salinger, EE cummings, and Charles Bukowski. Also, Darcey Steinke is another writer I really admire, and Shannon Burke, whose book Safelight I just finished reading last night.

I also love Hanif Kureishi. I love Heather O’Neill, her writing changed my life. Also Zoe Whittall, Camilla Gibb, Richard Scrimger and Nino Ricci. Also, Julia Tausch, and Ibi Kaslik.

I love Nicole Aube’s writing a lot. Chaka Reid’s writing is great too.

I’ve been reading a few memoirs lately too: I loved Kathryn Borel’s Corked, and Nic Sheff’s Tweak, and also, Jeannette Walls’ the Glass Castle. I love the Israeli writers too- Assaf Gavron, Etgar Keret, Eshkol Nevo, Zeruya Shalev. I could probably name a lot more- there is a lot of fantastic writing out there. I really love to read, and often read one or two books a week. I spend thousands of dollars on books, easy, and belong to two libraries. It’s so important to read a lot. I find writers who are brave- who search for the truth about why things are, who are not afraid to “go there” with complex or difficult issues- whose characters ask themselves the difficult questions- are the ones who inspire me most. There are a lot of fantastic writers out there.

What was it like working with Tightrope and Modjaji Books?

Working with Tightrope was awesome- they’re really a family of creative, powerful individuals and it was a total honour and pleasure to work with them. Halli Villegas, my publisher, is a force of nature- a kind and intelligent visionary. She’s a great poet and writer, who really understands where writers are coming from with their work. Shirarose Willensky, my editor, was excellent- she really understood the writing and what I wanted to do. She helped me to develop it and improve it , while sharing my vision for the characters and the book. I can’t say enough good things about her. It was an incredible experience working with her, and having her as a friend is equally great.

Working with Modjaji was great too. Colleen Higgs, my publisher in SA was wonderful to work with. It’s been an amazing experience all around

Who was responsible for the cover/book design?

Karen Correia Da Silva of Tightrope Books was the designer. She did an incredible job of making the book look beautiful. She’s really, really talented. Vanya du Toit, the South African photographer did the cover shot. She does amazing work.

I’m so privileged to call them both my friends.

What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

Tightrope are doing a lot of it. I’m trying to do as many readings as I can, which I love doing, and trying to get people to review it as much as possible. The National Post’s Afterword column invited me to write a week’s worth of entries about South African writing, so that was fantastic.

Salty Ink, a great website about Atlantic Canadian writing invited me to do something similar about Canadian writing. I’m just trying to do as many of these types of things as I can. I’m always so thrilled to be asked.

Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?

Stories from readings: so far, they’ve all been really fun. The launch in Toronto at T Cafe was so much fun. I loved reading the next month at Ben Mcnally Books too. I just did a reading in Halifax, at the Company House, and had a great time. The only thing I can think of is that in Halifax, I introduced one of the stories that I read completely wrongly. My editor and I had talked about changing some titles of the stories, which totally made sense cause I find creating titles the hardest part sometimes. I had planned to read the story A Tiny Thud (a title I had changed) so I started talking about what inspired it…then instead, started reading the story ‘Just Quietly Do It’ instead… and I realized it as I was reading it. When I was done, I explained it, and it was fine… but it really funny. I’d told a story that was a total non sequitor- not related to Just Quietly Do It all. The lovely audience thankfully didn’t seem to mind.

What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?

I blog through Aryan Kaganof’s writing community, called the Kagablog. Aryan is a South African writer, poet, and filmmaker, and he has created a true artist community that I’m so grateful to be a part of. Mostly just my writing can be found there, but sometimes photos, and other arty stuff.
What projects do you have planned for the future?

A novel that I’m in the middle of writing called ‘Too Much on the Inside’. Also a graphic novel about the Israeli/Palestinian situation that I’m working on with an illustrator friend of mine. And more to come!

Is there anything else about you we should know?

I love writing. It really makes me happy to express myself and to use it as a tool to try to understand why things happen.

this interview first published on walter’s blog: http://walterrhein.blogspot.com/

July 15, 2010

Danila Botha: The Real Subversives

Filed under: danila botha,literature — ABRAXAS @ 8:40 am

Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She later moved to Toronto, Canada, where she studied Creative Writing at York University, and Humber College for Writers. She volunteered with Na-me-res and Ve’ahavta, organizations benefiting the homeless, which inspired many of the stories in Got No Secrets, her first collection of short stories which was published by Tightrope Books this May, in Canada, and Modjaji Books in South Africa. She currently lives in Halifax.

South African writers are fearless. Maybe it’s the crime, the harsh social realities that give their work its mimetic strength. Maybe the truth has just become impossible to ignore and the stories are aching to be told. Maybe it’s our complicated history – years of oppression, of literary and artistic censorship, a lack of exposure to provocative western art and pop culture for so many decades. Maybe it’s the rigidity of Apartheid – the militant notions of what it meant to be good, the God fearing and church going values.

Maybe we were just overdue for a major artistic and literary rebellion.

Maybe it’s the nature of the people – who are known for telling things the way they are, instead of cushioning them in the way they want things to be. In any case –I’ve never read literature more genuinely shocking, more compassionate, funny or deeply human than the literature written by South Africans. Don’t believe me? Let me give you four examples of some of my favourite recent South African novels.

In Kleinboer’s Kontrei (the title means country, but in English the title was translated as the Midnight Missionary) a man regularly visits prostitutes and has both safe and unsafe sex in Hillbrow, one of the poorest suburbs of Johannesburg (with the highest AIDS, drugs and murder rates in the country) while also living with his HIV positive girlfriend and her son. In Marlene Van Niekerk’s Triomf, a family living in Triomf, (a suburb formerly known as Sophiatown) are made up not only of parents who are not in fact married, but secretly brother and sister, and a son, the product of this union, who throughout the book, has sex with his mother. The blurb on the front cover teasingly describes it as: “South Africa as you’ve never seen it: a tale of incest and white trash.” In Toast Coetzer’s Naweek (Weekend) A rock star whose story begins with his death and works backwards, a rollicking adventure of sex and drugs, and you know that it’s not going to end well. In Karin Elof’s Stilletto, Elof, a former prostitute whose memoir details every act and emotional motivation.
It’s weighty stuff, but the truth always is.

In Triomf, Van Niekerk pushes our concepts of what is taboo to its limits- creating characters that are tragic, stuck in a routine of poverty, unemployment, illegal scams, drinking and shameful sexual encounters that they can’t escape because they simply can’t imagine living any other way.

The fact that the characters all ring true- that they read as three dimensional people is a triumph in and of itself. But beyond that, the fact that they elicit our deepest sympathies, that they are genuinely relatable, despite their actions, is astounding. Van Niekerk is a genius.

Kleinboer (whose pen name means little farmer, and whose real name is Fanie de Villiers) brilliantly juxtaposes verses from the Old Testament with explicit sex scenes and intimately personal details.

The protagonist, Sarel, is an Afrikaner who lives with his Zulu girlfriend in the predominantly black and rough neighbourhood of Hillbrow, and is obsessed with seeing as many prostitutes as possible.

It’s difficult to describe quite how deliciously wrong it feels to read graphic sex scenes in Afrikaans (the language, that when I was a kid signified bible stories, clear moral boundaries, and right wing politics) but let me just state that Kleinboer does it with aplomb – the perfect ratio of voyeurism and necessary honesty. It’s also ground breaking-the presentation of sex as unabashedly pleasurable, the anticipation and build up to an event that is enjoyed purely for its own sake is an act of rebellion itself given our context.

The same can be said for the joyful but matter of fact way that sex is handled in Coetzer’s novel and the liberated but detached way that it is often described in Elof’s. Coetzer’s Le Roux Basson is a rock star revelling in the drug and adoration hazed ecstasy of excess and success, tongue firmly in cheek. In Stiletto, Elof, a former stripper and porn magazine editor, details her journey from the sex industry to normalcy in a frank and brave manner.

Let’s not forget the complex truths here- if South Africa’s AIDS rates are incredibly high, they didn’t get there through abstinence, monogamous relationships, or safe practice in swinging single life. Kleinboer’s character Sarel’s love of sex and women, and Elof’s choice of profession are certainly not unique. Neither are his distaste for condoms, nor his panic the morning after. Le Roux’s love of partying, Elof’s moments of regret- these are more universal than South Africans, or indeed people, are usually comfortable acknowledging.

These books offer true subversion: they function as mirrors whose reflection shines so brightly they become impossible for their readers to ignore. They give us insights, compassion and understanding – the first steps towards social change. Go out and get them if you can- at least two have been excellently translated.

this article first appeared on nationalpost.com

July 14, 2010


Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 7:15 pm

danila botha interviews melinda ferguson

Filed under: danila botha,literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:33 am

“I am all for opening the can of worms and confronting the shadow.”

Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She later moved to Toronto, Canada, where she studied Creative Writing at York University, and Humber College for Writers. She volunteered with Na-me-res and Ve’ahavta, organizations benefiting the homeless, which inspired many of the stories in Got No Secrets, her first collection of short stories which was published by Tightrope Books this May, in Canada, and Modjaji Books in South Africa. She currently lives in Halifax.

Melinda Ferguson is brave. Not only did she survive years of full blown addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, she recovered enough to successfully become a journalist, and a writer who regularly shares her experiences in the hopes of helping others.

In her first book, Smacked, published in South Africa in 2005, she was unafraid to show addiction as it really was- a desperate, ugly struggle to get her next hit, an obsession that led to her abandoning everything that had once mattered to her- including her two (then young) sons.

The cycle of addiction and her subsequent recovery are described in depth, with absolutely no vanity or concern on her part for how she is portrayed. I truly believe that Smacked has, and will continue to save lives. Her second book, Hooked, was recently published by Penguin Books, in South Africa.

We had the chance to chat recently about addiction, honesty in writing, and the different reactions this has inspired.

DB: First of all, let’s talk about Smacked.

MF: Smacked was my first book, a memoir published in December 2005. It really captured the harrowing drug journey I went through between 1993 –1999. I literally gave everything up in my life: my family, my two boys, my home- everything- in search of a hit of smack (heroin) and crack. It’s a very hectic story, it goes right down into the darkness of addiction. It was very exposing. It pissed off a lot of people, especially within my own family.

DB: Which must have been massively at odds with how well it did. I can’t even imagine what that contrast must have been like.

MF: Yes, it was received very well by the book buying public. It went through 5 reprints and was a bestseller for many weeks. The reissue of Smacked will be in store on 1 July, (with my new publishers Penguin) and a new cover and a brand new chapter at the end, called Staying Stopped: Ten Steps I Took To Stay Clean and Sober.

DB: What do you think it is about it that resonated so strongly with people?

MF: I think the world is hungry for literature that talks honestly about people’s struggles and triumphs. My book is an everyman story, I was not someone people expected to turn into a junkie. I was a straight A student, a prefect (a hall monitor) at school , played netball and went to university.

I was just a person who went on some bad trips , made crap decisions and found myself homeless.

DB: Yes, I think this idea that addiction doesn’t discriminate, that it could happen to anyone, is a big part of it.

MF: Yes. Mine is a story of struggle and redemption of the self.

By way of sales figures, (Hooked is already climbing best seller charts) it seems many people are drawn to a story like mine.

We live in a highly addictive age and you don’t have to be a ‘Smack head’ to feel things like obsession and compulsion. I also realised not many books are written about the staying clean and sober process. This is one of the first ones that I know of, so maybe I am starting a whole new genre!

DB: Let’s talk about the new book, Hooked, which is the sequel to Smacked. It was just launched this month, right?

MF: Yes, and it was also written as a memoir. It’s subtitled “Secrets and Highs of a Sober Addict” and it really embraces the concept that addiction is much deeper than just using drugs and drinking. It is a state of mind, a psyche and it’s probably one of the most pervasive problems of our age along with global warming and HIV. The book traces three highly addictive Internet relationships that I embarked on as a kind of revenge on a long term boyfriend who cheated on me. They include a Facebook chat relationship with a meth head from Melbourne, Australia, a dodgy rock star from Troyeville ( a suburb of Johannesburg) and a slick, creepy critic from Cape Town . It explores the age of social networking which has literally re-colonised our world. It’s lighter than Smacked, funny, insightful and will hopefully leave the reader begging for more!

DB: Were you ever worried, as a writer who is so direct, and truthful, but is also so incredibly successful, that you would appear to be glamorizing drug use, or the recovery process? I get asked this too, by the way, because a lot of the stories and characters in Got No Secrets deal with drugs and addiction. I’m wondering if you have a good answer.

MF: I have sometimes worried about the effect I have on the reader in terms of possibly glamorizing addiction in a way, but I write about it so unglamorously, for example, in Smacked I open with a gang rape scene. In my experience, drug use is all about darkness and degradation. Many young people have read that book and sworn NEVER to touch drugs, so I think on the contrary it actually de-glamorizes drug abuse. I do worry though that sometimes when people see me these days, I seem so well and my life is going so brilliantly, that people might think it is easy to mess up your life, write a book and get back on track and live the fabulous life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have really had to work hard and struggle incredibly to get where I am today. The more open we are about these things the more we will learn. I am all for opening the can of worms and confronting the shadow.

DB: Has writing been a big part of the healing process for you?

MF: Absolutely. I have grown enormously in self acceptance and forgiveness. I really think the truth will set you free and that we are only as sick as our secrets.

I have many letters from people telling me that both Smacked and more recently Hooked have changed the way they see addiction. Many addicts have been helped to get into recovery with my book, I get letters five years later on an almost daily level, testifying to this.

Writing my truth has definitely propelled me into an amazing space in my life.

this article first published here

July 13, 2010


Filed under: ian martin,literature — ABRAXAS @ 4:15 pm

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

That evening he ate at the café in Hundertwasser Strasse. It was a greasy meal of sausage, fried egg, peas and chips. Salt on the chips helped, as did tomato sauce with the egg and sausage. The fat Afrikaner woman, whose buttocks engulfed her stool behind the till at the door and made him think of a circus elephant, kept an unfriendly eye on him and her two brown girls. When she spoke it was in a military baritone and the sullenness of her employees served as an eloquent character reference. They knew what she was really like. No possibility of a rough exterior hiding a heart of gold here. Tomorrow he would check the library for any Edward Hopper. Edward Hopper would be happy to pull up an easel in the shelter of a doorway the other side of Hundertwasser Strasse and paint this stark scene. The ruthless lack of compromise under the fluorescent light, the green Formica and the aluminium trim, the red Coca Cola fridges, the wire racks of Simba crisps, yellow and blue, the vast empty spaces, the figure behind the till, the solitary customer – it was classic American, so devoid of value. Edward Hopper would have immortalised him. But, arsehole, how could he have SEEN his canvas huddled in a dark doorway? With the last chip on the end of his fork he slowly and thoroughly cleaned the plate, herding the sludge into a pool away from him. With each sweep of the mop the pool deepened and as he went back for another run it began to spread out. He was aware that three pairs of eyes were trained upon him, detached but interested, as if they were watching work on a civil engineering project. Very, very slowly he raised the chip, dripping. He angled his head sideways and opened his mouth as wide as he possibly could. The chip was entering the jaws and then halted just within the threshold. His hand began to tremble and he made a gagging noise in his throat before letting the fork and chip clatter to the plate. Giggles from the girls and “Ag NEE man! Kombuis toe, kombuis toe!” from the owner. At the till she wouldn’t look at him, barking out the amount he was to pay and then furiously slamming the change on the counter. God she was huge! The weight of just one of those udders! A good four or five kilos.

By contrast the light in Kapp’s Bar was thick and slurred and making the content of the room barely intelligible. Henry sat near the door where the air was less polluted and ordered neat whisky in a beer mug and a quart of stout. The sooner he got a little drunk the better. A dark mood was descending upon him and he felt no interest in the noisy goings-on further down the bar. He only hoped he would not be molested by some pisscat trying to tell him a joke or lies about how many women he, the pisscat, was fucking on a regularly varied basis. He really wasn’t in the mood to listen to opinions on Kaffirs and kormunists. Worst of all would be a sports enthusiast. Please please please spare me rugby. He glanced towards the throng and found to his horror he had already been targeted. An emaciated individual with dwindling fair hair and small close-set eyes intent as raisins in a bun, was staring at him with an interest so unguarded as to be bordering on the lascivious. Henry frantically delved into his plastic carrier packet for the library book, opened it on the counter and turned half sideways on his stool so that his back was to the threat.

“Hello there, man.” Too late. All was lost. He had moved to the stool next to Henry’s. “Hans Castorp.” Henry turned resignedly, dread having dissolved into the numb pain that a condemned man feels. Beyond the crucial point at which surrender takes place it was almost a relief to confront his fate.


“Hans Castorp.” A pause. “What did you say your name was?”

Ag no man. This is kak. “Er… you can say my name is er, Leopold. Leopold Bloom. I’m trying to read this book, you know.”

“Oh. This isn’t a good place to read books. You should go to a library or somewhere. People come here for company. They don’t actually like you to read books in here.”

“Well, personally speaking, I couldn’t give a fuck about whether anybody likes it or doesn’t like it. This is a public bar, isn’t it? As long as I buy a drink I can sit at the counter and cry, I can stand with one foot on the brass rail and play with myself through a hole in my pocket. I can play dominoes, darts, matchsticks or snooker – if there’s a table, which there isn’t, fuckin’ dump. I’m perfectly entitled to piss down my leg and to puke on the floor. It’s quite acceptable behaviour to break glasses and fall down messy and bleeding. Loud swearing and singing is permitted. Drooling over pornographic magazines stained with semen is a frequent activity. So why can’t I quietly sip a drink and read my book? Tell me that, Frans.”

“Hans. Hans Castorp.” He had a Francis Bacon mouth. It was fleshy and loosely distorted, the lower lip hanging open, partly to facilitate breathing and partly as a result of its own weight. It was the colour of half-cooked sheep’s liver, somewhere between carbuncle red and lead grey. “Leopold, you must understand something. We are a small community here and our view of the world is limited. We are threatened, we feel very vulnerable, when a bohemian like you, enters our…”

“WHAT?!?” Henry shouted, his eyeballs leaping outwards. “WHAT did you say? Did you say BOHEMIAN? Christ Almighty! Can it be possible that you know the meaning of the word? Is it at all credible for a barfly in an abandoned dorp on the edge of the desert, between scoured land and hostile ocean, where human endeavour has failed, whence all vestiges of refinement and artistic appreciation have fled, leaving behind the cripples and the subnormal to serve a brutish clan wrestling a living from this desolate end of the earth – is it possible, is it conceivable, is it within the bounds of logical probability, for such a barfly to be aware of the term BOHEMIAN?” Henry was warming to the subject and becoming ever more excited as he assimilated the implications. “To employ the word implies an awareness of a whole world of ideas totally impossible and alien to your kind. Unless you be one of the cripples left behind. Meneer Catspiss, reveal your true identity.”

“Castorp. But please call me Hans. No Leopold, you are mistaken to think…”

“Yes yes yes. But you must admit my astonishment is understandable. To find, in the midst of this, this…” He gestured towards the group slowly moving in a circle about a central figure who was rendering a primitive song in a mixture of German and Afrikaans. At the end of each verse the circle halted and there was a chorus of piglike grunting. “Bohemian! Hey, barman, more whisky stout. And a rum and Coke for this oke.”

“Thank you, Leopold. I would like to say it is very gracious of you but I would be a liar to describe your manner as having anything to do with grace. As I was trying to tell you, you are mistaken in thinking the common man, the ‘barfly’, as you call him, is not capable of artistic appreciation. You have fallen into a very, very old trap.” He coughed, tried to clear his throat, and then coughed another twenty or thirty times, his left hand in a fist against his chest. “Excuse me.” His lips spoke and he drew forth a handkerchief of a dark and indeterminate colour. With it he pretended to wipe his nose but was actually using it to receive material from his mouth.

“Hell, man, I hope you’re not infectious.” Henry took a gulp of whisky, laying his trust in the antiseptic powers of the spirit. “I hope you’ve got your funeral policy up to date, ha, ha!”

“My doctor,” he was regaining his breath and his voice, “my doctor assures me it’s nothing. The fog, the fog. Just a bit of lung tissue sloughing off, you know. Irritative secretions draining into the bronchi, he tells me.”

“Doctors! You talk to me about doctors? You do realise all the literary greats, without exception, have held doctors up for ridicule?”

“Some have, yes. There must be something about doctors that offends the literary senses. I wonder what it can be Leopold?”

“I’ll tell you, Schultz. Sorry, Hans. The artist sees a doctor as something of a corpse-fucker. You know what I mean? Self-enrichment at the expense of the helpless. Cynical exploitation of disease and morbidity. Indecent gratification gained without consent. There’s a technical term for a person who fucks corpses…”

“Necrophilia. Yes, a distant uncle of mine was a necrophile and funny enough, he was a doctor, now you come to mention it. A professor of experimental surgery at Gottenhimmelfontein University. He had free access to the dead. I remember him telling me as a boy, I was maybe fourteen or fifteen years old, how he got into it. As an intern he was on duty one sunny afternoon in the casualty department when they brought in this girl, maybe eighteen or nineteen, still warm, fresh and perfectly preserved, like Sleeping Beauty, and they laid her on the table. Riding boots and jodhpurs below a stretch knit top. The vulnerability of her silent wrist stirred something in him. He told me it came as a shock to him to discover his erectile tissue was flooding with hot blood. It was quite involuntary. The transparent blue of her eyelid before he gently lifted it and looked into the black well filled him with tenderness. He described it as an uncontrollable desire to reverse the tragedy.”

“But you’re taking me literally! When I speak of doctors as corpse-fuckers I’m not speaking of those doctors who actually fuck real live corpses, for Christ sake, but rather I’m meaning it in a figurative sense. That’s the trouble when one talks of artistic matters to the unrefined. They’re on a different plane. Philistines. Anyway this pervert uncle of yours was talking shit. When I say ‘indecent gratification’ I don’t necessarily mean some gross aberration of sexual behaviour but rather a breach of morality in pursuit of a vice. When I say ‘without consent’ I don’t necessarily mean rape but rather a violation of trust. NOW do you see what I mean? Hans Christian Andersen.”

Hans Castorp was coughing again so Henry continued with his attack on the practitioners of formal Western medicine, fired more by liquor and the mood that was upon him than by any great conviction. He was contemptuous of lawyers, priests, politicians, even academics and artists. He was contemptuous of the common worker labouring all the days of his life, stolid as an ox. He was contemptuous of society and, above all, of himself. So the attack on doctors, he knew, was really aimed more generally and widely. Or, more specifically, at THE CONDITION.

“Cough, cough, cough! Look at you, man. You’re dying. I can read the pain on your face and in your eyes and some corpse-fucking doctor tells you it’s nothing! What disgusts me is their arrogance and their hypocrisy and the whole feeble deception. Serving humanity? Dedicated? Selfless sacrifice for the relief of suffering? My arse! Status and goods, that’s what drives them. Ever met a sympathetic doctor? No ways. They’re always impatient, glancing at the watch, calculating the price of your sickness against the price of another pair of shoes for the bitch wife with the reluctant cunt. They take … Hey, Jesus!”

Hans Castorp had fallen off his stool and was lying in an impossible position with his mouth dribbling blood onto one of Henry’s black leather Navy boots. Henry felt a little embarrassed by this apparent show of adoration but was reluctant to withdraw his foot as it was cushioning the man’s face from the hardness and the filth of the floor.

“Barman! Barman! BARMAN! You drunken poes, call a doctor!” The circle had broken ranks and was now regrouping about Henry and his fallen companion. A bespectacled, chubby man in his late twenties, face shining with sweat, took charge of the situation.

“Stand back, stand back! I am the doctor here, not anybody else. Make room, give me air to breathe, can’t you. I will not tolerate onlookers. Do you think I am about to give a free anatomy lesson, or something? Give me my bag. I never go anywhere without my black bag. Where is it? Who has got my bag? If anyone has interfered with the contents of my bag I shall have him jailed for at least five years.”

The barman handed over the black leather bag.

“It voz found in ze toilet, Herr Doktor. I voz keepingk it for safe keepingk.”

The doctor blushed like a nice young girl being confronted by her first flasher.

“I… I… It must have been stolen. Somebody else… I’ll call the police if…” He fumbled with the combination until he hit the missing number and drew out a stethoscope, which he immediately hung about his neck. The chain of office seemed to steady him and he again took command. “Never a moment’s rest. A doctor’s life is the most demanding of all the noble professions. Even in the most private of situations I can’t relax. I’ll just clear my head a little.” And, after clenching his left fist and slapping the wrist vigorously, he threaded a vein and slowly squeezed the trigger. “Aha!” He withdrew the needle, upon whose tip a tiny bubble of bright red blood teetered. “Now for some Smarties, ha ha ha!” Half a dozen tablets were shaken into the palm of his hand and thrown to the back of his mouth. Two gulps of beer to wash them down and the doctor was radiating manic confidence. “Now, show me the victim.”

All the while Hans Castorp had lain without motion in his position of supplication.

“You! Get your bloody foot out of the way!”

“Fuck you,” said Henry, but withdrew his foot. The doctor either did not hear or chose to ignore the remark and pulled the patient over onto his back.

“Aha, yes. I know this character. One of my own patients probably. Yes, Catsup or something. Can’t quite recall the history. Remarkably slow pulse, enough to try the patience of any busy practitioner. Not having the case history in front of me makes it damn difficult to diagnose with certainty. The failure of something, possibly one of the vital organs. Could well be the heart but then again the malnourished appearance, slightly distended abdomen and bilirubinous tinge to the complexion would indicate portal-systemic encephalopathy. Yes, now there can be little doubt left in my mind: frankly, this man is in hepatic coma associated with liver disease. Yes, this man’s liver is diseased to the stage where portal-systemic encephalopathy accompanies fulminant acute hepatitis. Undoubtedly. And the aetiology? You may well ask. This coma has been precipitated by frequent and protracted alcoholic debauches.”

“Kak! What about the coughing? What about the blood? Everybody looks yellow in this light, even you, Doctor Pork.”

“Get back! Get back, you drunken oaf! I’m the doctor here, nobody else. Hepatic coma, I say! Treatment, treatment,” and again he foraged in his black bag. A blister pack of torpedo-shaped cylinders was produced and he shouted to the swaying onlookers, “Remove his trousers, can’t you. The patient must receive a prostaglandin suppository per rectum.”

Willing assistants began to roll the man about, unbuckling his belt, pulling up his shirt, yanking down the trousers and underpants to his ankles, positioning him on his knees and his face.

“Prostaglandin?! But isn’t that what backyard abortionists give…?”

“Shut up! What do you know about the pharmacology of modern drugs? I will not have the validity of my diagnosis and treatment questioned by an ignorant layman. Move! You, leave off touching him there. Make room for the procedure.”

He had unrolled a condom onto the middle finger of his right hand, squeezed a sachet of KY jelly onto it and now advanced upon his patient. Henry turned to the bar. He did not wish to witness the atrocity. He should leave, get away from these half-people. Next to his empty glass was Hans Castorp’s rum and Coke, barely touched. Carefully he decanted it into his own, ensuring that it poured away from where the sick man’s lips had touched. Not bad, rum and Coke. He drank it quickly and kicked over his stool before making an exit. The world of Hieronymus Bosch was no doubt amusing to the casual observer but he had no inclination to be painted into it as a minor character.

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

July 12, 2010

Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind — PRE-ORDER

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:22 am

Unlikely 2.0, the web-magazine of art and culture, is changing the definition of a literary anthology. Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind will be an extensive examination of all the excitement art can be: the physical embodiment of all things Unlikely. It’s due out in August 2010, but by pre-ordering now, you can get free shipping to the US and Canada and help fund this enormous project. Pre-order it as a Christmas gift, and we’ll let the recipient know it’s coming, that they might feel like they had Christmas in December and August, but the one in December kind of sucked! Or check out the anthology’s submission guidelines at Unlikely 2.0

order it here

Verbode vrugte

Filed under: literature,melissa adendorff — ABRAXAS @ 8:34 am

Verbode gedagtes streel oor jou soos my hand jou lyf onder my vingerpunte voel … soos my gedagtes elke deel van jou in neem, jou donker plekke, jou geheime plekke ontdek en inval … jou geheime plekke wat jy verbode gemaak het vir almal (behalwe vir my).
My verbode gedagtes soen jou lippe wat onder myne ‘n hartseer glimlag uitbeeld. Ons verbode gadagtes maak dat jy ‘n traan oor jou lippe val, en ek kan proe wat jy so goed wegsteek.

Verbode gedagtes lei jou by die hand tot binne die verbose kamer, waar, deur all die herrinderinge, niks meer heilig is nie. Jy sien jouself deur my oë, die oë van iemand anders as jy. Jou oë brand met al die trane van al die pyn en al die plesier van al die wêreld in een lyf vasgevang, in een hart vasgevang in een oomblik van verbode lus. Verbode hart in jou verbode lyf wat ek aan raak met my verbode vingers. In daardie verbode kamer staan ons, hand in verbode hand, tong in verbode mond, oortreding van die verbode lyn tussen verbode lyf in verbode plekke … geheime plekke … donker, nat plekke … verbode vrugte in die donker, gepluk … ryp.

Verbode gedagtes strek uit, uit jou oë uit in my verbode gesig in. Agter my verbode masker sien jy iets in my. Ek, wat hier in verbode gedrange vasgevang is; jy wat jouself in voor my gedrang neerlê en op offer. Ek, die meester, met jou geheime-plek sleutel in my verbode hand, verbode skedel, verbode lyf. In ons verbode omhels sit ons in mekaar vas, meester and slaaf, self in self, verbode plekke oopgeskeur, masker afgehaal. Verbode gesigte teen mekaar, verbode lug in getrek deur verbode lugpype wat toe gedruk work onder verbode vongers in ‘n verbode omlyning. Verbode vrugte, nat en ryp val van jou verbode lyf … verbode woorde uitgedruk, in verbode lekker in ‘n verbode sug.

July 11, 2010

Judging new ‘South African’ fiction in the transnational moment.

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 11:18 am

The end of ‘South African’ literary historiography?

A few years ago, I asked the question, “Does [English] South African Literature African literature, literary works of the African continent. African literature consists of a body of work in different languages and various genres, ranging from oral literature to literature written in colonial languages (French, Portuguese, and English). Still Exist?” (2005) in a keynote address keynote address
An opening address, as at a political convention, that outlines the issues to be considered. Also called keynote speech.

Noun 1. for a Wits University colloquium col·lo·qui·um
n. pl. col·lo·qui·ums or col·lo·qui·a
1. An informal meeting for the exchange of views.

2. An academic seminar on a broad field of study, usually led by a different lecturer at each meeting. dealing with the contested terrain we used to call ‘South African literature’ (often eliding the crucial qualifier, ‘English’). Whether we can or should still talk about ‘SA English Literature’, and whether it does or should continue to exist is partly the subject of this essay. In the Wits address, I suggested that ‘South African’ literature in English, in the (60s Dennis Brutus Dennis Vincent Brutus (born November 28, 1924) is a South African poet. A graduate of the University of Fort Hare and the University of the Witwatersrand, Brutus was formerly on the faculty of the University of Denver and Northwestern University. ) ‘Knuckles Fists Boots’ mode, or in the (70s Andre Brink) ‘Looking on Darkness’ moment, was dead, and that I was glad of it. In the same way that Es’kia Mphahlele (1959: 199) declaimed in the late 1950s against the kind of (South African) writing composed at “white heat, everything full of vitriol vitriol: see sulfuric acid. “, confessing to his exhaustion with it, my reading was that a feeling of ‘enough’ with landlocked, ‘vitriol’ writing had become widespread, even among the adherents of ‘SA Lit’. In its wake, a phenomenon one might call (assuming ‘English’ as implicit) ‘Literature out of South Africa’–writing emanating from the country and written after a decisive transnational rupture –had arisen in defiance of, or in a state of indifference to, the codes and conformities of the earlier historical-political emphases in the country’s corpus of writing. This newer writing was no longer necessarily held within the seam of intercultural convergence, no longer always seeking to flatten out the ridge of that seam yet leaving in its wake the mark of that suture suture /su·ture/ (soo´cher)
1. sutura.

2. a stitch or series of stitches made to secure apposition of the edges of a surgical or traumatic wound.

3. to apply such stitches.

4. . (1) A couple of years later I asked the rhetorical question rhetorical question
A question to which no answer is expected, often used for rhetorical effect.

rhetorical question
Noun whether many of us who had previously regarded ourselves as scholars of South African English Literature English literature, literature written in English since c.1450 by the inhabitants of the British Isles; it was during the 15th cent. that the English language acquired much of its modern form. had not now become, or wanted to become–in the wake of the poststructuralist turn and the death of the author as a revered figure–academic ‘rock stars’ in our own right, more interested in writing in our names on any number of sexy topics (cities, oceanic discourse, jazz, metropolitanisms, whiteness studies, ugly/beautiful aesthetics, self-styling, to name a few) than in the more modest tasks of assessing, describing and evaluating the writings of others demarcated as ‘imaginative SA writers’. I warned, however, that a more broadly cultural imaginary, out of which the newer forms of critical writing necessarily emerged, depended on the continued existence of a literary-imaginative archive, and that if we failed to record and assess the newer writers and their works, even the broader cultural imaginary could well become etiolated (De Kock 2008a).

In that address, I named a selection of the newer SA writers, aiming to shock the audience into a sense of unfamiliarity with their names. Then, the litany sounded as follows: Andrew Brown (2007), Finuala Dowling (2005, 2007), Craig Higginson (2005), Niq Mhlongo (2004, 2007), Henrietta Rose-Innes (2000, 2004), Heinrich Troost (2007), Kopano Matlwa (2007), Shaun Johnson (2006), Lisa Fugard (2005), Fred Khumalo (2006a, 2006b, 2008), Aryan Kaganof (2002, 2006, 2007), Manu Herbstein (2001), Lebo Mashile (2005), Rachel Zadok Rachel Zadok is a writer and a Whitbread First Novel Award nominee (2005). She is a graduate of the Certificate in Novel Writing course, run by the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning at City University, London. (2005), Imraan Coovadia (2006), Gerald Kraak (2006), Angelina Sithebe (2007), Russel Brownlee (2005), Sarah Penny (2002), Gabeba Baderoon Gabeba Baderoon is the 2005 recipient of the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry.

She was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on February 21, 1969. She currently lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa and Pennsylvania, USA. (2005, 2006), Kirsten Miller (2007). This list was already sharply abbreviated, excluding well-known names such as Zoe Wicomb Zoe Wicomb (born 1948 in Namaqualand, South Africa) is an author. She gained attention in South Africa and internationally with her first novel, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (1987), which takes place during the apartheid era. (2001, 2006), Ivan Vladisavic (2001, 2004), Mike Nicol (1994, 2006, 2008), K Sello Duiker duiker (dī`kər, dā`–), name for members of a group of small, light antelopes, found in thick brush and forest over most of Africa. All stand under 25 in. (64 cm) high at the shoulder. (2000, 2001, 2006), Jo-Anne Richards (1996, 2008), Mark Behr (1995,2000), Ashraf Jamal (1996, 2002), Phaswane Mpe Phaswane Mpe, (September 10 1970 – December 12 2004), was a South African poet and novelist. He was educated at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was a lecturer in African literature. His debut novel, Welcome to Our Hillbrow, was published in 2001. (2001) and Rayda Jacobs (1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006); it also excluded Afrikaans and African-language writers, in whose ranks there were literally scores of new proponents of literary worth, and poets (apart from two exceptions), who, I added, had always outrun out·run
tr.v. out·ran , out·run, out·run·ning, out·runs
a. To run faster than.

b. To escape from: outrun one’s creditors.

2. literary reckonings, and still do, existing for the most part in a kind of nether-space of literary semi-visibility unless they take to the stage and sing like troubadours for people’s entertainment. Dramatists are equally marginal for reasons peculiar to the pedagogies of teaching literature in classrooms.

this article continues on thefreelibrary.com

July 10, 2010

helgé janssen’s tell tale reviewed by ruby bogaard

Filed under: helgé janssen,literature,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 5:17 pm

It has to be said that Helgé Janssen’s book Tell Tale is a most poignant study of 80s sub-culture in South Africa. Something that tends to be overlooked when one is dredging through the messy remains of apartheid is that alongside race and gender, creativity was also denigrated and crushed. Janssen remained and still is an example of fortitude in the face of this denigration. His tale of Ampleby gives credence to his own creative endeavours as well as to the individuals that he encountered.
How to classify this work! I remember finding Tell Tale under Gay Literature in one of our more prominent bookstores and my first reaction was FINALLY! However, I felt some annoyance as it should also have been placed under mythology, psychology, history….. Perhaps the work is autobiographical in its examination of Ampleby’s life, but as with the individuals he portrays, this character takes on a dimension that allows the reader to engage with him on a personal level. This personal engagement is enhanced by the honesty with which the tale is written, which in turn allows for engagement on a level that in Jungian terms is called the collective unconscious. To me this makes the work highly relevant to our time, as it is a record of what became one of the struggles under apartheid.
The crushing of independent creative thought has to be one of the crimes against humanity. Yet, Janssen weaves this tale through the interstices of time, threading back and picking up the slipped stitches. There is a postmodern eclecticism to his writing style as well as a blade-like precision. He makes no apology for Ampleby, but at the same time is not out to ‘shock’ his audience with crassness. The tale is as it is in its objectivity, yet is interwoven with magical silver threads. He has spun a wonderful yarn and if he is a tattle tale telling a tall tale, he has done so spectacularly. Sequel due when………………….?

July 8, 2010

alain on the slave and power

Filed under: literature,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 10:49 am

The slave is a kind of animal. Somehow he must be forgotten; and what he thinks is of interest to no one. Otherwise everything would have to be changed. The gods of power and of order do not look down that far. If they did they would find their own negation, their precise negation. For, by an effect which the tyrant is always dimly aware of and which he avoids by means of his ministers of all degrees, divine power expires at the point at which consent is no longer an issue. No one tries to make a slave believe anything, except that what he believes does not matter. Force, become this explicit, negates itself. Animals are governed like slaves in agrarian existence, not without a kind of religion; but good sense warns us that the slave cannot be made a god; for we can invent a kind of animal thought; but the idea that a slave might be able to think, must be absolutely denied. This denial stands as an absence and a voice in ancient thought, and also in all thought of empire; for slavery has its part at every level of such thought, but it is shameful and hidden. The slave is a naked man.

The greatest human fact is that the slave does think; and the fable is his witness. We smile at the way the fable makes animals talk and think, through bold use of metaphor, which purposely cannot be believed, and so cannot offend. For animals do not talk, and men are not animals. Everything being false, the truth can show itself. This essential form of fiction is well explained by the fact that, under the rule of power, which never relaxes, no truth can be told. The very fiction of talking animals expresses the play of force as it would be but for hypocrisy, and therefore simply as it is, for hypocrisy is a cover, but it changes nothing. And this itself is the slave’s discovery, which only the slave could make. However little the rest of us may profit from the existing order, we still do not expose it.

Each soul saves itself as best it can, and there is no absolute slave. But the least amount of power excludes friendship. This severe and desertlike view shows well enough that power is not a god; and it shows more; it shows that power was never a god. It is a great moment, and eternal in each of us, when we deny justice absolutely. And the spirit stands behind man, always behind him, casting shadows and shadows of shadows, never anything more.

Alain (émile-august chartier)
The Gods

July 7, 2010

Okot p’Bitek (1931-1982)

Filed under: literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 6:58 pm

Ugandan poet, anthropologist, and social critic, who wrote in Luo and in English. P’Bitek was one of the most vigorous and original voices in East African 20th-century poetry. His satirical monologues dealt with the conflict between European and African cultures. In his most famous poem, The Song of Lawino (1966), p’Bitek introduced a style that became known as “comic singing.”

Stop despising people
As if you were a little foolish man,
Stop treating me like saltless ash
Become barren of insults and stupidity;
Who has ever uprooted the Pumpkin?
(from ‘My Husband’s Tongue Is Bitter,’ in The Song of Lawino)

Okot p’Bitek was born in Gulu, Northern Uganda, into a family of Luo people. At that time Uganda was a protectorate of the British Empire. P’Bitek’s mother was a gifted singer, composer, and leader of her clan. Under the influence of his mother, p’Bitek grew up learning the tales, proverbs and songs of Acholi folklore (sometimes referred to as Lwo or Luo). P’Bitek himself was an accomplished dancer and drummer. P’Bitek attended Gulu High School and King’s College, Budo, where he wrote and produced theatre and opera. After a two-year course at the Government Training College in Mbarara, p’Bitek taught at Sir Samuel Baker’s School near Gulu. While still a student, p’Bitek published his first poem, ‘The Lost Spear’, based on a traditional Luo folk story.

As a member of the Uganda national soccer team, he toured Britain in 1956, and stayed there to study. His first novel, Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wi Lobo (If Your Teeth are White, Laugh!), p’Bitek published in Luo in 1953. P’Bitek took a diploma in education in Bristol, and later he studied law at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth and social anthropology at Oxford, where he completed in 1963 a B.Litt. thesis on the traditional songs of Acoli and Largo. Returning to Uganda at the age of 33, he joined the staff of the Department of Sociology at Makerere University College in Kampala, the capital city. Two years later he became a tutor with the Extra-Mural department. P’Bitek also founded the Gulu and was appointed director of the National Theatre and National Cultural Centre in Kampala. Later in 1968 in Kenya he founded Kisumu Arts Festivals.

As a poet p’Bitek made his breakthrough with The Song of Lawino. It was first composed in Luo in rhyming couplets and was translated into English by the author, who according to his own words clipped a bit of the eagle’s wings of the original Acholi poem “and rendered the sharp edges of the warrior’s sword rusty and blunt, and also murdered rhythm and rhyme”. Although the work was turned down by several British publishers, in 1966 it became a bestseller. A separate American edition, by the World Publishing Company, was issued in 1969. The Luo original was published in 1971. P’Bitek’s friend and colleague Taban lo Liyong published in 2001 a new translation of the poem, The Defense of Lawino, which aimed to be more faithful to the Acholi original.

“It may seem ironical that the first important poem in English to emerge in Eastern Africa should be a translation from the vernacular original,” wrote Gerald Moore in Transition (no. 31, June-July, 1967). Like p’Bitek’s other long poems, it was written as a story, narrated by one person. Lawino, a non-literate woman, laments her fate. “Husband, now you despise me / Now you treat me with spite / And say I have inherited the / stupidity of my aunt /”. Her university-educated husband has adopted Western ways, rejected her, and taken another, Westernized woman. Lawino claims that he has lost his manhood by reading books: “Bile burns my inside! / I feel like vomiting! / For all our young men / Were finished in the forest, / Their manhood was finished / In the class-rooms, / Their testicles / Were smashed / With large books!”

The Song of Lawino was followed by Song of Ocol (1970), in which Lawino’s husband respons to her. “Mother, mother, / Why, / Why was I born / Black?” says Ocol eventually in ‘What Is Africa to Me?’, revealing his true alienated character. Together these books form a polemic, oratorical account of the changing times, dramatized through the accusing voices of marriage conflict. However, p’Bitek’s narrators are not only representatives of certain opposing values and attitudes, but lively personalities, with their deficiencies, humor, bitterness, and need of understanding. Skilfully p’Bitek inspires his readers to make conclusions and to create a synthesis after reading both collections. The author himself belonged to the generation, that had absorbed early native culture during the colonial period, but then had received a British education. P’Bitek’s own choice was to take a stand against Western infiltration and defend Acoli traditions and customs.

Two Songs (1971) included Song of a Prisoner, apparently inspired by the assassination of the Kenyan politician Tom Mboya, and Song of Malaya, about hypocrisy and sexual morals (malaya means “prostitute”). The book, dedicated to Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), the murdered prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, was awarded the inaugural Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 1972. All these early collections were published by the East African Publishing House. P’Bitek also published a collection of Acoli traditional songs, The Horn of My Love (1974), and a collection of Acoli folktales and short stories, Hare and Hornbill (1978). His major academic studies were Religion of the Central Luo (1971), African Religions in Western Scholarship (1972), and Africa’s Cultural Revolution (1973). P’Bitek was a frequent contributor to Transition, a journal published at Makerere, and other journals. His essays varied from literary criticism, such as ‘The Self in African Imagery’, to articles on anthropological, sociological, and philosophical questions. P’Bitek’s direct poems and his academic works caused much debate. He attacked both reactionary modes of thought and the uncritical acceptance of modernization, and was criticised by British observers for his Afrocentric views and cultural nationalism, and by feminist observers, who had trouble in accepting p’Bitek’s one-sided satirical portrayal of African women.

Uganda became an independent member of the Commonwealth in 1962 with Milton Obote as prime minister. After criticizing the government of Uganda in Zambia, p’Bitek became persona non grata in his own country and moved to Kenya. His disillusionment he expressed in the poem ‘They Sowed and Watered’, in which a lamb named Freedom is dead, the cynical people laugh bitterly, and a young boy who cares, is killed. “The peals of laughter / Poisoned arrows / Hit the boy like swords of steel / And blood from his heart / Anointing the land.” The rest of his life p’Bitek spent teaching in Kenya and in the United States. Obote was overthrown in a miliary coup in 1971, and Idi Amin seized power. During his reign a huge number of Ugandans were killed and the economy collapsed. In 1971 p’Bitek became a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies in Nairobi. He also lectured in sociology and literature at the university. The Amin years P’Bitek spent in exile, and then returned to Makerere as a professor of creative writing. He died of a liver infection on July 19, 1982. His daughter, Jane Okot P’Bitek, is also a writer, whose Song of Farewell (1994, a volume of poetry, was dedicated to the memory of her father.

For further reading: The Last Word by Lo T. Lijong (1969); ‘Introduction’ to Song of Prisoner by E. Blishen (1971); A Reader’s Guide to African Literature, ed. by Hans M. Zell and Helene Silver (1972); Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture, and Politics by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1972); The Poetry of Okot p’Bitek by George A. Heron (1976); Uhuru’s Fire: African Literature East to South by Adrian Roscoe (1977); ‘Okot p’Bitek: Literature and Cultural Revolution’ by S.O. Asein, in Journal of African Studies 5.3 (1978); Twelve African Writers by G. Moore (1980); Thought and Technique in the Poetry of Okot p’Bitek by Monica Nalyaka Wanambisi (1984); ‘Okot p’Bitek: A Checklist of Worls and Criticism’ by Ogo A. Ofuani, in Review of African Literatures 16.3 (1985); New Poetry from Africa: A Poetry Course for Senior Secondary Schools, ed. by R. Johnson, D. Ker, C. Maduka, O. Obafemi (1996); Postcolonial African Writers, ed. by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne (1998); The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, ed. by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier (1998); Oral Traditions As Philosophy: Okot P’Bitek’s Legacy for African Philosophy by Samuel Oluoch Imbo (2002) – For further information: Okot P’Bitek (1931-1982)

Selected works:

* Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wi Lobo, 1953 – White Teeth (translated in 1989)
* Oral Literature and Its Social Background Among the Acholi and Lango, 1963
* Song of Lawino: A Lament, 1966 (originally: Wer pa Lawino)
* Wer pa Lawino, 1969 – Song of Lawino: A Lament (transl. by P’Bitek, 1966) / The Defence of Lawino: A New Translation of Wer pa Lawino (transl. by Taban lo Liyong, 2001)
* Song of Ocol, 1970
* Religion of the Central Luo, 1971
* Themes in Acoli Funeral, 1971
* Two Songs: Song of Prisoner, Song of Malaya, 1971
* African Religions in Western Scholarship, 1972
* Myths and Nation Building, 1972
* Africa’s Cultural Revolution, 1973
* African Culture in the Era of Foreign Rule, 1885-1935, 1974
* The Horn of My Love, 1974
* Hare and Hornbill, 1978
* Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol, 1984 (reprint edition)

this article first appeared here

Christopher Okigbo (1932-1967)

Filed under: literature,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 6:15 pm

Nigerian poet who wrote in English. Okigbo died in the civil war in Nigeria, fighting for the independence of Biafra. His difficult but suggestive and prophetic poems show the influence of modernist European and American poetry, African tribal mythology, and Nigerian music and rhythms. “Prophetic, menacing, terrorist, violent, protesting – his poetry was all of these,” S.O. Anozie wrote in Christopher Okigbo: Creative Rhetoric (1972).

Thundering drums and cannons
in palm grove:
the spirit is in ascent.
(from ‘Sacrifice’)

Christopher Okigbo was born in Ojoto in eastern Nigeria, which at that time was still Britain’s colony. His father, James Okigbo, was a primary-school teacher. Okigbo’s family was Roman Catholic, but his grandfather had been a priest of the river god Idoto. Okigbo studied at Umulobia Catholic School and in 1945 went for his secondary education to Umuahia Government College. Like other major Nigerian writers, including Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi, John Pepper Clark, and Cole Omotso, he entered the University College of Ibadan. Okigbo first planned to study medicine, but changed his major to Greek and Latin. He edited the University Weekly and translated Greek and Latin Verse. After graduating in 1956 he worked among others as a teacher and an assistant librarian at the new University of Nigeria. Fascinated by big business he tired to create career at the Nigerian Tobacco Company and the United African Company. He then served for two years as private secretary to the Federal Minister of Information in Lagos. In 1962 he became West African Manager for Cambridge University Press. Later he worked as an editor with the Mbara Press of Ibadan.

with the armpit dazzle of a lioness,
she answers,
wearing white light about her;
and the waves escort her,
my lioness,
crowned with moonlight.
(from ‘Water Maid’)

Okigbo published his first poems in the student literary journal Horn, which was edited by J.P. Clark. As a poet Okigbo made his breakthrough in 1962, when his works appeared in the literary magazine Black Orpheus. In the same year he also published pamphlet, entitled Heavensgate, and a long poem in the Ugandan cultural magazine Transition, which was published in Kampala. Okigbo’s early poems reflected the divided cultural heritage of his country, although first influences from Virgil, Ovid, Eliot, and Pound seem to be stronger than the oral literature of the Igbo. Heavensgate marked his return to the African part of his heritage and self-renewal through the goddess of the earth:

Before you, Mother Idoto, naked I stand
before your watery presence a prodigal

leaning on an oilbean
lost in your legend…

The1960s was a period of great political upheavals in Nigeria. The country became an independent republic in 1963 and four years later the eastern Ibo tribal region attempted to secede as the independent nation of Biafra. Although Okigbo followed keenly the social and political events in his country, his early poems moved on a personal and mythical level. Path of Thunder (1968) showed a new direction – its attack on bloodthirsty politicians (“POLITICIANS are back in giant hidden steps of howitzers, / of detonators”) and neocolonial exploitation (“THE ROBBERS descend on us to strip us our laughter, of our / thunder”) was also in tune with the rise of radical movements in the late 1960s. Okigbo won in 1966 the poetry prize at the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, but he refused the prize because he did not believe that art should not be judged on racial basis. At the outbreak of the civil war Okigbo was working for an Italian business organization called Wartrade. With Chunua Achebe he planned to found a small publishing house. However, the events in his country made Okigbo change his plans, and he abandoned his job.

Okigbo joined in July 1967 the Biafran army as a major, refuring more secure posts behind the lines. He was killed one month later one of the first battles of the civil war near Nsukka. He was posthumously decorated with the Biafran National Order of Merit. The poems Okigbo wished to preserve were published posthumously by Heinemann as Labyrinths in 1971, with Path of Thunder, added. Okigbo left behind a wife and daughter, from whom he dedicated Labyriths. Forebodingly he had written in ‘Elegy for Alto:’ “O mother mother Earth, unbind me; let this be / my last testament, let this be / The ram’s hidden wish to the sword the sword’s / secret prayer to the scabbard -.” According to some sources, Okigbo was working on a novel before his death, but the manuscript has not been found.

Often recurring images in Okigbo’s poems are dance (“dance of death”, “iron dance of mortars”), thunder (“thunder of tanks”, “the thunder among the clouds”), and sound of drums (“the drums of curfew”, “lament of the drums”). Gradually Okigbo started to see himself as a singer-musician, who speaks with the ancient, pre-literate language of drums: “I have fed out of the drum / I have drunk out of the cymbal…” In ‘Overture’ (1961) Okigbo was a “watchman for the watchword / at heavensgate” and in ‘Hurrah for Thunder’ a “town-crier, together with my iron bell” (from Paths of Thunder, 1968). Okigbo shared with T.S. Eliot a vision of a spiritual quest, which takes the poet to the realm of ancient myths and to his spiritual self: “Before you, mother Idoto, naked I stand…” Okigbo used often repetition, the rhythm is songlike, and the words flow melodiously, as if the poet were listening and interpreting distant sounds. From the four elements Okigbo chooses water, the dwelling place of Idoto: “Under my feet float the waters: / tide blows them under.”

For further reading: The Chosen Tongue by G. Moore (1969); Whispers From a Continent by W. Cartey (1969); The Trial of Christopher Okigbo by Ali A. Mazrui (1971); Christopher Okigbo: Creative Rhetoric by Sunday O. Anozie (1972); The Breast of the Earth by K. Awoonor (1975); Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo, ed. by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor (1978); World Authors 1970-1975, ed. by John Wakeman (1980); Critical Perspectives on Christopher Okigbo, ed. by Donatus Nwoga (1984); Dance of Death: Nigerian History and Christopher Okigbo’s Poetry by Dubem Okafor (1998); Postcolonial African Writers, ed. by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne (1998) – For further information: Christopher Okigbo: An Overview; Christopher Okigbo

Selected works:

* Heavensgate, 1962 (Mbari Publications)
* Limits, 1964 (first published in Transition, July-August 1962, Mbari Publications)
* Silences, 1965
* Path of Thunder, 1968 (in the literary magazine Black Orpheus)
* Labyrinths with Path of Thunder, 1971
* Collected Poems, 1986

this article first published here

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