Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Interview | Joan Hambidge with Ron Irwin | 2023

Congratulations on the publication of your second novel My side of the Ocean. I started reading the manuscript last year after 1 in the morning and completed this compelling book at 4.30 in the morrow.

 

1. Flat Water Tuesday was your debut in 2013, a novel reflecting on male culture and rowing. Is this novel semi-autobiographical?

 

Yes, very much so. Most of my work has some basis in my own life, but Flat Water Tuesday is really a novelisation of my experience as a rower at an elite American boarding school...and navigating life a decade or so after graduation. It took me quite a long time to write because I found it difficult to return to some of the events of that time. The people who are making the film of Flat Water Tuesday have found a way to recreate the kinetic experience of rowing in a fast boat using new technology, which is very exciting. I also think that modern readers and audiences are ready for realistic movies about the complexities of teenage life and how the challenges of our formative years shape us as adults.

 

My Side of the Ocean is less autobiographical but it does address issues that have been on my mind for some time. The main premise of the novel--a woman who comes face to face with a shark close to shore while she is swimming--is based upon a story I was told by a South African paddle boarder. I think the most important part of the novel is exploring how people react to the sudden but sure realisation that life is finite. I wanted to explore what happens when this ceases to be just an academic question and really gets brought home to a character. All of us have this moment in life, when it becomes crystal clear we are not on earth forever and we need to react to this knowledge. All of us understand the concept of death, but there is a time when we have to accept the reality of death, and that’s a whole 'nother ball of wax, as they say.

 

 

2. You grew up in Buffalo, New York and are currently a senior lecturer in Film and Media Studies. You also worked as a freelance documentary filmmaker and journalist. You also completed two MAs: one in Creative Writing; the other in Literary Theory. A PhD in Media Studies.

 

Different hats, so to speak. How do you navigate your different roles a teacher in branding, mentor for many students and your work as novelist?

 

I like to say that there is no greater preparation for creating popular fiction than branding, which requires a kind of dramatic flair (to say the least!). And teaching is almost a kind of liberation from the rigours of writing and rewriting... I suppose I could teach almost anything and feel a kind of relief from the exhausting demands of producing a novel.

 

I also think that the modern novelist has to be a student of media: video, social media, advertising, personal brand building, blogging, podcasting, radio, you name it. The days of being a reclusive author living in a bunker like JD Salinger or in a cabin like Cormac McCarthy are over. Even Cormac is now giving interviews to major outlets about his recent fiction. And he has to do this. Bret Easton Ellis's new smash novel The Shards is based upon a popular podcast he started during Covid and critics say it represents his best work since American Psycho, which was published in 1990.


Today, unlike when I started, we have young writers building their own followings online and writing for them, producing novel-length work in just a month and self-publishing for thousands of eager followers. We have new voices demanding attention and of course every single novel competes for eyeballs (horrible use of the word) against the seductive pleasures of the phone and unlimited options on the living room flat screen. Social media is now where most people learn about new novels. And now we have AI in the form of ChatGPT and variations of it, which could be a massive transformative moment. So an awareness of how media works is really part of every creative person's life now. The same goes for artists of every kind, as well as musicians, salespeople and any kind of craftsman or designer. We are all in the same boat. If we want our work to be seen and bought, the use of different media platforms is the way to do it. Even graffiti artists are in on it.

 

 

3. J.M. Coetzee was a mentor. What implicit advice did this Master of Writing gave you?

 

Prof. Coetzee was the most meticulous and disciplined writer I have ever encountered. When I first met him, I expected a much more expansive type of person, but he really was a dedicated and tireless worker. He had a kind of iron discipline that I do not think I possess, very few people possess it. His capacity to revise and revise again was unbelievable. He demanded a kind of meticulous attention to the craft and all of its sometimes mundane details that every writer needs to develop in one way or another. It was the daily rigour of working with him that I remember most.

 

 

4. Your new novel could be read as an episodic novel using the eye of a shark to tell the story:

 

Eye: Sharks have an almost 360-degree field of vision and see ten times better than humans. Contrary to popular belief, the eye of a great white shark is not black. It is a very dark blue. Colored Pencil Drawing (one of many), from Stella Wright’s Private Collection, Cape Town (13)


 

The main character and narrator of the novel is a displaced American artist named Stella Wright. Each chapter begins with an artistic representation of a different kind of shark endemic to the waters of South Africa that is a recreation of Stella's work. There is also a short description of the shark (or an anatomical part of the shark). The shark images and the descriptions of them illustrate Stella's evolving relationship with sharks, from one of fear to one of fascination and acceptance. Each shark rendition and description tells the reader a little more about the main character's relationship not just with sharks, but with the possibility of death itself, and by that same token, the possibility of life.

 

There are about 440 species of sharks in the world and South Africa is home to about a quarter of them, representing all major families. These waters are without a doubt one of the great havens for the animal. And humans have a very tenuous relationship with sharks. To many, a shark represents a kind of mindless death. There is something very primal about our fear of being torn apart in the water...maybe even pre-primal. Yet, from another perspective, sharks are an important and crucial part of life on earth. They have been here hundreds of millions of years before us and will probably see humankind off to extinction relatively soon. From their point of view, our experiences and struggles are exceedingly temporary.

 

 

5. I versus eye. How do you see the implications of the so-called multi-focal novel?

 

Stella sees the world in a certain way at the start of the novel, and sees it in a far different way at the end. As an artist she can imagine herself, and representations of herself, which is interesting. But she also has to imagine a new reality for herself after a traumatic experience in the water with a massive shark that leads her into an affair. Part of having a secret affair is the desire to see one's self in a different light, to briefly step into a new reality or experience a reality you might have had if you didn't make certain choices in life. Stella is an artist who enjoys the unlimited support of an adoring husband, but realises this is not enough, that she needs to return to a more authentic existence. This awareness comes to her after the abrupt realisation that her life could be cut short at any time, and she would have left an important part of it unlived.  

 

 

6. Melville’s Moby Dick is an implicit intertext. I recall you listening to Harold Bloom’s lecture on YouTube whilst writing the novel. Comment.

 

Moby Dick is of course a far more ambitious novel than mine, yet we still see the idea of returning to the sea, of deadly animals there being a focus of concern, attention, and ultimately obsession. Ahab wants to literally destroy the white whale; Stella wants to get over the fear a great white shark has instilled in her by painting and drawing it. I think also the affair she enters into with another person who loves the water--Ben, a surfer--is illustrative of how two people use whatever is at hand to conquer their fears.

 

Melville was playing with an idea that essay-like examinations of men at work on the sea would yield a greater understanding of the nature of being human, and the nature of obsession. Tolstoy has similar asides in War and Peace about combat and family. Stella's asides in the novel about painting and teaching offer us insight into her own state of mind.

 

To use rather awkward contemporary language, Ahab is the ultimate trauma survivor, just as Stella is. Ahab's obsession with Moby Dick is an obsession to right the injustice of the past, to enquire into the damage done to him, to smooth out a massive shift in his own reality when the hunter briefly became the hunted. The Pequod sinks under Ahab's obsession, as does Stella's marriage and her home, which faces the wrath of a Cape storm. Both novels end with the final destruction of the previous reality, and the possibility of survival into a new existence. The last page of Moby Dick (before the Epilogue), I feel, is one of the greatest endings in western literature.

 

 

7. The perspective of a female narrator/focalisator is quite daring for a male writer. But you convinced me that you understand the psyche of a woman.

 

Coetzee also accomplished this with Elizabeth Costello. How did you enter the mind of a woman?

 

I find that in fiction the actual voice that comes to you from the character genders itself. Writing from a heterosexual woman's view is difficult at one level: men tend to internalise their thoughts and feelings and especially their fears, whereas more than one woman reader has told me this character would probably share her experiences and her trauma with other women. But she engages in a secret affair with a younger man, which is forbidden on two levels due to his age and her being married. So Stella is stuck with her decisions and cannot confide in many friends about her experience. She is also based upon a driven, rather prickly artist that I know in real life, who eschews most rational forms of female friendship but is quite demanding and tactical in her romantic adventures.

 

One editor suggested that perhaps this artistic woman would not want to leave a wealthy older (but not much older) husband who adores her and buys her whatever she wants, including a gorgeous studio in New York. My experience is that quite a few people would seriously consider leaving comfortable relationships for dangerous and exciting but doomed relationships. I think this is an all-too-human impulse.

 

 

8. Your novel deals with the complexities of the modern campus. Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall, etcetera. Could we read this as a modern campus novel? For instanceVladímír by Julia May Jonas criticising the woke culture on campuses.

 

I am not sure I criticise "woke" culture on campus, but there are amusing academic peccadillos that I shine a light upon. I have been involved with UCT for almost my entire adult life. I have worked in the English, Commerce and Media Studies departments. And there are more political currents I discover on campus that I find amusing and funny than really disturbing or worthy of fictional representation. But the fact is that instructors are under a great deal of pressure to conform to a fairly rigid set of rules that do seem arbitrary and ever- changing from one perspective.

 

Stella teaches studio art, and supervising creative work is much different than supervising an academic project. I have supervised a few dozen creative MA degrees for the UCT Centre for Creative Writing and there is almost always a point where the relationship becomes slightly personal, where one is put in the position where students might need to talk about uncomfortable subjects that are routine in fiction: divorce, addiction, infidelity, violence, lust and many other things that one cannot avoid if one is going to write about reality that adults face. All of these are potentially tricky territories for an instructor and there has to be a level of comfort and mutual trust between the student and the instructor when one is talking about them. The current campus climate makes this rather difficult, perhaps rightly so in some cases. On the other hand, these subjects cannot be avoided if the student is going to get their money's worth from the project.

 

 

9. Or a modern love story with a woman experiencing liminalities: Ben in Perth, Jack in New York.


What is the story-line for you? Why the names Stella and Mandla?

 

This novel looks at the somewhat precarious life that thousands of expatriates like me live here in Cape Town. We can fly in and out at will, and a good many of us are here for the sun, the wine and the beaches. Whole swathes of the Cape shores are dominated by bungalows and vacation homes owned by people in the UK, America, Germany and so forth. Their attachment to the country is minimal, and when one is enjoying life on that side of the city it is easy to feel one has entered into a comfortably precarious zone where people can be unconcerned by the tribulations of life here in the Cape. Stella starts out like this, but the realities of water shortage, crime (suffered by her gardener, Mandla), and the gritty beauty of the place make her want to know more. Her husband, a New York financier, has no such interest. To him, Cape Town is a place of dwindling financial possibility and gorgeous views. But for Stella, and for many others, Cape Town is much more than that. The country itself offers her a chance of self-renewal.

 

And yes, Africa has always been seen as a place where people from overseas can come and reinvent themselves, often at the expense of the locals. I remember reading an essay that explored the idea that white Europeans are often presented in films and novels as arriving in Africa on an airplane, and the ability to fly away from what happens "on the ground" is a key feature of the outsider experience. Think of Out of Africa or West With the Night: the image of the colonial white person behind the stick of an airplane flitting over the endless vastness of Africa is powerful and troubling, although now they are simply sitting in the front of an Airbus, I suppose. But many people choose to reinvent themselves here as more concerned about their fellow human beings, more in touch with nature and the sea, and indeed their own art and self-expression.

 

The names were chosen because my wife worked for a very successful South African artist named Stella Shawzin years ago, and I once employed a multi-skilled builder called Mandla, which means "strength" in Zulu.

 

 

10. In Julia May Jonas’s novel a fire destructs a house and the only copy of the narrator’s novel. Here a storm lurks:

We lost another door at around 3 a.m. The framework simply tore out of the walls and then fell down with a splash into the flooded lounge, exposing the living room and the kitchen to the storm and the pitiless ocean. A single sheet of water lay over the pool, the terrace, the living room. The outside furniture was submerged. Water ran furiously down the stairs. The house was rocking back and forth. While Mandla continued bringing paintings and tools into the relative safety of the garage, Jack and I climbed up to the bedroom. He had brought up plastic bags. “Put in whatever is valuable.” (164)

Why this paranoia or angoisse in modern novels? Does it represent the Zeitgeist?

 

I think many modern novels are concerned with themes of uprooting and transience, as well as the impressions of foreigners in strange lands. I am not sure if it really is a "paranoia" but instead a focus on what lies behind the kind of massive change that is sometimes part of growth. Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News is about a man who goes up to Newfoundland and "finds" himself, and embedded in this narrative is a house that is literally anchored to the rocks it has been built upon. At the end of the novel it becomes "unanchored" and literally blows apart, which represent a kind of coda to a tragic family history of abuse. I had that in mind, as well as the destruction of the Pequod, when I wrote the end of My Side of the Ocean...not least because so many houses on the coasts of Cape Town do indeed suffer enormous storm damage. While I was writing the novel, in fact, a massive storm hit the Camps Bay area and practically wrote the scene for me.

 

Stella's house is actually based upon a real house that was owned by friends of mine in the publishing world. I did change some things about it to fit the narrative, but the problems of living right next to the sea were the problems my friends faced: everything rusts, the wood gets sodden, the foundations of the house seem tenuous, and the wind and the waves are a constant noise--sometimes reassuring, sometimes frightening. The “problems” of immense privilege, I concede.


The main character also, after the major storm, has to come to grips with what happens to her gardener, Mandla, whose much simpler home is also destroyed. Without revealing too much about this, I can say that this scene was taken from reality...we were at one point trying to help people were living in sea caves outside of town. This experience has haunted me.

 

We in South Africa have the biggest divide of wealth in the world. Our fashionable beach houses and mansions are built near shacks and temporary dwellings. It is very hard to reconcile this, but fiction offers a means to begin to do so.

 

 

11. Reflect on the meaning of art in this novel. And how do you see the future of the modern novel?

 

In this novel, art is certainly a tool the main character uses to address her own trauma, but also a means of measuring her authenticity. Much of what the novel is about is the artist's attempt to recapture a sense of her former, more authentic, grittier self. Art is a means through which she also traces her feelings about sharks, and the many different sharks we have here ranging from smaller pyjama sharks all the way to whale sharks, which were first named here in Cape Town. This evolving relationship is of course her relationship with herself, her life, and the possibility (and inevitability) of death.

 

I think the modern novel is going to be greatly affected by technology, in terms of how we read it, how we write it, certainly how we promote it, and how readers find out about it and purchase it. Many of my readers will download My Side of the Ocean into their phones or "mobile devices" (surely a Swiss army knife is also a "mobile device"? But I digress). Many readers will learn about my novel on Instagram or Facebook. None of this stuff existed when I first started writing, and now they are as much a part of book publishing as paper and ink.

 

I also think that voices that have often been backgrounded will find bigger audiences. It is now possible for writers and publishers with very limited means to reach a very wide audience, and for the first time possibly ever there is a mainstream desire for novels from the former periphery. It is interesting to see that JM Coetzee has decided to release his new novel in Spanish first, with a focus on non-English speaking regions, and only later in English. My Side of the Ocean is being published in South Africa first, unlike Flat Water Tuesday, which came out in the United States months before it was distributed here. In the last twenty years I have seen South African voices eagerly accepted overseas and, most importantly, in their own country. It is incredibly exciting.



Learn more about Ron Irwin and his work here: Home | Ron Irwin

 

My Side of the Ocean is available in bookstores across South Africa and online here: 

 

My Side of the Ocean/ A Novel - Exclusive Books

My Side Of The Ocean (Paperback) - Loot.co.za

 

© Joan Hambidge

 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Resensie | Julia May Jonas – Vladímír | Picador, 2022

Julia May Jonas – Vladímír
Picador, 2022

ISBN 978 1529 080 469


Resensent: Joan Hambidge

 

Binne die lang tradisie van die kampusroman, van Mary McCarthy se The Groves of Academe (1952) tot by Pnin (1957) Nabokof of David Lodge se satires, verskyn hierdie roman: Vladímír is Julia May Jones se debuut wat sterk inspeel op J.M. Coetzee se roman Disgrace (1999).

 

Twee eggenotes in ‘n Engelse departement in die VSA. Die vrou, ‘n skrywer getroud met John in ‘n sogenaamde “oop huwelik”. Hy word aangekla van seksuele misdrywe. Sy, op haar beurt, het haar oog op ‘n nuwe aankomeling, ‘n skrywer in die departement, ene Vladímír, getroud met ‘n vrou, ook ‘n skrywer. David, ‘n voormalige lover en kollega, is nou 50 pond oorgewig.

 

Die anonieme verteller (58 jaar oud) se lesbiese dogter Sidney en haar swart lewensmaat. Beide regsgeleerdes wat Papa bystaan in sy agonie. ‘n Seksuele interlude met ‘n man lei tot ‘n swangerskap wat nuwe intrige skep. 

 

Ons beleef die hele woke-kultuur en die grense van seksuele grense (en keuses) wat voortdurend skuif. Binariteite wat bevraagteken word en nuwe seksuele identiteite geskep. Boetes op kampus as jy rook in rookvrye sones. Orals polisie; véral intellektuele polisie.

 

Begeerte dryf hierdie verhaal. Daardie psigoanalitiese konsep wat die formasie van die ego bepaal en manipuleer.  Die verteller draai die sogenaamde male gaze op sy kop en ons sien hier ‘n vrou wat ‘n man tot objek verklaar (en selfs vasbind).

 

Is die vroue-professor se man werklik ‘n grensoorskrydende figuur? Of was die jong vroue medespelers?  Is die selfmoordpoging van Vladímír se vrou werklik relevant vir die departement?

 

Ons beleef die bedompige rugstekery van die akademie, die onverbloemde jaloesie en natuurlik: kompetisie.

 

Die roman staan iewers tussen ‘n akademiese krimie (die slot is gevaarlik onthutsend gedagtig aan Rebecca) en ‘n psigoanalitiese analise. Nabokof se beroemde Cornell-lesings word vermeld en daar is kopknikke na Jane Gallop se Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (Duke, 1997) met vele films oor begeerte: Godard, Truffaut en Misery met Kathy Bates (1990) en natuurlik die golden oldie: Rebecca van Hitchcock (1940). The Apartment (1960) – met Shirley Maclaine en Jack Lemmon – intimeer dat liefdesverhoudings onskuldig kan wees. Billy Wilder se Some Like Hot  (1959) word so ingedra …

 

Harold Bloom gooi ‘n draai (onthou hy is eweneens aangekla (diep sug) van ontoepaslike gedrag deur daardie humorlose feminis, Naomi Wolf) in hierdie roman.

 

Erich Segal (1937 –  2010) se Love Story is glo geskryf na die skrywer, ‘n dosent aan Yale Universiteit in klassieke tale, uitgedaag is om ‘n moderne tragedie te skryf wanneer ‘n mens aan ‘n gewilde kampusstorie dink. 

 

Dis ‘n genoeglike debuut en vir hierdie leser was die roman waar die begeertes tussen al die rolspelers (en die konflik) nog nie uitgespeel is nie, beter as die laaste gedeelte van die roman.

 

Spanninge tussen karakters wat werklike vuurwerke word, is dalk ‘n poging om closure te kry in die roman. Desnieteenstaande ‘n debuut vol belofte, ofskoon die slot te maklik afloop. Veral gedagtig aan die klassieke intertekste en slim toespelings.

 

Wel slim is die kommentaar op die jong kollega se roman wat van toepassing is op die roman wat ons lees (164). En Vladímír wat weer op sy beurt die gebeure kaap en in sy roman sit en wat die kritiek as “bleak” ervaar, terwyl vroulief, Cynthia die pryse inoes met ‘n meer toeganklike boek.

Die uwe sal weer Kate Chopin (1850 -1904) moet lees om die studente se kommentaar en kritiek te kan begryp oor die wese van ‘n sensitiewe, dog feministiese vrou.

 

Sou Vladímír se vrou werklik ‘n skryfklub begin het die met die anonieme verteller wat haar eie identiteit meedoënloos onder die loep neem, wonder hierdie leser. Ons vind hier van selfplesier tot -skending; van rook en drink; van ‘n analise van die post hoc-prudery wat vroue binne die akademie van agentskap ontneem (10).

 

Wat ‘n karakter dink van D.H. Lawrence se 1928 klassiek Lady Chatterley’s Lover is hier toepaslik: wanneer daar oorgegee word aan die hartstog, is dit alles verby. Sowel vir die karakters as vir die leser.

 

Lees en onhou gerus: Love means never having to say you’re sorry!

 

(Hierdie resensie word geplaas met vriendelike vergunning van Beeld)

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Resensie | Adriaan Potgieter - In die klipknoets van haar vuis || Sheila Cussons – Gestaltes 1947 | Hemel & See Uitgewers, 2023

Adriaan Potgieter – In die klipknoets van haar vuis. Hemel & See Uitgewers, 2023. ISBN: 978-1-998958-90-0 || Sheila Cussons – Gestaltes 1947. ISBN: 978-1-998 958894

 

Resensent: Joan Hambidge

 

 

“Én die digter wat speel met vuur, want

dig is speel met vuur – “

 

Dit val nie te betwyfel nie dat Sheila Cussons een van die belangrikste digters in Afrikaans is. Haar religieuse en mistiese verse is van die grootste in ons taal. Haar ekfrastiese verse (beelddigte) is eweneens rigtinggewend. 

 

Verskeie studies is al onderneem oor hierdie digter wie se lewe deur die meeste mense onthou word. Ons dink hier aan die verbintenis met N.P. van Wyk Louw en die brandongeluk wat haar geskend het.

 

Digter, skilder én verkenner van die numineuse.

 

Sopas het In die klipknoets van haar vuis verskyn deur Adriaan Potgieter wat haar werk en lewe Jungiaans benader. Die navorser beskou die verbande veral vanuit ‘n Jungiaanse perspektief. Musiek word betrek. Hy is medikus met ‘n belangstelling in die sielkunde en letterkunde.

 

In die klipknoets van haar vuis verskyn saam met Gestaltes 1947 in een mooi band. Die leser kry ‘n ryk geskakeerde teks met pragsketse en dagboekintekeninge. Boonop gedigte. So beweeg ons van die private na die publieke; van inspirasie tot uiteindelike gedig.

 

Kritici sal waarskynlik beswaar maak en die benadering tot hierdie komplekse digter (en skilder) as reduksionisties afmaak. Hoe kan lewe, digkuns, skilderkuns uiteindelik finaal ‘n optelsom word?

 

Vir hierdie leser is die Jungiaanse benadering van Adriaan Potgieter relevant, juis omdat in die oop spasies, die in- en uitbeweeg van verskillende “gestaltes”, die leser ‘n blik kry op ‘n veelkantige kunstenaar. Later word sy Katoliek en as kind beleef sy ‘n nomadiese bestaan.

 

Hier word ‘n ander invalshoek op die verhouding met Van Wyk Louw gegee, te wete een van versaking deur die man. My gevoel – gebaseer op mense wat haar geken het in Amsterdam – is anders gekleur. Hierdie skrywer het Cussons eweneens meegemaak en het ‘n besondere blik op haar. Uit haar mond ander sieninge gekry oor die Amsterdamse tyd.

 

Maar maak dit werklik saak? Uit hierdie verbintenis het van die allergrooste gedigte ontspruit tussen ‘n Afrikaanse Héloise en Abelard. Dieselfde ambivalensies vind ons terug in die verhouding tussen Sylvia Plath en Ted Hughes waar rolspelers steeds meen dit was hoe-dit-was. En selfs Janet Malcolm kon nie in The silent woman (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994) die finale punt sit nie.

 

Met enige kreatiewe persoon bly daar altyd vraagtekens of ‘n ellips. 

 

En so sal dit altyd wees, juis omdat die kreatiewe proses nie finaal begrond kan word nie.


En as dit só was, sou almal met ‘n ongelukkige jeug kunstenaars geword het. En dit is wat Carl Gustav Jung volledig begryp het.  Jung, ‘n kenner van die onbewuste, wat nie aan tyd of plek gekoppel is nie, vorm die teoretiese basis.

 

Ons sien dit in die Gestaltes 1947 waar ervarings reeds in drome beleef word. Jung se argetipes, die animus/anima, skadu, individuasie en véral die enantiodromia (die terugbeweeg in en teen die chronologiese tyd en die aanvaarding van sikliese of irreële tyd) is te vinde in haar digkuns.

 

En natuurlik: die kollektiewe onbewuste, soos die titel In die klipknoets van haar vuis reeds aandui.


Die moord op haar broer het haar diep getref; nes die ongeluk in 1974 in die vakansiehuis in L’Estartit op twee-en-vyftigjarige ouderdom toe ‘n gasstoof ontplof het in die kombuis en haar vir ewig geskend het, fisies sowel as psigies.

 

Oor hierdie ongeluk is daar verskillende interpretasies. Feit bly staan: sy is daarna ‘n geskonde mens en skryf oorrompelende verse, veral geboekstaaf in Die swart kombuis (1978).

 

Sy had twee mentors: Opperman en Louw. Opperman het haar van raad bedien soos om die gedigte terug te hou en die buiteland te gaan verken. En goeie raad was dit bepaald, want haar debuut, Plektrum (1970), bly steeds een van die suiwerste, mees afgeronde debute in Afrikaans.

 

Haar vertaling van Borges se verhale Die vorm van die swaard en ander verhale (1981) bevestig haar vertaalvermoë.

 

In Gestaltes 1947, geskryf deur ‘n jong Cussons, verneem ons dat begeerte kosbaarder is as vervulling (33) en hoe slaap jou by die siel uitbring (34). Die tuin is pure sintuig (37).

 

Hier sien ons alles wat later uitspeel in verstommende kreatiwiteit. Die impak van die onstabiele byna sigeunerbestaan het dalk ‘n invloed gehad op haar vriendskappe met vroue (Klipknoets, 81) en hierom was mans dalk meer bestendige vriende?  Die skrywer analiseer die animus en skaduwee in haar lewe. Belangrik die analise hier van die mantelman en hoe haar seuns klein Andrétjies word.


Die inhoudsopgawe gee ‘n bepalende blik: o.a. die wilde korf, muo, mites, phoenix …

 

Dié twee-in-een verpakking is een wat hierdie leser graag aanbeveel vir alle liefhebbers van die digkuns, omdat die meeste studies aan universiteite oor Sheila Cussons in biblioteke bly.

 

Die omtoorvuur en die verwikkelde lyn van haar digkuns en bestaan, word onder die loep geneem met die honderdjarige herdenking van haar geboorte.

 

‘n Klipknoets is ‘n kluit wat uit meer klip as net grond bestaan …

 

 

(Hierdie resensie word geplaas met vriendelike vergunning van Beeld)

 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Resensie | Piet van Rooyen - Antraks – ‘n Roman | Protea Boekehuis, 2023

Piet van Rooyen - Antraks – ‘n Roman | Protea Boekehuis, 2022 |ISBN 978 1 4853 13, Sagteband 304 pp

 

Resensent : Joan Hambidge

 

Piet van Rooyen se roman Antraks word bemark as ‘n omgewingsvriendelike skop, skiet en donder.

 

Hierdie lokteks op die agterblad het hierdie leser se vermoede bevestig: Piet van Rooyen is besig om die draak te steek met die krimi-kultuur in Afrikaans. Is daar ‘n sub-genre wat meer aandag kry op boekeblaaie tans? Boonop meen ‘n gedugte kollega en teoretikus word hierdie tekste gelees en geresenseer asof dit ernstige literatuur is. 

 

Van Rooyen het etlike romans gepubliseer en pryse verower. Hy is ook ‘n digter. Lesers van sý romans soos Die spoorsnyer (1994), bekroon met ‘n handvol pryse, weet hy is ‘n gedugte navorser oor spoorsnyers en die San. Dieselfde geld die roman Die olifantjagters (1998) met die wêreld van jag op die magtige olifantbul Maxamesi. Ook in Gif (2001) word die komplekse verhouding tussen San en wit mense uitgewerk. In al hierdie romans is daar uitstekende antropologiese navorsing aanwesig in romans met tekstuur.

 

Die strippe-voorblad neem die leser terug na die wêreld van RP-publikasies waar die karakters in clichés praat. Ons dink hier aan Die Ruiter in Swart waar die held altyd oorwin en die boef sterf in dramatiese-geykte taal: soos hy geleef het, sterf hy (sonder genade). Verder verwys die titel Antraks na die sogenaamde Bacillus anthracis …

 

Ons het ‘n vliegtuig met ‘n besending dodelike gif wat neerstort in ‘n oerwoud. Die begin van die roman is ‘n mokerhou:

 

Oral is losgerukte takke en blare gestuif oor wrakstukke en liggame. Confetti by ‘n makabere huweliksvoltrekking voor die poort van die doderyk. 

 

En die slot: Die trop ape wat destyds hier ingetrek het, beskou die plek nou as ‘n permanente tuiste (304).

 

‘n Teks wat tussen twee ellendes vasgeklam word met baie aksie. “Die reis is meer as die eindpunt”, lui een van die hoofstuktitels en “’’n Rooi lig flits skreiend in sy kop” ‘n ander. En “Tarzan tussen die krokodille” wat ‘n jeugherinnering terugbring na ‘n Sondagkoerant se strippe met hierdie held.

 

En die name! 

 

Soekie en Lafras. Markus Jones. Luister mooi na die name. Hoofstuk-afdelings wat die verhaal raam soos “’n Onhoorbare lied van sugte” met verwysings na Tarzan en James Bond. Met pigmees en avonture in die oerwoud geskryf in oordrywing om die satiriese aanslag te beklemtoon. Daar is ‘n duidelike verwysing na die film Live and let die (1973) met Roger Moore as James Bond en Jane Seymour as Solitaire.

 

Voedoe, die okkulte, tarot word die onderbou van hierdie film.

 

En die storie?

 

Daar is slim verwysings in Antraks is wat op die bo-vlak ‘n verhaal vertel van ‘n Boeing 727 wat neerstort in Angola met ‘n gevaarlike besending aan boord. In Lubango (in Angola) oorleef net drie van die 52 passasiers. En ons sien hier ‘n politieke kode en ‘n implisiete verwysing na die Helderberg-ramp.

 

‘n Aktrise, ‘n kleuter en ‘n Angolese vlieënier is die drie oorlewendes.

 

Soekie Verster en Lafras Uys moet die “probleem” oplos. Hoe gaan hulle die gevaarlike antraks “neutraliseer”? So reg uit ‘n James Bond-verhaal waar die held (en hier heldin) die wêreld moet red van ‘n gewisse ondergang.

 

Kannibale – die hoof heet Hihatele – en ene Markus Jones, die hoof van XYZ- sakegroep is ander spelers saam met Prima, leier van die Praeter-groep. Daar is Witko, Veikko Palander, ‘n politiek-korrekte Fin (met sy deurskynende ore), JimBrown en Mongoli (gebore met Down-sindroom) sit jou reg binne ‘n James Bond-film met afwykendes as die teenspelers. Vera en De Freitas.  Normaal en abnormaal. Wit Afrikaners versus albino’s met ‘n uitermate goeie reuksintuig. ‘n Rammelende bussie teenoor ‘n luukse Pajero.

 

Die afwykendes vind ons dikwels in thrillers. Ons dink aan Nick Nak in The man with the golden gun (1974), Scaramanga (self ‘n ‘afwykende’) se handlanger in daardie klassieke Bond-film. Of die reus, Jaws te siene in die films The spy who loved me (1977) en Moonraker (1979).

 

Die vermenging van ‘n vliegongeluk – ‘n ramp – met ‘n soektog in die oerwoud. Google map is vooraf beskou.

 

Daar is verwysings na Die Bybel, Hansie en Grietjie, Kafka, Interpol, populistiese tekste, Heart of darkness, ensomeer. Die disjunksie tussen aanbod en uitwerking, só bekend aan die satire, vind ons hier.

 

“Die satire wil bespot, en deur die spot die versteurde werklikheid belig. In hierdie spot is die groteske (humor) en die absurde belangrike hulpmiddels.” Aldus Henning Snyman in Mirakel en muse (Perskor, 1983).

 

Bykans asof hy dit oor Antraks geskryf het vol ironiese wendinge en ‘n korrektief op ‘n wêreld wat heeltemal absurd geraak het.

 

Hierdie distopiese roman is inderdaad polities inkorrek met verwysing na woorde soos pramme en menige woke-leser sal stik in die kamille-tee.

 

Antraks is letterlik ‘n bakterie wat vergiftig. ‘n Hoogs leesbare satire wat my weer laat kyk het na Frank Kermode se belangrike baken uit 1967: The sense of an ending: Studies in the theory of Fiction.

 

‘n Einde voorspel op vele vlakke. 

 

(Hierdie resensie word geplaas met vriendelike vergunning van Rapport)

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Rubriek | Hoe lees ons? XIX | 2022

I

Een van die belangrikste Roland Barthes tekste is Mythologies wat oorspronklik in 1957 verskyn het. Sowel Annette Lavers as Richard Howard het dit vertaal. 

 

Die mite as desillusie, veral sosiale mites soos die betekenis van wyn, die gesig van Garbo, die betekenis van die Citroën en stoei (versus boks) analiseer hy as ‘n sisteem. Die stoeigeveg as spektakel eerder as mededinging of wedstryd.

 

Jonathan Culler wys in sy studie Barthes daarop dat hierdie studie die leser daarop attent maak dat letterkundige mites ‘n sosiale impak het (1983: 36). Mites funksioneer róndom valse waarhede of dit wat hy later as die doxa benoem.

 

In die voorwoord tot die 1972 uitgawe van Mythologies wys Barthes daarop dat hy die sogenaamde what-goes-without-saying wil analiseer en die sogenaamde ideologiese misbruik onderliggend hieraan wil uitwys.

 

Mite is ‘n taal. Hierdie tekste – wat hy essays noem – het oorspronklik as koerante-rubrieke verskyn in Les Lettres nouvelles en is uiteindelik in boekvorm versamel.

 

Hy sluit sy inleiding af: What I claim is to live to the full the contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth”. Geskryf in 1957.

 

Inderdaad: the Zodiacal Signs of the bourgeois universe, soos hy dit klinkend stel.

 

Ofskoon lank terug geskryf, is soveel relevant vir ons tyd: Literature as discourse forms the signifier; and the relation between crisis and discourse defines the work, which is a signification” (1972: 114).

 

Mites skep ‘n eie taal wat hy definieer as ‘n metataal wat altyd terugwys na die eerste taal, ook die werklikheid (1972: 115).

 

In hierdie nawoord “Myth today” is daar vele verwysings – direk en ingebed – na Freud en Lacan. Die mite as dubbel-sisteem. Freud word geaktiveer met verwysings na drome se latente en gemanifesteerde betekenisse en Jacques Lacan staan hier in die sogenaamde negatiewe identiteit: I am where you think I am; I am where you think I am not” (1972: 123).

 

Mite is taal gesteel en herwin. 

Mite as taalsisteem, maar mite ook as taal-diefstal.

Mites is ekonomies. Dit snoer verskillende wêrelde saam sodat die leser nuut na die wêreld kyk. Hy analiseer die gesig van Garbo en waspoeiers.

 

 

II

 

Antjie Krog se Plunder (2022) werk met so ‘n sisteem met verskillende stemme, mites (oud en modern) wat die leser moet interpreteer soos in ‘n komplekse opera.

 

Die derde afdeling werk met die Bybel en die mitologiese figure soos Baubo, uit die Griekse mitologie wat haar rok lig vir Demeter ná die dood van haar dogter, Persefone.

 

Die vloekende stem wat haar argwaan wys teen manlike oorheersing en geweld teenoor die sagte, melancholiese stem wat verlies en onteiening verwoord.

 

Die hele kwessie van stroop of plundering word ‘n metaforiese werkswyse in hierdie komplekse bundel.

 

Wie besit, wie het nie? Wie mag kyk? Wie praat namens iemand anders?

 

“want alles wat gesê word is al gesê

       is al voorheen oor en oor nooit só gesê”

(Krog: 39).


Besoek 16 Desember 2021

 

En die mite dat vroue nie mag vloek of skel nie, word hier op haar kop gedraai. 

 

Barthes wys op die ideologiese onderbou van alle tekste. Elke leser of interpreteerder hét ‘n ideologiese aanname oor tekste en die lewe.

 

 

III

 

My kopie van Barthes se studie is aangekoop in 1980 in Las Vegas, daardie stad van mitologiese tekens tydens my eerste besoek aan die VSA.

 

Teen $3.45

 

Hierdie gedig is later geskryf:

 

Las Vegas, Nevada 

 

Hier staan dobbelhuise neffens kerke 

hul plek vol en sy ry met ’n Greyhound, 

geleerbaadjie en gerugsak, die Sondestad binne. 

Met ’n achy breaky heart word die woestyn 

die perfekte back drop vir ’n down town-motel, 

waar reisigers en hoere, kortsondig vertoef. 

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas. Agter haar lê 

die Stad van Engele en vóór haar Miami. Nou, 

in die oomblik, beleef sy die Mojave-woestyn, 

nageboots in restaurante dwarsoor die wêreld, 

met kaktus en klip kompleet. Vir haar is dit hel, 

hierdie flikkerstad met sy gebedekrale van $-tekens.

 

La$ Vegas. Lush Vegas. Leaving Las Vegas

In die Liberace-museum verpand broer George 

handtekeninge namens die virtuose vertolker. 

’n Boekwinkel stal Barthes se Mythologies uit. 

Saam met die semioloog vertolk sy die xeriscapes, 

nabootsings, afbeeldings, flikkerligte: dollar a fuck. 

Sy verkas uit Vegas, op pad na Dallas, op soek 

na die American Dream, the greening of America: 

na dit wat soos ’n mirage in die woestyn glimmer.

 


Bronne:

 

Barthes. Roland. 1957/1972. Mythologies. Vertaal deur Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang.

Culler, Jonathan. 1983. Barthes. Glasgow: Fontana Books.  

Hambidge, Joan. 2011. Visums by verstek. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.

Krog, Antjie. 2022. Plunder. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.

Lavers, Annette. 1982. Roland Barthes: Structuralism and after. Londen: Methuen.


© Joan Hambidge

17 Desember 2022


(Hierdie rubriek word geplaas met vriendelike vergunning van Versindaba)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Resensie | Antjie Krog – Plunder | Human & Rousseau, 2022

Antjie Krog – Plunder. Human & Rousseau, 2022. ISBN: 9780798183178. R 260.00, 126pp. 

Resensent: Joan Hambidge

 

I

Antjie Krog se bundel Plunder analiseer en ondersoek al die bekende temas van vrouwees – nou in hierdie jongste bundel met ‘n strenger fokus weens die gepaardgaande tyd van onrus post-Covid. Ons vind ook hier die spanning tussen die wit staar en swart staar wat die politieke dimensie aktiveer. Bekend aan haar digkuns word die magsverhoudinge in die huwelik beskou en van die mooiste en ontroerendste gedigte tref ons hier aan (“dis wanneer ek weg is van jou”, 17; “dis wanneer ek by jou is”, 18). Kleinkinders, die dood van ouers, die wegteken van die familieplaas Middenspruit teen die agtergrond van grondonteiening (“Koopkontrak”, 84), siekte, geheuverlies wat uitloop in die crescendo van hierdie bundel met “o brose aarde …: ‘n misorde vir die nuwe verbond”, 107) .

 

Musikaliteit, verstommende beelde en ‘n meedoënlose selfgesprek met die bevraagtekening van die “ek” is verdere aspekte van hierdie bundel wat ontroer en steur.

 

“die sigbaarmaking van allerlei strooptogte” (38) is ‘n sentrale vers róndom die digter wat haar speels posisioneer as kolonis. Sy gee ruim erkenning agterin van wie en waaruit sy plunder.

 

Female Fear Factory (2021) van Pumla Dineo Gqola is tersaaklik. Die vrou as gevreesde en die een wat vrees word geplaas teenoor die mitologiese Baubo wat haar genitalieë wys. Krog se Plunder is ‘n meedoënlose analise van die wit Afrikaanse vrouedigter. Hoe lank? Wie gaan eendag hierdie opgawes verstaan?

 

Haar pryslied vir Biskop Tutu ruk aan die keel, nes haar digterlike reaksies op weerloses, verskoppelinge, bedelaars. Sy bely sy glo nie in heiligmaking nie (68); tog bly die leser deurgaans bewus van gedigte as gebede – dan weer selfironie en self-ontering.

 

Die bundel is eintlik ‘n opera.

 

Voëls soos die bottergat, sperwer, slanghals, groenvlerkduif is hier aanwesig met die Vrystaatse landskap wat die ondergrond van die bundel vorm.

 

Die bundel beslaan ses afdelings: die 1e een is ars poëties in opset; die 2e begin met ‘n sterk politieke aanslag en meer spesifiek die #FeesMustFall-beweging; die 3e werk met die Bybel en die mitologiese figure soos Baubo, uit die Griekse mitologie wat haar rok lig vir Demeter ná die dood van haar dogter, Persefone; die 4e handel oor familieskap en in die 5e word die wit staar/swart staar-problematiek ondersoek. In die laaste afdeling is die mis (“o brose aarde”) die sluitstuk.

 

II

 

Die titel Plunder word op verskillende vlakke ondersoek. Strooptogte en die politieke werklikheid van grondonteiening soos die kwessie van besitreg. Die Engelse titel heet Pillage en die gedigte is vertaal deur Karen Press.

 

Die hele kwessie van stroop of plundering word ‘n metaforiese werkswyse in hierdie komplekse bundel.

 

‘n Sentrale vers is “die sigbaarmaking van allerlei strooptogte”(38):

 

*

 

as digter is my wese dié van ‘n Kolonis

ek val ander se werk binne

ek ossilleer van ekstase, bewondering

verander, teken op, neem klein aandenkinkies

want die tekste gryp my aan, landskappe tuimel

kom ek af op ‘n beeld, ‘n ongerepte kloof

ontdek ek ‘n verblindende berg

dan omhels ek, verorber, stroop

en stop my kop vol, my onderbewussyn

die oorloop verdwyn in notaboeke

want alles wat gesê word is al gesê

       is al voorheen oor en oor nooit só gesê

ek probeer byhou om bronne en oorsprong op te spoor

maar uiteindelik word die hele kelderkaboedel

                                                          kollektief verslinde buit

 

pluiings vir die verrinneweerde liggaam van latenstyd (39)

 

*

 

Agterin die bundel word bronne vermeld en digters waaruit sy “geskaai” het. Sy verwys ook na haarself en die herbesoek van veral Lady Anne is opvallend in hierdie bundel.

 

“om te roei sonder hawe” (Lady Anne Barnard ontmoet Samuel Johnson), 64 is só ‘n voorbeeld nes die meerstemmige tekste wat terugkeer na o.a. Januarie-suite.

 

Anna Jean Smith se Reading Julia Kristeva: Estrangement and the Female Intellectual (Canterbury Universiteit, 1992) vang hierdie leser se oog: die matrioska, meerstemmigheid, die chora, o.a. word so geaktiveer. Die belangrike bibliografie verskaf kodes vir die oopmaak van hierdie bundel: “skin memories”, erotiek in die Babiloniese tydvak, trauma-narratiewe, ras en representasie, black bodies versus white gazes, die evoluerende heelal, ensomeer.

 

Pyn en vreugde; die banale en die sublieme (“ons binnestes ruk deur die sublieme”, 117).


Die famieskap van die digkuns teenoor die familieskap van die werklike familie.

 

III

 

Hierdie bundel funksioneer soos ‘n opera in verskillende bedrywe.

 

Met verskillende stemme wat die leser terugneem na al haar bundels waar sy eksperimenteer met die voordrag, die pryslied en dus aansluit by die sterk orale Afrika-tradisie. 

 

Terselfdertyd is daar gesprekke met die buiteland (J.M. Coetzee en Remco Campert, o.a.), maar haar ondersoek na die “leegte van stilte” en ‘n teruggryp na haar Vrystaatse jeug (en pragtige erotiek) het hierdie leser mateloos geïmponeer.

 

Dit val nie te betwyfel nie dat hierdie bundel een van die hoogtepunte van die jaar is. Die saamdig van verskillende dimensies waar die private en die politiese saamgesnoer word.


 

(Hierdie resensie word geplaas met vriendelike vergunning van Fine Music Radio)