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

arthur koestler on the slave mentality

Filed under: literature,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 3:05 pm

Despite all my feelings of self-respect I cannot help looking on the warders as superior beings. The consciousness of being confined acts like a slow poison, transforming the entire character. This is more than a mere psychological change, it is not an inferiority complex – it is, rather, an inevitable natural process. When I was writing my novel about the gladiators I always wondered why the Roman slaves, who were twice, three times as numerous as the freemen, did not turn the tables on their masters. Now it is beginning gradually to dawn on me what the slave mentality really is. I could wish that everyone who talks of mass psychology should experience a year of prison. I had never believed that saying that a dictatorship or a single person or a minority can maintain its ascendancy by the sword alone. But I had not known how living and real were those atavistic forces that paralyse the majority from within. I did not know how quickly one comes to regard a privileged stratum of men as beings of a higher biological species and to take their privileges for granted as though they were natural endowments. Don Ramon has the key and I am in the cage; Don Ramon, as well as I, looks upon this state of things as entirely natural and is far from regarding it as in any way an anomaly. And if a crazy agitator were to come and preach to us that all men are equal, we should both laugh him to scorn; Don Ramon with all his heart, I, it is true, only half-heartedly – but all the same I should laugh.

Arthur Koestler
Dialogue with Death

July 6, 2010

chief omoseye’s bolaji’s introduction to hector kunene’s “through the tunnel”

Filed under: free state black literature,literature — ABRAXAS @ 1:38 pm

For a large number of people around the world there is something universal, irresistible and quite burnished about the genre of poetry. Hence poets, in a medley, and cornucopia of languages, are found in virtually every conceivable nook and cranny of the world.

Take an all-time icon like TS Eliot for example; a man whose name is synonymous with the acme of poetry. The United States can claim him as their son; but so can Britain where he blossomed as a world revered poet. But actually the truth is that the whole world now lays claim to TS Eliot.

In Africa many of the all time great poets have been inspired one way or the other by TS Eliot and other elevated poets. One of the most trenchant examples is western Africa’s Christopher Okigbo who wrote the type of poetry that echoed TS Eliot at his best. Polished, intellectual stuff. But the whole continent pulsates with such refined poets – like Denis Brutus, Wole Soyinka, Echeruo, Lenrie Peters and Dambudzo Marechera.

Other great African poets over the decades who seem more spontaneous and really inspired by their fecund (African) roots were the likes of Kofi Awoonor, Niyi Osundare, and Okot p’Bitek. In South Africa, a number of poets have done great things for their communities and the nation at large as regards being excellent bards, and galvanic catalysts. Vonani Bila springs to mind immediately – him and his many poetic anthologies; Aryan Kaganof, Karen Press, Kgafela oa maGogodi, Lesego Rampolekeng. These are people who, to harp onto the cliché, “live and breathe poetry”

In the Free State there are those who have given their all for poetry over the years; probably not as heralded as their more illustrious brethren elsewhere, but quite distinguished people quand meme; including the “veterans” and the very young. In this wise names that easily spring to mind include Raselebeli “Magic” Khotseng, Job Mzamo, Neo Mvubu, Jah Rose etc.

This is Hector Kunene’s first work comprising poetry; his first book actually. Here is a young man who exudes unbridled dynamism, confidence and eloquence, a gentleman with quite a flair for words; so much in love with the genre of poetry that it practically hurts! (laugh) It is easy enough to say that this book contains about sixty two that are infused with the characteristic passion, candor, confidence and brio of the author, Hector. But I’d rather say – let us celebrate this collected work of a new young poet! Vito celebratio est. Thank you.

* Omoseye Bolaji is the author of books of poems like Snippets, Reverie, and Poems from Mauritius

Why Hyperfiction Didn’t Work

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 9:43 am

by John Miller

Every writer can with no trouble kill his hero in just two lines. To kill a reader, someone of flesh and blood, it suffices to turn him for a moment into the hero of the book, into the protagonist of the biography. The rest is simple . . . (Pavic 307)

Hyperfiction, ironically, looked good on paper. In fact, in quality and possibly in quantity, the published body of criticism discussing hyperfiction has probably exceeded the corpus of major works in the genre itself. In the context of postmodern narrative theories and experiments, the advent of electronic hyperfiction stirred excitement among both authors and critics, who saw in electronic texts a medium that might allow the realization of a more interactive, reader-centered experience of narrative fiction. In 1991, J. David Bolter wrote that hypertext “reifies the metaphor of reader response” (158) and heralded its potential for “liberating the text” from the “hierarchies” with which print “attempt[s] to impose order on verbal ideas that are always prone to subvert that order” (21). Others variously trumpeted, tempered, or despaired of such claims. Sven Bickerts, for example, wrote in defense of the hierarchies whose overthrow Bolter celebrated: “‘domination by the author’,” Bickerts insisted, “has been, at least until now, the point of writing and reading” (163). Most critics – ever suspicious of the many subterfuges of authority – preserved a note of caution amid their general optimism about hypertext’s potential to revolutionize reading. Michael Joyce, both a theorist of hypertext and a pioneering author of hyperfictions, nevertheless declared the wedding of fiction and machine “as yet a marriage without issue” (178).

Underlying all of these positions was the presumption that hyperfiction allows readers a larger role in the construction of the fictional text than does print fiction. In describing the structure of hyperfictions, Bolter invoked the same metaphor Wolfgang Iser uses to describe the experience of reading print fiction. For Iser, the fundamental experience of the reader of fiction is that of a “wandering viewpoint” traversing a series of moments between what has been and what is yet to be read. According to Bolter, hyperfictions are organized “topographically,” and the reader moves through them as if exploring a multi-dimensional space. Rather than presenting itself as a journey from one point to another, a hyperfiction presents the reader with something more like an unmapped patch of countryside on which features are linked by a network of paths. Whereas a print text lays out a single route through its territory, a hypertext encourages the reader to explore in multiple directions. Where the text goes and when it ends become choices the reader gets to make. Thus J. Yellowlees Douglas explains that she decided she had “finished” Joyce’s hyperfiction afternoon, a story when, after four different expeditions across the text’s topography, she experienced “a sense of having both literally and figuratively plumbed the depths of [its] narrative spaces” (172).

According to Iser, fictional texts make interpretation possible – in fact, necessary – by withholding information, thereby creating “gaps” the reader must fill. For Iser, texts are more or less “literary” to the extent that they provide readers with interesting and challenging opportunities to actively make meaning by filling in these gaps to construct a coherent whole, a process Iser calls “consistency-building.” Such gaps are the primary structural feature of hyperfictions. From most points in a hypertext the reader can choose any of several links to move on to or explore. At any point in a hyperfiction, then, the reader seems to have more choices to make and more, or at least more obvious, gaps to fill than in traditional print narratives. In reading such a linked text, the reader’s freedom to organize the reading of the text is in certain respects greater than that of a the reader of a print text because hyperfiction itself explicitly offers the reader – in fact, requires – choices not offered in linear texts.

In this freedom, however, may lie Pavic’s trap. Iser’s model of active reading requires the reader to decide when the text does or doesn’t make sense, where to ask questions, what questions to ask, and how to answer those questions. This work, he argues, “is the province of the reader” (111). Hyperfictions, however, pose many of these questions for the reader. Consequently, they may actually discourage the reader from posing his or her own. As J. Hillis Miller suggests, hyperfictions appropriate from the reader a function and a responsibility which have hitherto been fundamental to the act of reading (37). By forcing them to make choices at certain points in the reading process, hyperfictions may discourage or distract readers from locating gaps of their own and of thus interacting with the text to make meaning.

Furthermore, while asserting that the text needs the reader’s help to be made into a meaningful whole, Iser’s model of reading is predicated on the reader assuming that the text can be made whole. As theorists of the “technologies of the word” such as Walter Ong have noted, the very physical structure of a printed novel, its text stabilized securely between its covers, asserts narrative closure. Gaps can only exist within a structure which is presumed to be otherwise coherent: gaps have to be gaps-in-something. Thus, Iser’s reading process must begin with a presumption of – or willing suspension of disbelief in – the potential coherence of the text.

The identification of gaps in a printed fiction, then, is an act of reading against the grain, of resisting the text’s assertion of closure and authority. Unlike print fictions, however, hyperfictions make no such assertions. Unlike the book, they are mutable and in fact virtually immaterial. Their gaps are conventions of their form. Hyperfiction readers expect multiple, ephemeral narratives and a lack of coherence and consistency. Stuart Moulthrop argues that, in contrast to a print narrative, a hyperfiction “is a system which is already present as a totality, but which invites the reader not to ratify its wholeness, but to deconstruct it” (“Reading From the Map” 129). But such hyperfictions present themselves as already deconstructed, like predigested food. A hypertext, writes Joyce, “yields” at every link. Consequently, both Iser’s “consistency-building” and Moulthrop’s deconstruction appear equally pointless to the hyperfiction reader. The very centrality of gaps in hyperfiction diminishes their significance. As Espen Aarseth notes, in hyperfiction “these devices are naturalized and therefore do not cause the subversion they might” (86); in Joyce’s afternoon “the reader becomes not so much lost as caught, imprisoned by the repeating, circular paths and his own impotent choices” (91).

Bolter and others saw in hypertext a critique of textual “consistency.” Moulthrop (again invoking the figure reading as journey) describes hyperfiction as “an information highway where every lane is reserved for breakdowns, a demolition epic in which the vehicles continually come apart” (though, in this essay too, Moulthrop cautions that hypertext does not represent “quite the revolution some fear and others crave”) (“Traveling” 74). Terence Harpold likewise sees the point of hypertext in its failure to cohere: rather than connecting strands into a non-linear, web-like coherence, hypertextual links represent “dilatory spaces” which disrupt narrative coherence, whether constructed by author or reader. Alluding to Iser, Harpold claims that hyperfiction “greatly complicates metaphors of intentional movement that may be applied to the act of reading” (129). But such complications are not only possible and common in print narratives, they have significance only in the context of the coherence asserted by print. By presupposing a lack of authority, hyperfiction deprives its readers of the opportunity to make that critique themselves.

Ultimately, by foregrounding gaps, hyperfiction diminishes the significance readers assign to the words on the screen. The conventional reader response to puzzlement in a hyperfiction is not to read the words in front of you more carefully, but with a mouse click to exchange them for new ones. Because each piece of hypertext presents itself as a question to which the reader knows there is no answer, the reader soon becomes discouraged from doing the hard work of looking for answers. Hypertext thus participates in contemporary electronic media’s general discouragement of careful, concentrated acts of reading by constantly offering viewers quick cuts to new texts. Like mass media, hypertext threatens to turn readers into mere viewers.

Because print promises – however often deceptively – to make coherent sense, it becomes the reader’s responsibility to try to hold it to that promise and catch it when it reneges. Moulthrop claims that “[b]reakdowns always teach us something” (“Traveling” 73). But hyperfictions don’t break down: they are broken to begin with. Reading them is less like driving in the breakdown lane than wandering the wrecking yard. The argument that hyperfiction usefully “reifies” the interactivity of reading begs a question: if print narratives aren’t fixed to begin with, why break them?

this article first appeared here

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