Sunday, October 19, 2003

Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy has a short, but favourable, review of JM Coetzee's new novel, Elizabeth Costello.

It always makes me happy to hear about foreigners taking an interest in South African writers and South African literature, (although Elizabeth Costello is in no sense a 'South African' novel, even the protagonist is Australian). South Africans have such little interest in literature that there is a tendency to bemusement ("our writers are so boring, all they do is write about Apartheid and its effects") or jingoism ("we've got 2 Nobel prize winners, you know") when, on the rare occasions that it does, our literature becomes a topic of discussion with foreigners. I think this bespeaks an inferiority complex of a sort, a feeling that we don't match up to the rest of the world so we should either ignore South African writers or eulogise them by means of overcompensation. Perhaps too, we still labour under the yoke of the Apartheid mindset viz intellectuals should be viewed with suspicion, they're likely to be consorting with the bad guys or conspiring to topple the state, in short they're up to no good. All of this is both unfounded, and a shame. South Africa has a small, but respectable, literature which we should feel able to take seriously without resorting to flights of patriotic fancy. So, as I say, I'm glad when foreigners comment favourably upon SA writers, perhaps its only when we realise that the rest of the world takes our literature seriously that we'll take it seriously ourselves.

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