Monday, August 19, 2019

Resensie | Kerneels Breytenbach – Hond se gedagte (2019)

Kerneels Breytenbach - Hond se gedagte. Human & Rousseau, 2019. ISBN 9780798179294

Resensent: Joan Hambidge

Met Morsdood van die honger en Piekniek by hangklip het Breytenbach homself goed gevestig as ‘n aweregse roman- en kortverhaalskrywer. Hond se gedagte is ’n satire, dalk eerder ‘n versnit van die werklike outeur se kennis van musiek, rugby en kos. 

Hierdie roman aktiveer die twee belangrike rugbyromans in Afrikaans aan my bekend: Stywe arm van Braam van der Vyver (1994) en Louis de Villiers se onderskatte Karma-polisie ontmoet die bokke (2012) (Woorde Wat Weeg/ Louis de Villiers - Kaapstad Karma-polisie ontmoet die Bokke (2012) Besoek 17 Augustus 2019).

En die tv-reeks Getroud met rugby.

Dat rugby ‘n soort godsdiens is, is oraloor bekend. Trouens, sport is gelyk te stel aan afgodery en kyk maar net hoe word groot sportsterre soos gode hanteer. Toe David Beckham beseer is, het die poet laureate van Engeland, Carol Ann Duffy so oor hom gedig:

Achilles
(for David Beckham)

Myth's river – where his mother dipped him, fished him, a slippery golden boy – flowed on, his name on its lips. Without him, it was prophesised,

they would not take Troy.

Women hid him, concealed him in girls' sarongs; days of sweetmeats, spices, silver songs . . .

but when Odysseus came,

with an athlete's build, a sword and a shield, he followed him to the battlefield, the crowd's roar,

and it was sport, not war,

his charmed foot on the ball . . .

but then his heel, his heel, his heel . . .

En dit mag. Hier is ook ‘n digter: Pedrovene Smith.

Die titel aktiveer alreeds iets omineus.

Om wantrouig te wees, lui die idioom,  en gaan kyk net hoeveel idiome bestaan daar in Afrikaans vir hond in Spreekwoorde en waar hulle vandaan kom van Anton F. Prinsloo (Pharos, 2004)

Hond-se-gedagte aktiveer 'n Franse klug van Feydeau vertaal deur Nerina Ferreira onder dieselfde titel. 

Die storielyn klink so:

Fleur de Villiers is nie 'n kenner van rugby nie. Wanneer haar ou pel Maurice Kumalo haar vra om 'n biografie oor die Springbok-rugbykaptein Katstert Nel te skryf, is sy om die minste te sê teësinnig. Haar voorliefdes in die lewe behels eerder fynere dinge, soos ondersoekende joernalistiek, goeie kos en wyn.

En die leser wonder ook: wat weet sy tog van rugby op die vooraand van die wêreldbekertoernooi in 2025. Was daar nie toeka se tyd ‘n joernalis met dié naam nie?

Van rugby beweeg dit flink na die Corpus Christi met Jaap Schvantz en Krystle. Ook dubbelsinnige name, meen hierdie leser wat 'n rugby- en sokker-kyker is.

En Schvantz is Jiddisj vir penis. Aha. Breytenbach se voorliefde vir Thomas Pynchon se grappies en Etienne Leroux se simboliese name skemer deur.

‘n Man wat boonop sy adult nappies bevuil.

Kerk, kos, rugby en seks.

Soos sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Grappies wat onder die oppervlak skuil. Sub-tekste ingeplant. Popol Vuh. Socks Mulaudzi. (Jy hoor soms die verteller innig knor, brommend van genot.)

Wat ‘n mens herinner aan die grap van Dorothy Parker toe sy ‘n sin moes maak met die word horticulture: You can bring the whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.

Fleur (o blomtyd se Moses) is ‘n dolla wat egter kan dink. Boonop ontdek sy tydens die projek dat sy nie eintlik van mense hou nie. En ‘n artisjok as ‘n simbool word ingespan en afgeskil (189).

Daar is letterlike honde: honde wat ingeboek word in hotelle, hondbesetenes, internasionale hondeskoue, ensomeer. En daar is Dawk. 

Dok Craven word ge-channel (ek wil nie meer verklap nie).

En luislangbollie en die stank wat sulke slange in aanhouding skep. Vuilspel agter die skerms en bekkenluise laat jou verder gril.

Fleur se ma plagieer Emsie Schoeman se etiket-handboek en Die-regte-manier-om-te-lewe word opgestuur.

Voyeuriste. Mitologie (rondom honde, die nofret, Ikarus) en verwysings na J.M. Coetzee se slimmighede oor rugby, vra vir dieper kyk (228). 'n Filosoof van die viernaatbal is hy immers, bely die verteller.

Melancholie na 'n geliefde se dood is ingebed en vrae oor Fleur se troebel verhouding met haar ouers aktiveer oeroue kwessies. 'n Onverwagse dood aktiveer weer die reëls van 'n moord- of spanningsverhaal. 

Nes die verwysing na die briljante literator Réna Pretorius se Ryk domeine ander leeskodes aktiveer. En 'n tersluikse verwysing na wyle Harry Kalmer.

‘n Lekker analise van sosiale kodes en gewoontes. En hoe vinnig vriendskap kan oorgaan in vyandskap.

Elke hond kry sy dag; lyk soos 'n hond wat vet gesteel het; moenie slapende honde wakker maak nie is eweneens hier ter sprake.

'n Mix van speurverhaal en sosiale mores. Prisplooi en sekswerkers. Corpus Christi teenoor rugby. Die obsessie met Britse adel is ook hier en hul manewales wat die pers aan die lewe hou.

En die name: Katstert, Lektriek, Slapogie, Consuela, Pedrovene, Funky DD ...

Soveel siele, soveel gebede. Soveel spanne, soveel reëls. Soveel kaartjies, soveel parkeerplekke. Soveel lesers, soveel menings.

Veral rugby-kenners en -liefhebbers sal die roman geniet.


[Hierdie resensie word met vriendelike vergunning van Fine Music Radio geplaas.]

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Resensie | Debbie Loots – Die boek van gelukkige eindes (2019)

Debbie Loots – Die boek van gelukkige eindes. Queillerie, 2019. ISBN: 9780795802034

Resensent: Joan Hambidge

Die voorblad van hierdie roman aktiveer die bekende kruik wat 'n mens op voorgraadse Sielkunde-handboeke sien: dit is sowel twee profiele as 'n kruik waarna jy kyk.

Hierdie roman het die derde prys verower in die Groot Romanwedstryd in 2018. 

Loots se debuutroman Split (2015) is bekroon met die ATKV-prys.

Die jongste boek handel oor verhoudings en eindes. Chris se lewe word bedreig deur 'n vrou met wie hy ‘n ligte aanraking gehad het. Sy pers hom af en ons word voorgestel aan verskillende karakters en ons weet wat die sielkundige van hulle dink.

Twee ekse. Een straight en een gay laat die poppe dans. Kentridge se poppespel is ook hier (107) en vrae word gevra oor hoe 'n mens nog oor intieme sake op 'n nuwe manier kan skryf?  Die internet se impak op intimiteit en joernalistiek kom eweneens aan bod.

Die roman analiseer die impak van menslike verhoudings en die ironie dat kortstondige aanrakings of dwase keuses jou lewe vir altyd kan bepaal. Is daar ooit closure?  

Was Willemien net dom of was dit hoe mense opgetree het? Dubbele foute, dus.

Erica Jong se Fear of flying (1973) speel ook in die agtergrond af met die soeke na die "zipless fuck" en 'n bespotting van psigoanalise en die raad wat sielkundiges vir pasiënte gee, terwyl hul eie lewens nie in beheer is nie.

Waar Jong se prosa opstuur en tuimel, is die aanslag hier "fiction domestique", soos die Franse dit tipeer. Hoe mense daagliks leef, dink, doen, kom aan bod.

Die dekor-verwysings gee dalk blyke van 'n leë bestaan. Die kunsverwysings is dalk 'n versugting na 'n beter bestaan waar jy kan ontkom van dwase besluite?

Frank Kermode die gesiene Britse teoretikus se A sense of an ending (1967) het by my opgekom by die lees van die roman, asook Susan Sontag se insigryke essay "At the same time: The novelist and moral reasoning" opgeneem in At the same time (2007). 

Sy beweer dat 'n roman grense skep en dat alles te make het met hierdie grense. Die einde, vir haar, is 'n punt van magiese kwaliteite en samehang. Uiteindelik sien ons hoe uiteenlopende sake saamhang.

Afhangend van waar 'n storie eindig, word die geluk bepaal, waarsku Orson Welles in 'n motto. Hier eindig dit nooit nie ... of dalk?

Oscar en Reeva se verhouding bewys dat 'n gelukkige einde nie vir hulle bestaan het nie.

Die intertekste na Woody Allen, die Coen-broers se Burn after reading en Hitchcock gee eweneens sleutels vir verdere ondersoek.

In die lang galery van vertellers – eat your heart out Faulkner – het Sam ‘n heerlik outentieke stem.

Daar is ook Willemien, Neil, Jenna, Dave, Sigourney, Connie, Priscilla, Simone, John, Bella (o.a.) met Mikey wat alles op sy kop keer.

Terloops, die weergawes van lesbiese seks is stereotiep. Die beskrywing van die abjekte en liggaamlikheid bedui op 'n bestaan wat nie plesierig is nie.

Die geweldstonele waar ‘n vrou ‘n man aanrand, gee 'n nuwe blik op hetero-verhoudings (265). 

Die slot hef die turbulensies op.

Die karakters praat outentiek (shrink, edge, cottage, girl...) en Kaapstad word goed beskryf. Boonop lyk Tafelberg soos 'n groot mynhoop op die Rand.

En die Ford Cortina kom staan mens voor die oog.

In Portrait of a lady – as ons die notas van James lees én Sontag se kommentaar daarop – is die einde anders wat die leser wou hê en dis juis wat die roman so kragtig maak.

Die hoofstuk-indelings (Die begin, die middel, die einde, ná die einde) gee blyke van ‘n ouktoriale vertelinstansie ('n soort poppemeester) wat die gegewe vertel en manipuleer. Kiss kiss, bang bang 'n film uit 2005 (van die regisseur Shane Black) analiseer verhoudings en hoé ‘n mens ‘n storie in film vertel. En dis juis hierdie dimensie van dieper meta-kommentaar wat die roman volgens hierdie leser sterker sou maak. 

Afhangende van hoe jý na die voorblad kyk, sal die roman met jou praat.

Interview | Brian Walter in conversation with Joan Hambidge




1.     Please comment on the following in the epithaph: Page [49]

All great minds have bound themselves to some form of mechanical toil to obtain greater mastery of thought. Spinosa ground glasses for spectacles; Bayle counted the tiles on the roof; Montesquieu gardened. 

Honoré de Balzac, ‘Modeste Mignon’ in Collected Works of Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) (Hastings: Delphi Classics, 2014)


2.     Do you think poetry requires the same kind of discipline?

Yes, I do, although of course I use this semi-ironically. I cannot associate my haphazard, uncertain ways with “great minds” and “greater mastery of thought”, so in my poem I glimpse at Robert Herrick’s “A sweet disorder in the dress / Kindles in clothes a wantonness” from his “Delight in Disorder”, a type of “non-mastery”: 

The garden is marginal
and, like my thoughts, half trained
and bewildered into some hope
of sweet disorder.

His poem reads:

Delight in Disorder 

A sweet disorder in the dress 
Kindles in clothes a wantonness; 
A lawn about the shoulders thrown 
Into a fine distraction; 
An erring lace, which here and there 
Enthrals the crimson stomacher; 
A cuff neglectful, and thereby 
Ribands to flow confusedly; 
A winning wave, deserving note, 
In the tempestuous petticoat; 
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie 
I see a wild civility: 
Do more bewitch me, than when art 
Is too precise in every part. 

Also, Scorpio is a star-sign, my own. So the scorpion that stings the gardener is a disruption of the discipline, a more chthonic self that arrives and interrupts, taking us from mind-work, and the harvest goddesses, back to the “earth gods”. 

But despite that disruption, the work, the discipline the experience of it, is I think important. When I was studying, I found academic discipline gave rise to side-projects of poetry, my garden gives rise to poems, and ways of thought. Gardening brings an awareness of seasons, of time, of patience, of food, of alchemy. So it’s better than counting tiles, I think.

What I like about the Balzac quote, also, is that the thinkers he mentions were all progressive in their fields. Also, it’s nice to squeeze him in here, because Balzac is an observer of society, and you will find him in the garden at the Rodin museum, mentioned in the text.

3.     Explain your title:  why allegories? Does this refer to the quest of everyman?

Yes, it is a type of “everyman” quest. The basic quest alluded to in this collection is a journey to the place of death (and, like Dante’s, back again).

I take the title from an earlier work of mine: Baakens, referring to the Baakens Valley in PE. In conception this was a Dantesque visit to the underworld, and in one of the poems, the speaker says to the guide-figure:

I glance at you
for explanation, but you step quietly up,

musing on those old years when you left
the sacred heart of South End, to walk here.
I follow, sure that there must be something 
in these telling allegories of our everyday.

So, yes: it is a quest I have in mind, an allegorical journey. There’s a seeking for meaning in everyday events, trying to find the patterns, the bigger stories, what things mean.

I’m also thinking of James Joyce, and his sense of epiphanies. 

And, for myself as writer, the attempt to find some meaning, actual or imaginative poetic meaning, in the world around us, its imagery. It becomes a way of reflecting.


4.     Water has a symbolic meaning in your poetry? How does this relate to Wilma Stockenström’s notion of “the wisdom of water”?

It’s interesting that you ask about water, because it’s as if you have picked up the other side of where I think of myself.

I always think of my muse, in her female form, as Shakespeare’s mistress: “My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground;” or, in a male form, Seamus Heaney’s “Antaeus”: “Girdered with root and rock / I am cradled in the dark that wombed me . . .”.  It’s that earthiness. But what is the ground without water. I think it’s in that relationship that your question catches me. As spirit to matter, water to soil.

Just thinking back, through this collection, I can pick out four instances where water has an allegorical function:

a.      In the section on wells, there is a looking into the earth, the darkness, the past; and the African wells, the practicality, the memories, the joy, the kindness and wisdom of Plaatje.

b.     In the dead-lands of Guadeloupe are the swamps, which Wallcott uses as a dread symbol of nothingness.

c.      Then there is the sterility of drought, death, the lack of inspiration, (Keats’ sedge withered from the lake, where no birds sing – the wasteland).

d.     This last can be contrasted with the fertile sea in the second poem of the collection, “Quest”, where time nests and spawns and swims with the “twisting seals”.

But Wilma Stockenstöm: I can’t claim her as a direct influence. However, reading “Die Pan”: “Spieël van water met oumansbaard / wat links aangee wat ek regs uithaal”! When the Palm Wine Drinkard gets to the place of the dead he finds that the Deads walk backwards, in a type of reverse image of ourselves. And in this Narcissus-like inversion, changing the righthandedness into a more sinister left, we have the reflection and self-othering that makes this allegorical journey, the looking for meaning in the quicksilver complexity of reality.

5.     Rosehips, egrets, genets … you create an interesting concrete landscape. Comment.

While I was teaching at Fort Hare, and learning to write, my mentors were Cathal Lagan, Norman Morrissey and Basil Somhlahlo (who were the founding members of the Ecca group), and each gave me something different. I think Basil touched me with the essential politics of Africa, Cathal with imagery and imagination, a sense of life’s journey, but Norman Morrissey was a personification of observation and fascination with the minute details of nature.

I’d of course picked up a lot from my zoologist brother Gimme Walter, but Norman worked the observation into verse, comment, augury, allegory – the taking of what you see, and reading it into the context of one’s life and times.

Once, in the eighties, those writing about the natural world had their poems easily dismissed as “irrelevant”. Now the natural world, and our relationship with it, has become a political touchstone.

I think this interest of mine is part of that earth-water thing, too.

6.     You use intellectual words, for instance “deconstruct” and “anti-epiphany” – what is the significance? Or how does it impact on the interpretation of the poem?

I don’t think of my poems as intellectual. I tend to work more through “earthy” images than refined thought, but I do hope that if you scratch them, some levels of thought might seep out.

The anti-epiphany: well, the “epiphany” is a Joycean word, and perhaps ties in with the meaning one seeks in the “allegories”, the making sense of the everyday events around us, the moment of clarity, or revelation. But in the poem alluded to, the speaker walks into the night from the room of a lover, and smack into a beam of light. That would seem to be a revelation . . . ironically, it’s not a divine sign reflecting the love, but an army searchlight, probing the apartheid townships, and the little rainbow above the beam: perhaps a comment on what students today call “rainbowism”. So that it is an “anti-epiphany”. This word might help the reader with the reading: but I think the images are more important, and should lead the reader.

With “deconstruction”: this word from the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, to tease out the relationship between text and meaning. He read texts looking for elements running counter to the intended or obvious meanings or to the structure of a particular text. Thus deconstruction shows that language in a text and in itself is complex, that the meaning relationships are unstable, or even impossible. Thus, when one writes one thing, it might be read as indicative of something different: we might think of Stockenström seeing herself handing something across with her right hand, while she is also reflected as more sinisterly taking with her left. In one poem where I use the word “deconstruct”, it is history which “reads” the esse proprium of the narrator from a point of view different from his own.

Eyes upon me, all history
watches. The eyes behind the glass
see right through – deconstruct – me
till I become but figurative myself,

alone, with a pale face, walking dead 
roads amongst the slave-fields
of sugar cane and forts: where my living flesh 
– whatever I do or say or become –
is but someone else’s allegory.

Or, in the poem “Meditation Lesson” where class is asked to write down the things they love, invoking all sorts of feelings and attachments, and the teacher has the class members crunch up the pages and throw them away, making the words into objects of a different narrative:

When we were done –
winkling 
from heart and fond recall

our most precious things,
reflecting
self satisfied –

she had us scrunch the page
and chuck our notes away:
gone, at once 

– to make a metaphor
of time’s fell work
on every thing you love.

I don’t seek to be “philosophical” but hope the words help a reading of the poems.


7.     The paradoxes of distance – (41): you travel to other spaces … (France, for instance). A form of ostranenie to comprehend your world better?

Yes: that defamiliarization makes me think of Stockenström again, her “Spieël van water”, where the defamiliarity makes you look again at the familiar. It’s that recognition, and the difference. From my poems we have:

Disembarked

This looks so like Nigeria,
he says. And it does, and does not:

our grasp of things spins upside down

This sense of inversion, the ostranenie, is drawn from the core mystical journey to the town of the deads: Amos Tutuola writes, and I’ve used this as an epigraph: “He told us that both white and black deads were living in the Deads’ Town, not a single alive was there at all. Because everything that they were doing there was incorrect to alives and everything that all alives were doing was incorrect to deads too.

There is, as is typical of mythologies of the underworld, a judgement implicit here, as “white and black deads” live together in Deads Town. What does that say about our world? What does that say about the “growing grey townships” in the poem “Kestrel”?


8.     There are references to divination and the third eye – poetry as fortune telling. Comment.

For all the sense of augury, divination, seeing, interpreting of epiphanies, or the allegories of the text, I think, the core of my thinking as I’ve grown older is a sense of mystery, a sense of uncertainty.

But it is a looking into, a seeing of the mystery and complexity, that are important – the danger of a single narrative, or more profoundly, Keats’s sense of negative capability.

At the other side of the far-seeing third eye is the retreating tip of the leggevaan’s tail: that thing of which you are unconscious (that you might need a mirror, or water, to see). 

And the thing walks by, a symbol of ourselves, our reptile past, of the tasting of the earth, of our childhood encounters, of a knowledge we have not yet attained, of knowing, and also unknowing: but where does that leave the viewer?

For all our scientific, historical, political, economic, environmental knowledge – for when have we known more about things – we know so little about ourselves, of our contribution to problems, of any possible or practical solutions.

So the divination is there, the spelling: but it is also, I hope, made complex, where meaning is like quicksilver.


9.     I love the likkewaan poem (22). Please comment on the meaning of the word! (Eat your heart out, Tennessee Williams.)

The leggevaans I grew up with were in the Baakens Valley, or on the commonage, around Alice when I was at Fort Hare. The water monitor, they retreated to dams when scared, and could go thumping past one, making for the water, when the felt uncertain. They could grow to a good length, and were quite frightening when thundering down to the water, after hiding still and hoping you’d just go away.

The reptile has an association with the earth (as in DH Lawrence), the underworld, that amphibious link with water, the levels of a different sort of knowing.

But I loved the fact that when a proof reading friend of mine, Lynn Howse, queried my spelling of the word, and I checked it in the wonderful Oxford Dictionary of South African English, it noted, as the epigraph has it, that neither pronunciation nor spelling had been standardized. That, in itself, cast a spell for me, and moved us into issues of language and knowing; of the fact that the French article has become part of our noun, and so on. And the iguana I was watching was in Guadeloupe. The word “iguana” itself comes from the native American languages: “iwana” being Arawak and Carib, shifting to l’iguana, to Likkevaan. There’s a colonial narrative there, in itself. 


10.   And the two writers Derek Walcott and Amos Tutuola, The Palm-Wine Drinkard (London: Faber and Faber, 1985) are they guides? 

I like the idea of “guides”, as it picks up on the Dante journey through the under-world, where Virgil is the guide: the poet, leading the poet.

The Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola wrote texts that were both lauded and criticized for their – and I want to use the word very tentatively – “naïve” style. “Tentatively”, because the deep structure is where the text makes the hair rise. If, as suspected, there are oral roots to this story, and it goes back into the depths of that tradition, one finds the links to Egyptian mythology, Homer, Virgil, the New Testament, Dante. 

I taught “The Palm-Wine Drinkard” when I was at Fort Hare. In fact, I was criticized by a colleague for teaching the text, as he felt it reflected badly on African writers. Other Africanists praise the text (as did an early reviewer, Dylan Thomas!). In defence of it, I felt I’d like to write on it, explore it, when I had time. Then, it was “academic paper” type of writing I was thinking of. Instead it became the allegorical framework for this set of poems. Like Dante’s trip to the underworld, the Drinkard makes his way to a place of the dead. He can’t restore his dead palm-wine tapster, but he carries back the knowledge of the journey.

In my own poems, the first section reflects this deeper allegory, with a visit to a place of the dead in a graveyard in Gaudeloupe: perhaps the other poems are glimpses of this structure.

Walcott was different for me. I have been reading him more as a fellow pilgrim who has travelled the way before (a guide in that sense), especially in terms of his imagery of the Caribbean, and his sense of the human condition, his link to Africa, the slave history, his stirring of the pot of English literature from a place that is distant and different. 

Seamus Heaney says about him: “As a writer, Derek is more an amicable than an ironic figure,” contrasting that with the ironies in his person: “There were obvious parallels between the cultural and political situation in St Lucia in the second half of the twentieth century and the situation in Ireland in the first half. I both places the writers were furnished with two languages, the vernacular of the home and the idiom of the school, and the choice between them had political implications. (Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, Dennis O’Driscoll. 2008, New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 342.)

I relate to him because he talks to me.  He wrote a lot, and I still have a lot of his work to read.