Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Quote of the day:

Yet rather than standing unchallenged, neoliberalism is in trouble, and it is important to see why. The chief reason is that its two halves -- market fundamentalism and conservatism -- are in tension. Conservatism always meant a cautious, pragmatic approach to social and economic change ... The continuity of tradition is central to the idea of conservatism ... But nothing is more dissolving of tradition than the 'permanent revolution' of market forces.

From Anthony Giddens The Third Way (1998) 15.

I think that Giddens is dead on in this quote. You can't unleash globalisation and the free market -- which bring us such gems as Big Brother, MTV and Britney snogging Madonna -- while also hoping to retain institutions such as the family in their traditional form. You also can't have a dynamic free market -- which brings with it constant and accelerated cultural change -- and hope to credibly enforce a uniform moral and cultural code on issues such as drug use, private sexual behaviour and abortion (George Bush's attempt to promote abstinence before marriage while simultaneously cutting taxes is a case in point).

I will have more to say about the rest of Gidden's book later.


At 15 June 2004 at 23:45, Blogger Wessel said...

Please except my apologies for posting this under your posting on The Third Way. I wanted to post a comment with regards to the contribution of Afrikaans literature to the South African canon. You have disabled comments there however. I hope you'd be so gracious as to allow it here.

I'm fairly sanguine about this since (about excluding most Afrikaans writers), and I realise this is controversial; I don't think that Afrikaners have produced a literature that compares to their English speaking compatriots.

I will start by playing the man, not the ball. This is was an ignorant and arrogant and posting. Perhaps when studying at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship does give you a sense of entitlement, jingoism and superiority. But try and keep it to yourself.

Your posting is wrong on a number of counts.

Even if true, the fact that Afrikaans literature kept mum, or even promoted the policy of Apartheid does not make it bad literature per se.

Michelle Houellebecq’s Platform is very contentious on numerous counts. Is it bad literature? There are numerous examples of good art that has fallen fowl of notions of acceptability at various times.

But your point was wrong anyway. No doubt you have little knowledge of Afrikaans literature. The fact that you list Dalene Matthee's Kringe in die Bos and not any other Afrikaans books is proof of that.

Considering the strong Nationalist feeling among Afrikaners its incredible how little support there was for the Nats in Afrikaans literature and art. There are a few exceptions, Pierneef's fascist art for instance.

There was no art & literature propaganda machine as in Stalinist Russia.

On the contrary to your assertions, even before the so called 'sestigers' group (you know who this is don’t you?) Afrikaans literature had writers contesting Apartheid. NP van Wyk Louw being is the obvious example. This anti-Nat stream of Afrikaner literature became dominant. To such an extent that Afrikaners often felt alienated from the output of Afrikaans authors.

I challenge you to list the Afrikaans authors or books that promoted Apartheid or even those that made no statement about it.

Not only was Afrikaans literature overtly political and very critical of the Nats (and many of the books were banned) it boasts the most extensive body of gay and lesbian literature in South Africa and Africa. That hardly sits comfortably with your notion of the control of official Afrikaans Calvinism. Now quantity does not equate to quality. I give you that.

The body of English speaking South Africa's work is paltry. What's more its produced for international consumption. It's hardly a South African literature in that sense.

There really are a few good Afrikaans books. You have to take my word for it.

The first graphic novel in SA, Bitterkomix was published in Afrikaans. It is also the first to be banned. That is not my measure of good literature. But it refutes your point.

Your problem - I expect - is that you are suffering from an identity crises. You want to feel you belong to South Africa, but you can only speak English, (you probably have some broken Afrikaans and Xhosa or Zulu). You consider yourself an intellectual and you can’t stand the fact that the majority of literature that is published in your country is in a language that you don’t understand. And please, you don’t want black South Africans to publish in their mother tongues either. They certainly wont reach your list. Am I wrong?

You lament the absence of black writers on your list and talk about self confidence neccessary to write good literature - and it escapes you that its hard to write fantastic novels in something other than your mother tongue.

Why don’t you just start learning some more languages? I know its pain in the ass, but it's worth it.

You obviously hold Afrikaners in contempt, because after dismissing a substantial body of literature wily-nily AND feeling sanguine about it you attack Afrikaans architecture and Art?

To claim the Voortrekker monument is the pinnacle of Apartheid architecture is plain stupid. If only South Africa had more interesting and original art deco buildings.

The State Theatre would be more appropriate choice. At least Afrikaans architects did not try and emulate and perpetrate wholesale copying of buildings in the UK and recreate a little England. The Durban city hall being a case in point.

At 16 June 2004 at 03:12, Blogger Abiola said...

Hash: SHA1

"You also can't have a dynamic free market -- which brings with it constant and accelerated cultural change -- and hope to credibly enforce a uniform moral and cultural code on issues such as drug use, private sexual behaviour and abortion (George Bush's attempt to promote abstinence before marriage while simultaneously cutting taxes is a case in point)."

Along the same lines, if one considers intellectual consistency to be at all important, one can't advocate in favor of free markets while fulminating against immigration and freer movement of labor between countries, and yet this is just the sort of thing many conservatives go in for. Glaring inconsistencies like these make one wonder to what extent people who indulge in them are motivated by principle, as opposed to thinly-disguised prejudice and self-interest.
Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) - GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt


At 16 June 2004 at 09:11, Blogger Andrew Black said...

Hi Wessel,

I have an exam this afternoon on, ironically, the History and Politics of South African since 1948. I'll respond to this when I have a little more time.

At 16 June 2004 at 11:50, Blogger Murray said...

Hi Wessel. I've no problem with you posting this comment under my post. By the way, Andrew wrote the post about Afrikaans literature not me!

At 22 June 2004 at 18:07, Blogger Andrew Black said...

Wessel, as promised, a response:

Firstly, as an arrogant, jingoistic, self-satisfied Rhodes Scholar I reserve the right not to play the man.

We didn’t disable comments for my original post. About a month ago we migrated the blog to a new template and in doing so lost all existing comments. A pity really, since some of the issues you raise were dealt with then and I acknowledged the need to expand the cannon to be more representative. A couple of points that I do want to re-iterate: when I spoke of English literature I meant that which is available in English whether written by English-speaking white or black and, secondly, when I included writers such as Brink and Breytenbach I did so as Afrikaans writers. The books that I mentioned where the ones that I had read, in English. Likewise, I read Mathee’s Kringe in die Bos in Afrikaans and so included the Afrikaans title.

A couple of thoughts on what constitutes a canonical work. I’d suggest that canonical works are those that, whilst engaging with their particular social milieu nonetheless manage to say something universal. This means that in order for Afrikaans literature to have a claim to a place in the South African canon (as opposed to the Afrikaans canon) it needs to be relevant to non-Afrikaans South Africans. That doesn’t mean that it has to be written in English of course but it does mean that if I as a non-Afrikaner read something in Afrikaans then I have to feel that it says something universal or, since I’m a South African, that it has to appeal to my South African sensibilities. This is the reason that I wonder about Malan’s book. What meaning does My Traitor’s Heart have for non-whites except as a culture artifact of anthropological interest only. In fact on this basis I suspect that a lot of the SA literary canon is up for grabs as we redefine the notion of South African-ness. It is not clear to me that we can claim to have a South African literature at all until 1994. Perhaps all we have are English, Afrikaans etc literatures.

Assuming that we can talk of a South African canonical tradition that predates 1994, what should we look for? Here, I’m afraid that we part ways. I don’t think that we can consider something to be a great artwork if it systematically ignores the most notable features of the social and political environment in which it finds itself. This is why we should be suspicious of things like boere-orkes which seek to evoke an idealised view of the rural past which is at odds with the reality of that past. Likewise we ought to be wary of any number of ENGLISH bands that emerged in the 80s that diligently sought to emulate American and British musical styles. Wessel, what do you think constitutes good literature? A work that endorses or acquiesces to evil has no claim on greatness in my book. It may be of anthropological interest (this is how they thought, this was their art etc) but it lacks the appeal to something universal which, as I mentioned above, is what elevates something into the canon. And, note, you can do this very obliquely. The reason why Coetzee is so good is that he is very clearly a product of his country and time and yet in criticising it he transcends it. ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ says something universal about oppression. It can be appreciated by anybody. I accept that a canon can admit pastoralist works that evoke the landscape or something but these types of works should constitute only a very small part of the canon. The rest, as I say, need to address the realities of the environment in which they find themselves. Years ago I read Marita Van Der Vyver’s book ‘Griet Swart se Sprokie’ and I thought it was great. But I don’t think that it has a place in the SA canon because I don’t think that a book written in 1992/93 which fails to acknowledge any of the traumas and upheavals that the country was experiencing at the time should be in the canon. Perhaps we’ll just disagree on this point.

Your claim that it’s ‘incredible how little support there was for the Nats in Afrikaans literature and art’ is wrong, I’m afraid. Cultural issues have always stood at the very heart of Afrikaner nationalism. The emergence of the NP and the Broederbond was very largely premised upon the desire to protect and advance the Afrikaans language. Indeed I’ve read several authors who explain the emergence of apartheid in terms of the desire amongst Afrikaners to protect the group (volkseenheid) and to advance Afrikaans culture (kultuurpolitiek). Why is this important? Because it explains why for so long there was OVERWHELMING support for the Nats from the Afrikaans artistic world. Right through the 30s, 40s and 50s the cutting edge of Afrikaans culture was concerned with supporting the Nats in their quest for power. Think of a guy like Langenhoven. There were people who opposed this, its true, but they found conditions tough and many of them left or stopped writing. Uys Krige, N P van Wyk Louw, Jan Rabie and Breytenbach amongst them. As I understand it though, Rabie initially wrote in English and anyway couldn’t find anybody to publish him for much of the 50s and Breytenbach effectively exiled himself to Paris. However the overwhelming majority of Afrikaner writers had always identified with the struggle of the volk – regardless of their personal struggles of conscience and horror at National Party policy and ideology. This is the problem that I mentioned in my original post. Even when writers opposed apartheid they still found it hard to say anything because the state and the volk amounted to much the same thing. This was not a pluralist world. There was one conception of citizenship up for grabs and if you didn’t like it you either shut-up or you left.

As for the Sestigers (yes I do know who they are although, oddly, I’ve had to come to Oxford to find out) I’m suspicious because I wonder about motive. From what I understand the Sestigers primary objection was not apartheid but rather the strait-jacket that Nationalist-Broederbond manipulation had put the culture into. Which is to say they were obsessed with the form of Afrikaans literature. They made waves because they dared go where no Afrikaans writer had been before. They explored questions of sexuality, rising materialism and the pseudo-sophistication of the new Afrikaans urban elite. This explains why Sestigers Bartho Smit and Etienne Leroux where able to go on supporting the Nats inspite of the controversy that there work was causing. It explains too why Brink’s biggest initial aim was to talk about sex and sexuality in his work. But this was hardly avant-garde stuff. This might make the works that these people produce interesting to Afrikaners but I hardly think that it qualifies them for entry into the South African canon. There was always going to be a time when Afrikaans writers started demanding the right to speak about more than just the volk. It happened but that doesn’t make it great literature. Of course, what’s interesting is that many of them, having broken down the door went on to explore the contradictions at the heart of apartheid and did produce canonical stuff. Brink, Breytenbach, Jonker. There’s a peculiar irony though in that having locked up Breytenbach and banned Brink the powers that be suddenly decided that it was a mark of their new found cultural sophistication that their people were producing such writers. Hence the hand-wringing and endless debates in the 80s about Breytenbach. Was he a member of the volk? Should he be embraced? Or as a lecturer of mine put it, ‘Middle class Afrikaners paid money to listen to Breytenbach telling them what assholes they were and then left congratulating themselves on how sophisticated they all were.’

To my mind the real revolution in Afrikaans culture came in the 80s from guys like Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel. Boere-rock was interesting because it marks the first time that an Afrikaans cultural movement emerged that saw itself as outside the mainstream of the culture, as advancing ideas that were, in a sense, inimical to the values espoused by the dominant strain of the culture. This was real avant-garde stuff and would, I hope, be remembered in years to come for what it was, the questioning of received wisdom about the role of artists/writers/musicians and about what it meant to have a claim to Afrikaans citizenship. It would have been good to see a literary counterpart to this movement but, so far as I know, none developed.

To end, I think you’re right, there are more Afrikaans writers worthy of a place in the canon, Jonker, van Wyk Louw and, recently, Marlene van Niekerk are some that spring to mind. As for the ad hominem attacks, I’ll refrain from responding except to say that my ‘identity’ is pretty mutable and I certainly don’t ‘want’ to feel that I belong to South Africa. I also don’t hold Afrikaners in contempt, something that you’re just going to have to make me at my word.

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