Monday, April 30, 2007
I’m sitting at my laptop, late at night with a rugby-injured shoulder which is preventing me from falling asleep. I should be writing an essay I have due for Prof Haresnape, but late night letter writing is far more entertaining (for me and for you I assure you – unless of course you want a diatribe on the aesthetics of structure and form.,or their lack, in contemporary South African poetry). I have been bombarded by the following in the last week or so: Don Imus vs. The Scarlet Nights (‘Nappy-headed ho’s’), The David Benatar – Martin Hall Transformation Debate, Cho’s Virginia Tech Massacre, Smith vs. Pietersen (read
So what the hell does any of this bombardment have to do with a letter for Speakeasy? Good question. Ten points. All of the stories above are driven by personalities, not by any appreciation of literature or writing. That is what drives their relevance. One of my frustrations, as yet another in the horde attempting to complete a Creative Writing degree, is the almost inevitably problem that exists between ‘having a following’ (read: having a market) and being a rookie trying to come around the outside. For someone in poetry this is doubly problematic as so few people these days seem to take any interest in this form of writing except for academics and those who flock to Off the Wall on Monday evenings in Observatory.
Last year, while doing a seminar on South African fiction it was put down to us to read a ‘sampling’ of contemporary South African fiction. We read everything from J.M. Coetzee to Rayda Jacobs to Mary Watson to Koos Kombuis. We took to this smorgasbord like little piglets to the trough guarded reverently by the Professors who attended us. However, I stopped going. It was an extra for me and I had become dreadfully bored. As a ‘young’ South African there is nothing more frustrating than coming across yet another book telling some tale about the dynamics of race relations in apartheid or post-apartheid
Problem: if they are in the canon does that mean we have to like them? The problem is often one of endorsement – because we read Rayda Jacobs in a creative writing seminar, does that make it ‘good’? Does this validate the writing, the ploy, the dynamics of the story? Should we aspire to this? Do we want a place in the canon?
What amazes me is that the concept of a canon of South African literature was ridiculed prior to the end of, and immediately after, apartheid. However, now that sufficient time has elapsed those who criticized the ‘canon’ and the very concept of a canon wish to appear in a ‘new’ canon. This canon being one that is ‘representative’ and which doesn’t ‘give credence to white hegemonic distributions of power in writing’, rather it is non-normative, reactionary. But it’s still trying to establish a canon, which is therefore normative, hegemonic and therefore problematic. If the counter-hegemony becomes the hegemony then they have simply become that which they detested. Blah!
Why? Why? Why? Why? Must literature follow in the footsteps of
So what do those first few lines I wrote have to do with any of what I wrote subsequently? Well, to me it’s all about the people. We get caught up in the people involved, we become emotionally enmeshed in their lives and consequently read what they write rather than because of an actual appreciation for the writing. This is an awful way to think about literature and to get people to read books (marketing people will tell you otherwise, but I dissent). So, no ‘canon’, Thank you very much. No reading people simply because they were or are political. Read because the writing is good and, for non-fiction, if the arguments they create are decent, logical and well-thought out. Thanks.