This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
SOUTH AFRICAN WRITERS TALKING: NADINE GORDIMER, ES'KIA MPHAHLELE, ANDRE BRINK Chairman:The Institute for the Study of Englishin Africa at Rhodes University has brought together here tonight André Brink, Nadine Gordimer and Es'kia Mphahleleto talk about the position of the writer in South Africatoday. Wehope to make this kind of discussionan annualevent. This is the first, and I welcome you to it. All the writers here this evening have suffered under the censorshiplaws of this country. André in particular,who is to be congratulatedon the recent awardof the CNA Prize for Rumours of Rain in the Englishversion,is smartingunderthe embargo of the Afrikaansversion, and I'd like to start off by askinghim to tell us how he finds this absurdsituationaffectinghim and what he plans to do about it. André Brink: That's quite a mouthful. I must make clearbeforehandthat we have no pre-knowledgeof these questions being fired at us so I'm as stunned as you are. [Laughter] The first time a book of any writeris banned it does come as a hell of a blow. I don't think one can deny that, especiallyin a country like South Africaand especially if your writing is restrictedto Afrikaanswith a very small readingpublic, so that if a book is bannedit meansthat you are effectively silencedin the languagein which you write. It was as a result of the first ban imposed on Kennis van die Aand that, I think, the CNA Awardwas given to Rumours of Rain\ that ban forced me to explore the possibilitiesof other markets,forced me to startwritingin Englishso that now I have to write in both. Now suddenly I find that an embargohas effectively been imposed on Rumours of Rain for the last five months - effectively, not legally, because the embargowas there for the first two or three months until a Committeeof the Directoratepassedthe book. Then immediatelyafter that the Directorateappealed against it and the Appeal Boardapparentlyis still trying to formulateits reasonsfor either letting it through or imposingthe baa1 But the point is that this uncertainty makes it impossible, or well-nigh impossible, for booksellers to import the book, which meansthat I am still effectively silencedin the country. Now how one reacts to that is not as easy to reply to as it might seem. It is an annoyance; there is a certain feeling of pique, of unhappiness,because one writes from within a certain situation, from within a certain society, and one wants to communicatewith that particularsociety first of all. Whateverother societies in the world may read the book, this is the one that matters most, I think to a writer- the one in which he operates. So one can't deny the fact that there is a feeling of being blunted, of being cut off from the people one would first of all like to reach.On the other hand, in the course of the past 15 yearsor so that censorshiphas been a very real living - and deadening- thing in South Africa,one has wasted so much time fighting againstit, trying to alter the system, trying to make it easier for certainbooks to get through,that finally one is forced to come up againstthe question, "Is it worth it? Is
This Round TableDiscussion,sponsoredby the Institutefor the Study of Englishin Africa, was Andréde Villiers. on heldat Rhodes University 1 7 April 1979, and chairedby Professor
it worth wasting one's creativeenergiesby fighting this censorshipsystem or should one just go on writing?"I wouldn't like to speak for my two colleagueshere but I have a feeling that most of us share this sentiment: that whatevercreativeenergywe have we'd like to channel in the direction of writing rather than trying to fight a system which is going to be with us for a long time to be. And I think there is this effort, at least, to try and ignore, to try and not waste too much energyand time on censorshipas such and ratherto concentrateon the next book one would like to write. Chairman: Nadine,two of your novels were bannedand the restrictionson A World of Strangersand The Late Bourgeois Worldhave been lifted, but the book which you editedjointly with Lionel Abrahams, South African Writer The Today,is still banned.2 How do you feel that banningaffects you as a writer? Nadine Gordimer:Well, André Brinkhas pointed out an aspect of censorshipmany people don't think about and people who don't write don't even know about, and that is the pre-censorship- the punishmentof embargo.I know that every singleone of my books has been embargoed.Two were banned but all the others have been under embargo.Andre'sbroken the embargorecord with five months but my record until then was ten weeks. Now this is somethingthat I've described,I think without exaggeration,as evidence that writersare an oppressedgroup in this country, singled out for a particularform of oppression.I can't think of any other professionalgroup whose capacity for earning a living can be affected in this way: suddenly, what you create and what the world is going to receivefrom you (and for which you're going to receive in returnyour living) is taken out of the public domain. This happensbefore you've had any kind of hearing, before a decision has been made about the alleged or subversiveness indecency or whichever of the 97 définitions it may be (I'm not exaggerating;there are 97) under which your work may or may not be found "objectionable".Before the decisionhas been made, your work cannot be sold or read by anybody, and the fact that 90%of the time the book may then be releaseddoesn't alter the fact that you've been punished for a decision againstyou that perhapswill never be made. And if the decision is going to go againstyou then you have, so to speak, served a sentence in advance. This, I think, is one of the most reprehensible and diabolicalaspectsof censorship. Chairman: Zeke, you yourself were actually bannedin 1966 and a numberof your books remainclosed to us here in South Africa, but, with colleagues,you constitute a leading figure in that, can we say, nationalSouth Africanliteraturewhich flourishes overseasbut which we're not permittedto read here. We can't, for instance, look at the revised edition of The African Image. We can't look at In CornerB, your short and stories; we can't look at The Wanderers; we can't look at the book which you edited, African WritingToday.3 Are you taking any steps to see that we in South Africa can read these books as freely as people overseascan readthem? Are you going to apply for a lifting of the ban? Es'kia Mphahlele:That's quite a dilemmafor a person like me or, I think, for any other writer. You ask yourself if you should ask that your banningshould be lifted while at the same time other people are being, have been banned. The 1966 banning
order, for instance, was a blanket banning order which affected quite a number of writers. Then you ask yourself if you should really ask that your books should be unbanned- your books in particular- while other books remainbanned.In the context in which we are living, with so many tensions and so many arrestsand so many other things, is it that importantfor the banningorderto be lifted from the particular books that you have written?I'm in a dilemmahere, althoughI know for my own self that I'd like, of course, to be read. One writes in orderto be read.One of the painful things that I experienced when I was abroadwas that I was writing outside and the books that I was writing were readby people outside, whereasI was reallywritingout of my South Africanexperience,out of my Africanexperience.And then I ask myself, "What the use, if the people you write about don't readwhat you're writing?" is The best thing might be to touch base again. But then one is up againstthis whole business: politicians and financiersrun our lives, they regulateour movements, they regulate our associationsand so on, while literaturemust go on at the same time, trying to reach out, reach across the kind of artificialboundariesthat have been laid down by the financiersand the politicians. So I would simply say that I hope that we can get moving on. They continue to be banned, these books, as André said. Well, the writer must just keep going on and doing the best he can. In the largercontext is it that vital that he concentratehis energieson getting his books unbanned,while people are, as I say, being imprisoned,being detained,and all kinds of cruelty is being experiencedby them? That is my problemfor the moment. Chairman:André, I believe that a numberof Afrikaanswritershave more or less come to an agreementthat they will not appealfor the lifting of banningswhich might be imposed in future. How does this squarewith the duty which the three of you have talkedabout of the writerto communicate? André Brink: Yes, there seems to be an anomaloussituation there, up to a certain point. But I think a certain amount should also be expected of the reader. If the reader knows that a certain book has been written and has been published,perhaps he should obtain such a book either by orderingit from abroador tryingto borrowit from somebody. The Russianshave two major ways of beatingcensorship.The one is called Samizdat, circulation underground;the other is apparentlycalled Tamizdat, publicationabroadand importingit from abroad.I would suggestthat in South Africa, at least, a third possibility is open and that is Lammiesdat, beatingLammieSnyman.4 [Laughter]
Nadine Gordimer: Hear, hear.
André Brink: And I think that applies both to the author trying to find ways of getting through to readerswhat he has written in whateverway availableto him and to readerstrying to get hold of these works which, in terms of the law as such, are more or less inaccessible. I think if one really wants a work one can get hold of it. Now publishersmay have had ulteriormotives in trying to persuadewritersnot to sfontein, appeal against bans, because I think the fight against the ban on Mager Magers fontein by Etienne Leroux, for instance, cost about R20 000, which the publisherhad to fork out. Whenmy publisherand I took the banningon Kennis van
die Aand to courts that cost us R13 000 and, again,we didn't get anythingin return. So it's a waste of time, it's a waste of creativeenergy,above all, but it's also a waste of money, and most of that money goes into the coffers of the censor board, of the whole censorshipsystem, so we actually strengthenthem by appealingagainstbans and I think that that is a very iniquitous way of helping them, so there is, I think, a valid reason for not continuingto actively fight bans but to find other ways of communicating.If writers are no longer trying to appeal to the Boardof Appeal against decisions of the Directorate, it doesn't imply simply a matter of lying down and accepting them, it also implies more and more, and I think it will imply more and more for the future, the finding of other means of circulatingwhat one has written. Unfortunatelyone cannot go too deeply into this because, if one wants to dive into Samizdat and Tamizdatand severalother ways of Lammiesdat,then I think the less this is discussedin public the more profitablefor both the public and writers. All I want to try and convey at this stageis that it doesn't mean that writerssimply accept the status quo by not appealingagainstbans. Thereis a very strongmovement afoot to try and explore other avenues of communication,other possibilities than just regularpublication. I should add that this should always be the last resort. It could so easily become a new fad, somethingfor any third or fifth rate poet to say "I'm being circulated in roneo because I want to be dissentient" whereas the real reasonmight be that he simply can't find a publisherto publishhis stuff. [Laughter] But if one can't find a regularpublisherand if a privately subscribedpublication becomes impossible, then there certainly are other avenues,and I think writershave reachedthe point where they are prepared explore them. to
Es'kia Mphahlele: I agree with that.
Nadine Gordimer:I would like to take up the point about the public. It's always left to the writers, and sometimes by extension to what one might call intellectuals generally,to take up the cause of censorship,but the public seem to sit back content to have prescribedfor them what they may and may not read. It's very difficult to stir any genuine indignation about the deprivation that censorship brings to the reader, not only to the writer, and I do think it's time that some responsibilitywas taken by the general public, because it's the general readerin the end who suffers much more than the writer. We writershave a special interest, so to speak. We earn our living by the written word, and indeed writingis far more to us than that; it's our form of communicationwith our society. Writingis the most solitary businessin the world and our form of communicationis throughthe written and the publishedword. But the more general effect of censorshipis indeed the deprivation,now for several generations,of readerswho are not readingnot only the things that South African writers write but also a lengtheninglist of other books. People simply don't notice. You go to buy a book for a friendfor a present;you go to the bookshop;you choose from what is available.You don't know the pre-censorshipthat has narrowed,partly decidedyour choice. Booksellers,out of self-interestand out of necessity, don't order"dubious"books, or they do so in pitifully small quantitities.They don't want to be stuck with them.
They feel, "So-and-so'slast book was banned. Well, I don't think I'll order the new one because maybe it'll go the same way and I'll be landed with a couple of hundred copies I can't sell." That book may very likely not be banned,but the fact is that, out of fear of financialloss, booksellerswill not order it, and you will not be able to buy it. I don't know whether concerned people, other than writersthemselves,can find some way to participatein action againstcensorship. I didn't take to court either of the two bans on books of mine, although at the time there was still the possibility of a hearingin a propercourt of law.5 The banning of books by South Africanwritersis the most strikingconsequenceof censorship,but people also need to be alerted to the books by writers who are not South African which they cannot read. If publishers abroad - for whom there is involved no principleof non-cooperationwith the censorshipsystem here - were to contest every decision banninga book by a popularwritersuch as, for example, KurtVonnegut(his books are banned one after another), we might get some sign of life from the general 's public. But Vonnegut publishersdon't care; this is the big toe of Africa,it's the end of the world so far as they're concerned. André Brink: I think there is an interestingmove afoot amongAmericanpublishers at the moment. Nadine Gordimer:Yes, but as you know they don't do very much. They've been talking for two years;we haven't seen anythingyet. [Laughter]You and I have both talkedto them. André Brink: But if a big Americanpublisher with a big Americanauthor could take to South African courts a ban imposed on that author, then, as a result of the quite enormouspublicity generatedin the States itself, somethingmight be achieved towardsgetting assistance.But it's very difficult to in the Une of slowly progressing get Americanpublishersreally so vitally interested,especially when money interests are involved, that they would be preparedto pressthe loss of severalthousanddollars to get a book throughwhich wouldn't mean much to their sales anyway. Nadine Gordimer:I understoodthat somethingquite exceptional happenedin the case of African Image, A group of Afrikaanswriters requestedto have it unbanned, and it was? Es'kiaMphahlele:It was, the first edition was unbanned. NadineGordimer:So here you have the thirdparty entering,successfully? Es'kiaMphahlele:Successfully,yes, successfully. André Brink: That was, I may add, the only success the AfrikaansSkrywersgilde has had, becausethat book had been out of print for so long. Es'kiaMphahlele:As soon as the new edition came out it was then banned. was NadineGordimer:So the unbanning a mere gestureon the censors'part. Es'kia Mphahlele:You know, I keep wonderingabout the question, Nadine, that you touched on about public concern. For one thing, I think it simply seems to be a part of a generalmalaise that people don't rise up and demonstratetheir concern or demonstratetheir protest, whatever.This happensin all areasof deprivation:people just sit down and the caravangoes on and nothinghappensand one thing comes after
another. Another thing is, I wonder whether people here in this country really feel they're deprivedwhen a book has been banned; do they really deeply inside themselves feel they've been deprivedof somethingimportantif they can go to a drugstore and buy another book? They're quite happy without it. Maybe we're not that important. André Brink: I think that's one of the main problems, that writing is so often without which most people can thought of as a luxury, as a sort of culturalappendage do. If the public in general could be made more specificallyawareof the fact that censorshipis not primarilya literaryexperience, not even a moralor a religiousthing, but an extension of a whole political apparatusinto the field of literature,into a very vital field of human experience;if they can see the banningof a book as a parallelto the banningof a person, to the imprisonmentwithout trial, to the innumerable ways in which people are being suppressedin a society like ours, then perhapsa slightly larger awareness may evolve from that. On the other hand, a greater sense of despondencyand malaisemay also enter into the picturebecausepeople feel so totally powerless against this enormous structurewhich they undergo as if it were a fate instead of realizingthat all human structuresare there to be changed.That may even increase this sense of impotence. Writingis not something esoteric happeningin a little corner of an ivory tower somewhere; it is something which crystallizes the experienceof an entire people in a very vital way and without which a society cannot really live in a healthy way. If that can be broughtacrossto people, then perhapsmore reactioncan be expected. Chairman: You mentioned the lethargy of the audience and suggestedthat partof the lethargyis itself causedby the cankerouseffects of banningand the whole political machine. You've mentioned the attempts by the Gilde, and there are also objections raised by professionalassociationslike the South AfricanWritersand Artists Guild, and PEN - the new PEN, thank God. One would think that the universitydepartments of literature would pay particularattention to this problem. Zeke, you have just returnedto South Africa after 20 years in exile. How do you feel about the attention given to South African writing in our schools here and in our universities?Do you think we pay sufficient attention to it? Es'kiaMphahlele:Sadly, no, I don't think enough attention is being paid to writing done by Africansin this country. All over Africa, in Europe, includingEngland,and the United States, Africanwritingis being studied,being read,and quite intensively.In this corner of the continent, people are not even aware that there are such writersat all. I think also there is a formidablestructurein our university curriculumwhich forbids the study of these works because they are not supposed to be classics. "Are suchliterature?" they reallygood English?" people ask. "Isit reallyworthwhilereading They feel unsafe and they feel that you're selling them short if you try to push the idea that they should read Africanliterature.I'm very distressedby it and it seems it's going to take a long time. I mean, Rhodesis certainlythe pioneerin this field, but one would like to think that many more others could. Look at Witsitself, a big university like that and with a tradition,but the Englishdepartmentis as stuffy as you could ever
imagine [Laughter]in its view of what literatureis. They go on the same way they've been going on for years, for decades,and they're not preparedto shift one inch. They want to try to push African literature aside to another Institute so that the Department won't have to deal with it. It is now being taught in Comparative Literatureand not in the Englishdepartment.I made a faux pas when I was givinga talk at the English departmentlast year on the function of literatureat the present time. I said that we ought really now to be thinkingseriouslyof what the function of literatureis for ourselves- what does it do for us and to us? - ratherthan simply as an intellectualexercise,which it will alwaysbe. And I was askedwhat I would do in an English department, and I said, "Well, make English literature a Comparative And of course Literatureprogrammeratherthan an Englishdepartmentprogramme." I lost out. I knew I'd neverget a job there. [Laughter]Yes, one singlework by Chinua Achebe will be set but it's an excuse; they do it apologeticallyand they don't want it to appeartoo often - that kind of thing. It is distressingthat people should grow up in this country, in an Africancountry, as if there's a kind of umbilicalcord between the intellectual here and Europe. And if the thing doesn't shake about then it's all right. You're not supposed to shake it and make people be conscious of the fact that they are in Africa. People keep on saying that we're Africansbut of course they don't behaveas if they are on Africansoil. Like the SettlersMonumenthere, I mean, if it's in Africa what has it to do with Africa?It's symbolic of everythingthat goes on. You look at the architectureit's an outrage. [Applauseand laughter] I tell you it's an ; insult to the poetry of architecture, any way you look at it. [Laughter]It has nothing whateverto do with the Africansoil and this is what aestheticsis all about: aesthetics grows from the soil. Are we always going to continue to avoid our attachmentto the Africansoil, doing things which have nothing whateverto do with our consciousness as an Africanpeople? Chairman:You know, the English department of one university, which shall be nameless, said ten years ago - epoch-making,ten years - that there should be a moratorium on writing by black people [Laughter] that too much attention was , to it. André, Afrikaansliteratureis of course studied up to the minute in being paid Afrikaansdepartments.Could you tell us something about the attitudes of Afrikaans academicdepartmentsin South Africato writingin that languageby colouredpeople? André Brink: The main problem is, of course, that there is so little written in Afrikaansby coloured writers. There literally are about four writers of which only and, more recently, one, Adam Small, is really important.A few otherslike Philander De Wette are minor poets. The work of Adam Small certainlyis studied very, very in extensively at practicallyevery single departmentof Afrikaans the country. I think that if there had been more black writing in Afrikaanswe would have been only too glad to study that. I've always felt that there is a strangeaffinity between - I know and this may sound strange- but there is a strangeaffinity between Afrikaner African in South Africa. They might fight each other like hell, especiallyon the political front and especially in the context of South African national politics, but I think the Afrikaner has a certain sense of Africa. The unfortunate thing is that the present
government is coming between the Afrikaner and African, and that is one of the greatest tragediesthat is being shapedin SouthernAfricaat the moment. But to come back to the question: Unfortunately,so very little has been writtenby blacks - only two works by one particularAfricanauthor, and very few worksby colouredauthors - that one can't reallybase any sort of patternof observations that. on Chairman:One of the reasons adduced by those few departmentsof English at South Africanuniversitieswhich do mount courses of study on local writingthat I've heard is that more criticalawareness the local productwill somehowin the long run of be of assistanceto the writer.Nadine,have you got anythingto say on this point? Nadine Gordimer:Well, I'm afraidthis must be an academicview of writing that I'm not familiarwith, but speakingas a writerI know writersdon't requireor look for or even think about any stimulusof this kind. Stimulusfor a writer comes from the life aroundhim. The criticismcomes after the writing.Wewrite the work and we put it down there and it's thrown to the wolves or to the appreciativechop-lickersor whatever.There'sno awareness,I think, of anythinglike this at all, and I must say I find it most extraordinary arrogant ratherstupid. [Laughter] and I wanted to ask Zeke something,please, if I may go back. Don't you think, Zeke, that if we use the English languageto write in, even if we've never seen England (either because one is black and one's roots and traditionsare here, or because one comes from some mixture of Europeanblood that perhapshas nothing to do with England)- if we use the language,is that culturalline not there for all of us? Do you and I and everybody else using that language - André now has begun to use it for reasonsthat have been forced upon him - not claim the whole line and extraordinary traditionand developmentof Englishliteratureas our right? Es'kiaMphahlele: You mean as usersof English? Nadine Gordimer:As users of Er>glish. Anybody who uses English,I think, should feel that he can make free of all the languagehas to offer. Es'kiaMphahlele:That'strue, yes. Nadine Gordimer:Even for a black writer, to whom English may not be a first language.As soon as you use a language,you appropriateanything that it has to give you. It's a tool. Es'kiaMphahlele:That is true, yes.
Nadine Gordimer: To me it seems appropriate to use that tool to deal with our situation as Africans, whatever colour we are ...
Es'kiaMphahlele:That'sright. Nadine Gordimer: . . . but I think that there's a dangeroustendency, very understandable among young black writers and also among some young whites, to feel that you've got to deny any Englishliterary tradition - "it's irrelevant"- in order to make contact with your backgroundhere. I can't see the necessity.Just as when a musicianpicks up a violin he has the whole work of all the composersthere for him, so we inherit the entire heritage of English literature.It doesn't matter who we are or what colour we are. Es'kiaMphahlele:Well, you may inherit the culture that comes with the language,
but if you're using it as a tool to write out of your own culturalexperience you are then addinganotherdimensionto what you're doing, not so? NadineGordimer:Quite, exactly. Es'kiaMphahlele:You're addinganother dimension and also, as you'll see, you're using the languagein quite a different way from other people will use it who live in England.You're using it differently,becausethe way you use it is determinedby your cultural experience, and it's also determined by your own traditions, that is, your African tradition. I'm sure your African tradition feeds into the language,and the thought that goes into it turns it into a different thing, very often, from the way it's been used elsewhere. NadineGordimer:Yes, of course,you changeand adaptit. You changeand adaptit. Es'kiaMphahlele: Nadine Gordimer:But you are usingthe play, the short story, poems, novels, essays - these are, so to speak, foreignforms. That'sright,yes, yes. Thereis a way in which . . . Es'kiaMphahlele: NadineGordimer:The content may be different. Es'kia Mphahlele:The content may be different. But there is a way in which the very content reshapesthe form. It presentsa different type of novel, a different type of short story,/ think. Nadine Gordimer:But do you think that's happenedin Africa?I personallydon't. I don't think that anythingoriginalin innovationand form has emerged. Es'kiaMphahlele:No, no, it hasn't. But one can see it's strivingto be born. I can see it strivingto be born. There are ways which you might call a work which is not a novel in the sense in which we understandthe novel in the tradition,in the English tradition, simply a narrative.And you see a narrativelike, say, Kofi Awoonor's This Earth, My Brother, which is a narrativeand it isn't; and yet it moves on, it has reshapedthe thing in some ways. I agree with you that one doesn't see it as a fully realizedoriginalthing, but one can see it happening. NadineGordimer:Don't you think that it's too young still? Es'kiaMphahlele:That is true, it is too young. Nadine Gordimer: Because there's only an oral tradition in Africa. The whole business of the written word is so young here, and I think that one should admit it and accept it. That'strue, yes. Es'kiaMphahlele: Chairman:One of the problems faced by our academic departmentsperhaps is precisely this. The traditionalists,the supportersof the Great Tradition only, feel critically inadequate to deal with the traditional forms grafted on to English, and oppose the introduction of these into the syllabus for that reason. But on the other hand, or the other side of the coin, isn't there a growingmovement- Zeke, I address this to you - amongst African writers calling for a particularAfrican set of critical Could you tell us perhapssomethingabout those? standardsand critical approaches? Es'kiaMphahlele:Yes, we haven't really arrivedat what you might call an African aesthetic. This, of course, has to grow, as Nadine suggested, out of what has been
written and what is being written. There is no doubt about it, that it is in the process of being formed. I think we need to approachliteraturewith a sense of adventure, which means that when you look at a novel which doesn't quite sound like an English novel at all, you've got to find out why and you can explore this. You've got to look at a novel written by, say, Tutuola, with a sense of adventure.And you can explore it and find out what things you find there that you would not find in the Great Tradition.We haven't arrivedat any critical standardbut we've got to work towards these things, and we're not going to do it if we don't face literaturewith a sense of adventure. Nadine Gordimer:But is the GreatTradition. . . how can one talk about the Great Traditionso narrowly,from Spenserto Jane Austen?Whenyou look at the development of the novel, for instance - the great nineteenth-centurydevelopment - the traditioncomes from France,it comes from Russia, I mean what would the novel be without Tolstoy, without Dostoevsky, without Flaubert? The new modern novel wouldn't exist, so how can the traditionbe English?As Zeke suggests,the time has now come for Africato gushinto this stream.It comes from everywhere. André Brink: I think to a certain extent that offers a reply to the question that you posed a little while ago, Nadine,when you askedwhetherAfricahas yet produced a new form. You're probably quite right in that it hasn't produced something so completely new as to be totally unrecognizablein terms of the traditional English forms, but if you think of what has been written in the last few decades,if you take away Achebe, you take away Ngugi, you take away Awoonor, and Soyinka, and so many of the other Africanwriters, I think then one suddenly discoversthat without these works the novel today is poorer as a form, not only as far as content goes but also as a form of expression.If one discoversthat then one realizesthat, even though no totally new form has been introduced by African writing, at least so many new possibilities have been opened up by what has been publishedin Africa that a very importantcontributionhas in fact been made. Nadine Gordimer:Yes, I would agree entirely that what has come in to the novel has been a new metaphysics,a new philosophy, a new sociology, if you like to put it that way, something that people didn't know about at all, and it can only be done through imaginative writing. There I would agree entirely. Just like the South who are now contributingsomethingquite marvellousto the novel,/ think. Americans Chairman: Can I call you people back for a moment from the continent of Africa to South Africa? Would any of you be preparedto say that being a writer in South Africa today is perhapsdifferent from being a writer elsewhere?To put it in another way: do South African writers have any special responsibility as craftsmen or as interactorswith the social situation? Do you feel that you have any real option in choosing what you write about, or do you feel that you are constrainedto write about our problems? André Brink: Well, there are severalquestions in there. I think it was Brecht who said, "What times are these when to talk about a rose implies treason because it sense I supposecertain suggestssilence about so many other things."In that particular
themes, certain obligations,are forced upon the writer. Evenso, it is true that writers in South Africaare writingabout an enormousvarietyof subjects,many of which have nothing to do whatsoeverwith what is called the South AfricanSituation.In the final analysis, every writer acts on his very, very personal impulses. It was the Swiss dramatistFrischwho said that what makes a writer a human being, a person,is what links him to all other human beings, to humanity as such, but what makes him a writer is specifically that in which he differs from all other people. The impulse is enormouslypersonal. I think that in South Africa the writer does find himself - or the writer with a social conscience, because I think that is an important category of writer - finds himself in a peculiarsituation, but not a unique one. It is a situationwhich he shares with writersin many other countries,where writersfind themselvesin a state of siege, where writers experience themselves as an oppressed group, as a group which is threatened particularly by state action, state intervention, state suppression and oppression. And in that sense, there would be a vital difference between a writer operating here, especially if he tries to write from the promptings of a social conscience, and a writer in Sweden or Britainor the United States. Those writersare generally free, although no writer is ever completely free, although every writer experiences certain restrictions,even restrictionssimply imposed by form. But those writers are more or less free to write anything they want to. There are no moral, religious or general censorious inquisitions which restrict the field in which they operate. They can write anything; they can use any words; they can describe any experience;and they are free to do so and free to publishit. And in a sense that very freedom limits the efficacy of what they write, because when one is free to say anything there is no particularreason why a reader should pay particularattention to what a writersays. But if a writer is not free to say anything,as is the case in South Africa,then what he says can become - need not become, but can become - somethingmore thanjust a word. It can become a sort of action in itself, not just a gesture(I think one should distinguish between what Sartre has called a gesture and an act). The very act of writingcan become an effective act in the context of a closed society like the South Africanone, like many third-worldsocieties, like the Russiansociety and many others one could name. In those societies the writer just has to weigh very, very carefully what he wants to say in order to give it the maximumefficacy within his particular context. I think it certainly would be true of many black writersin South Africa and it is true of many writersin Russiaor Chileor wherever,that the writerliterallyplaceshis life or his freedomat stake when he publishessomething.His public, appreciating this, pays particularattention to what he's said, and extracts the full value of what he reads from every single word. That puts an enormous responsibilityon the writerand gives him a magnificentsense of being relevant,of havingsomethingto say which elicits a particularresponse. I think nothing is so deadeningto a writer than to write and to
hear nothing in return. In South Africa you certainly are absolutely convinced that you're going to get some sort of response, whether negative or positive. There is a feedback, and the writer thrives - because he is such a lonely creature- on this idea of communicating, livingin a magneticfield where thingscome back to him. Evenif of those things can be absolutely disastrousto his personalexperience, to his personal life, his safety, his liberty, it meanssomethingto him; it givesa certainvalidityto what he writes and a certain exhilarationto much of what otherwisewould have been pure depressionin his existence. Chairman:Nadine, I rememberyour saying a couple of years ago, in a talk on the writer'sfreedom,speakingof the insidiousdangerof the freedomto do as your friends wish you to, the freedom to do as you ought, to write within the compartmentwhich has been prescribedfor you and to accept the boundarieswhich have almost silently and invisibly grown up around you. Do you recall that talk? It was in Durban, I think.6 Nadine Gordimer:Yes, yes, I do. I think that I gave the example of Fathers and Sons . . . Chairman: That'sright. Nadine Gordimer: . . . how because Turgenevwrote about people - as we would put it - in the struggle,and didn't presentthem as absolutelyperfect and unblemished and totally heroic, he was then attacked for being reactionary.So I made a plea for the writer to be allowed to interpret his society, warts and all; and not to feel the ratherthan an act taking the full freedom and pressuretoward an act of propaganda dangerof writingwhat he believesin. I'd be interested to know what Zeke would have to say about this. I see this dilemmavery much alive for black writers,particularly young black writers.Thereis a very important distinction we have to face, one imposed upon us: that all writersin South Africa are an oppressedminority - yes, I stick by that - but that some minorities are more oppressedthan others. Even though there'sa black populationmajority, writers,black and white, as a group, are a minority. And, within that minority,black writers have a tougher time. They are much more endangeredin their person. We all suffer the samecensorshiplaws and banning,but when one sees what happensto black writers - even aspirantwriters,people who havejust written one or two things - they truly are intimidated before they pick up that pen to write the next poem. I really don't think that white writersare harassedin quite»thisway. We areharassed enough, but not in this way, and I think that it has a special and appallingeffect on black writers. On the other hand, the general view is that, in the position blacks are in, whatevertalent you have has to be at the serviceof liberatingthe people, and therefore all other considerationscome second. The black writer is to be the mouthpiece for the great spiritual struggle that is going on, and after that come all the other problems that all writers have, the corporate problems of creativity.So there's this pressureon the one side to conform to what the orthodoxy of the struggleexpects you to write, and on the other hand there's the great dangerof doing this. A writer needs to be allowed to express the condition of his life and his social strugglein his
own way. Es'kia Mphahlele: Yes, that's very true. The pressures on the black writer are certainly not anything like the pressureson the white writer. One can see a whole new body of poetry, for instance, coming out of the young black writers, a good deal of it quite good, a good deal of it bad, but they do feel the pressureall the time to say somethingabout their own condition and the thingsthey're going through.Yet at the same time there is a synthesissomewherebetween art and an expressionof protest or an expressionof the condition. One can see it happening.Back in the fifties when we were caught up in a literaryrenaissance, particularlyamong short story writersin Drum, we were constantly under pressurefrom a number of intellectualswho were not writing themselves at all, but were loud-mouthed about what they thought we should be writing. I remembervery vividly there was somethingcalled a progressive , forum, based at Wits. [Universityof the Witwatersrand]a Trotskyitegroupwho were always telling us what the writer'sresponsibilityis towardsa society. All the same, we just went on writing.We were sufferingenough in the ghetto situationwithout having to listen to the Trotskyite kind of theories and abstractions,and people went on writing. And we did come through that period, and some people did produce good writing,while at the same time respondingto their local experience.And this is what happened,and I can see that it's going to go on. Throughthis passageis going to come out some real good writing which, as I say, will reflect a synthesis between art and opposition, the literatureof opposition. We're not the first people to have to go through this. Yeats fought it through, throughout his life, fought it out and saw it through, and came through at the end with some really good things, even though at the same time he tended simply to dismissthe nationalistcry amonghis people that he should write the way they wanted him to write. And we're going throughthis experienceourselves. Nadine Gordimer:I would say this is a very big difficulty, to achievethis synthesis. Es'kia Mphahlele:It is, it is, as I say. If you look at Staffrider you see quite a variety of topics there, of themes, and you see quite a sizablenumberof writerswho are moving towards this synthesis. I mean we know they haven't arrivedyet, they're still young, but they're moving towards it. It is a difficult thing to arriveat, and it seems to me it has a lot to do with maturity,wouldn't you think? AndréBrink:But also the situationas such.
Es'kia Mphahlele: Yes.
André Brink: I think it is one of the saddest things of the experienceof writingin South Africa, black writing specifically, that so many really great talents felt themselves forced, and were forced, to carryon fightingto the detrimentof the realquality of their writing. Can Themba wrote some magnificent stuff, but if he'd had a little more scope in which to explore his writing as writing and not simply for a particular cause he could have done so much more and left such a greaterheritage to other writersafter him. Or don't you agreewith that? CanThembais probablynot such a good example. Es'kiaMphahlele: AndréBrink:No, but I think from that whole . . .
Es'kiaMphahlele: Yes, from that whole groupof writers. . . André Brink: . . . your own Drum group,there would be quite a numberof names. Nadine Gordimer: I'm interested in the different weapons they used to express what was inside them. That fifties group to which you belonged, irony was the overridingprinciplein their writing. They all used irony as their weapon. The young black writers today - irony is completely missingfrom their work - and heroics, the epic mood and mode is the one that they use. Es'kiaMphahlele: Yes, perhapsthis is ... NadineGordimer:A changein time . . . of are Es'kiaMphahlele:Yes, a changein time. The pressures greater.The pressures are certainly more stringent, are greater, than they were in the political authority fifties. In the fifties we were respondingto a whole lot of thingsthat were happening politically aroundus, but at the same time the repressionwasn't anythinglike it has been since Sharpeville, certainly. Chairman: Wouldn'tyou say, too, that the young writerstoday are, becauseof the situation, unacquaintedwith a lot of the work of the fifties? Simplyby not knowing it, they have no model to work back from. AndréBrink:They reallyhave to start from scratch. Nadine Gordimer: I must say, I don't agree. I think by and large the fifties produced a remarkable,small body of work, but it was small: you can count those books on the fingersof your hand. I simply think the mood has changedso tremendously that they haven't felt irony to be the means of expression for what has happenedsince then. The mood is more desperate. Chairman: Less subtle.
Nadine Gordimer: Yes.
Chairman: You know, one of the hoary old chestnuts is that any writingin South Africa today, whether it's about Wordsworthian daffodils or not, is a political act, even by negation, in a society which limits the vision you're allowed to have and which orders the extent to which you can use words. Which brings me to ask you about protest writing. The usual questionposed is whetherprotest writingas such can be good writing, but in an M.A. thesis recently submitted to Rhodes,a student asked a particularlyinteresting question. He said, "Shouldn't the question rather be Does the book produce good protest?"And I'd like to ask you how you see protest writing as achievingits end. Whatis the function of protest writing?Is it to achieveits end by instrumentality,or by opening the mindsof the readers,and if so, what do we do when so few readersreadin this country? André Brink:Well, it really bringsinto question the whole problemof the efficacy of writing. Are there results? I think it was the painterJean Arp's father who once painted a courtyardwhich was full of trees but he paintedit without any of the trees in it because he felt that the pure architecture the symmetryof the courtyardwas and the beautiful thing that he wanted to capture,and he paintedit exquisitely. And then afterwardshe looked at his paintingand went back to the courtyardand chopped up all the trees. [Laughter]Now can writinghave that sort of effect? I think that is really
what your question asks, and I think then that there are different levels of writing. You have protest writing pure and simple, which tries to get a sort of slogan-like communication across as quickly and to as many people as possible, so that people can get this idea, this slogan, into them and have the feeling of a brotherhood of people sharing a great revolutionary experience. But that is writing directed really towards an aim beyond itself. And if you look at writing which may be very good protest, on the other hand, but which is capable of being judged, or holding its own as literature, as writing, then what the writer is primarily concerned with is not first of all protest or lack of protest, but the quality of his protest or his lack of protest. You cannot confront a politician, a cabinet minister, with all the array of armies and jails and police at his disposal, with a book in your hand. It is a duel which cannot possibly be fought. These people act in totally different dimensions, so that when the writer uses his writing simply as a revolutionary instrument, it is something different from when he chooses writing as his terrain of fighting. If he does that then he's not interested in the immediate result, in the immediate conversion of a whole people to his point of view. He knows that as he is solitary in sitting here writing, the reader is solitary in reading this, and what he aims at is a slow, evolutionary mental process in people's attitudes, in ways of thinking, but it is a slow, slow thing which goes through decades, and sometimes perhaps centuries. If he's interested in immediate political efficacy, he should choose another weapon. He should go on a political platform. He should take up a sword or a gun or something, but if he feels that writing is his terrain, then he should try to do that as well as he possibly can. But he has to recognise that this is a different sort of field of action altogether. Nadine Gordimer: I think that if you accept that for the writer writing is his terrain, as you put it very well, because that's what he can do best, the question of protest writing - what it is, why anybody does it - simply falls away and doesn't exist. Because, to paraphrase "the poetry's in the pity", I think the protest is in the people. And if you write honestly about the life around you, the protest comes out of that. It's not a goal, on its own. A writer's purpose is to try and express the truth of his society in a particular time and in a particular place, and if protest is arising out of the people, if it's the yeast that is there, if it's bubbling, it will come out in the writing. Chairman: Nadine, in that same talk in Durban, you talked about the inescapable connection in the minds of authority in this country between articulateness especially on the part of the black writer - and subversion. I wonder whether there's a connection between truth to your vision, as you see it, for the black writer, and the need to put down that vision, not with the subtlety of irony that we were talking about when we referred to the Drum period, but with the, let's say, the hammerblows of the four-letter-word school that appears from time to time in Staffrider with the sloganeering group that's appearing today, where there isn't time, when the knock on the door comes still more often in spite of the apparent cover-ups in public. Zeke, have you got any comment to make on the protest writer in South Africa? I know it is very difficult to add to what André I think encapsulated brilliantly.
Es'kia Mphahlele:Yes, he did that very well. I can only say that in my own experience I also started that way, that what I was writing was vitally important.I was full of myself in thinkingthat as soon as people read this they'd be fired with some kind of spirit, and I realized my folly later on - that because one is dealing with metaphorand symbols, which are a very indirectway of sayinganythingat all, people don't get into that kind of mood that you expected. As Nadine put it - if there is protest among the people, where is public protest? If you want to make your writing relevant, then you have to depend on that, if you are true and faithful to your now, at this time, he's so terribly experience.It is simply that the writeris so pressured that he can't, for instance,just go out and demonstrate.There'sno public pressured platform for him where he can express the feelings of his people. He thinks that the word, as you said, becomes the action, becomes an act, and so he does this, and one can understandthis is happening.We are living in these kinds of times. I think the chaff will sort itself out from the good stuff, with the humanexperienceand so many cycles of the human experience that will happen,it is bound to happen,and that is all I can say about protest. Chairman:Talking about the sensitivity or lack of attention of the audience, it's here perhapsinterestingat this point to mention two little thingsabout our gathering this evening. Eight of our posters advertisingthis evening's get-togetherwere torn down on this campus and one store in town refused to display these posters on the grounds that they were political. [Laughter] Then it was pointed out, "Yes, it is a South African situation", and, to give him grace, the managerof the store concerned was embarrassed. But he still refused to have them up. Whichbringsme to the next that I'd like to raise, and I'd like to start with you, André, and that is - in question the South African situation, what do you see it meaning for a writer to say he's committed?Whatis an engagéwriterin South Africa? André Brink: That's become one of the swear words in South Africanwritingin the last few years . . . Chairman: That'swhy I askedthe question. André Brink: . . . and I think there'llbe as many repliesto that as there are writers, because commitment obviously means somethingdifferent to the writer in Paris,the writer in Entebbe a few weeks ago, the writer in South Africa.Traditionally would it mean a commitment to the socio-politicalcausesof the day. I think in South Africait would mean a commitment to the cause of liberation.But I think the writer who is really concerned about his writing is basically committed to somethingmuch larger than the ephemeral causes of the politics of his particularsituation. It may be a starting point - it very often is - but he is interested in the people behind those politics, in the real people, the human experience which expresses itself among so many other things in terms of politics. And I think above all, in all situationsbut in a way in South Africa, the writer would be committed to those two big final particular causes summarizedby Camus.He would feel an allegianceto truth and he would feel an allegianceto liberty, and in a country like South Africa, where liberty is so often conceived of as separateliberties, it would involvea perception,an explorationof the
way in which that ideal of liberty is thwarted in the society by people, by human action, not only by the particularpolitical measuresimplementedby human beings, but by those human beings who do such things,who are drivento do certainthings.I think the writer would feel an allegianceto try and explore that bit of truth accessible to him. Nobody can see or find the totality of truth, but everybody has access to a little bit via his personalexperience.And in a country which has become infamousfor its cover-ups,in a country which tries to celebratethe lie at the expense of truth, I think trying to persevereand to bring to light this one bit of truth to which you personallyhave access in the hope that this may be joined to all those other little bits of truth experiencedby your colleaguesand by other people in the same situation in this, I think, lies the experienceof being engagé,being committed. So commitment is first of all to the particularactions that are being taken on the socio-politicalfield, but it is really directed at something much larger, much beyond that, so that the essential patterns of human experience,human interaction,human relationships,are explored and portrayed. There may be a little hope that eventually, even after the specific situations change somewhat - or drastically - those patternswill still be a faithful presentationof the truth. Gorki in The Lower Depths uses one characterto talk about a mythical land of virtue. This madmanbelieves in a land of virtue which exists somewhereon this globe; he knows it is there, else there wouldn'tbe any virtue among men. And then one day he finds a scientist who knows practicallyeverything in the world, and who shows him a globe and a map, and with all his scientificinstruments demonstrates to him that no such country exists. The only thing that this is madmancan do afterwards to go and hanghimself. I think the writeris the one who doesn't hang himself, but who, for the sake of the possibilitythat there may be more virtue in the world than he knows at the moment, that there may be more liberty, more justice, more truth than is allowed in his particularsituation, is preparedto confront whateverenemies,whateverbattalions,are set up againsthim. [Applause] Chairman:Nadine, I'm not givingaway any secretsand I hope I'm not going to ask you to give away what you plan to say in the future, but I know you're going to be talkingin a couple of months' time on commitmentand relevance.Wouldyou like to expand on what Andrésaid, or tackle it from a differentpoint of view perhaps? Nadine Gordimer:Well, just to add a word from my own point of view - what André was saying made me think about a question people often ask, "Whatis a national literature?"You know it's one of those big abstractions,but I think a national literatureis just this: it's these little bits of truth that come togetherperhaps crisisin the over generations,that come together in a single generationat a particular life of a country or a nation. Writers living very differently, writingvery differently, are each exploringa little bit of truth. If this patchworkor jigsaw comes together,it makes a national literature.So, to me, the purpose of a writer - why one becomes a writer, why one writes - is an attempt to make sense of life. In your particular country, in your particulartime, you find distortions - in our country, gross distortions - that go througheverybody'slife, that twist everybody'sindividuallives, and I
think much of the impulse to write is to make sense of life in the light of these distorthe tions. This is the way that one approaches somethingapproximating truth. Chairman:You talk of a national literature.Are there different South African literatures, or is there a South African national literature?We've got literaturein Englishby whites, literaturein Afrikaansby whites, literaturein both those languages by black people, literaturein Africanlanguages.Zeke, do you think we can talk of a national literatureof South Africa?Are there a number of writersattackingthe same or treatingof the same kind of problembut from differentpoints of view? Es'kia Mphahlele:Yes, I think this is happening.I think one can see a numberof streamsflowing into the same valley, as it were; you have a South Africanexperience out of which people are writing. We have major concerns that a number of writers or share,whetherthey write in Afrikaans English,whetherthey are black or white, but there is certainly some major concern in the totality of our writing which is South African. It is South African;it deals with South Africanman and what is going on between man and society, man and political authority. We're seeing this kind of traffic going on all the time, as a kind of cross-sectionof all our writings,black and white. Chairman:To turn for a moment to, on those terms,a very definite South African literatureproduced overseas - as we said earlier, you've returnedrecently from 20 yearsof exile. How does exile affect your writingas a South African? Es'kiaMphahlele:Again, I can only talk about my own personalexperience.When you get into a culture as an exile outside of your own, of course you have to make decisions. One of the most important decisions is whether you are going to strike roots where you are, and become committed to that culturein which you are an exile. But you have a memory out of which you write, and that goes back to where you come from. It's still very strong, and your dreamsare about South Africa, and when you sit and think, it is about South Africa. So you've been carryingthis along with you all along. You then find yourself in this dilemma:shouldyou strikeroots and be committed to this new culture and therefore write out of this present cultural experience, or do you continue writing about home? As long as you hesitate to strike roots in this new culture, you're going to find yourself havingto continue to write about home. Now I, for instance, resisted strikingroots whereverI went - Nigeria, Kenya, France, Zambia, the United States - because I always felt that one day I'd want to come back home. There are exiles who don't think of that at all; they want to be committed to the new culturethey come into. But then they're alwaysoutsiders. The problemfor me as a writerwas that as long as I refusedto strikeroots, I was going to continue to write about home, but at the same time I was away from home. And that becomes a difficult thing, because if you're writing for an international audience standardswhich you may or may not care for at all, becausethey're you're judged by not the standardsthat come out of your own culture, out of your own milieu. And a writer wants to feel, as André said earlier,that he is in touch with his culturalmilieu, that he gets feedback. Well, how do you get feedback when you're writing abroad? What kind of feedback do you have? They read you, crazy people who don't know
what you're talking about because you're talking about home; you're not writing about their own culture. To give you an example. This novel that has just been published,Chirundu:my agent has been flogging it in the United States for the last five years, and I've been getting letters from publisherswho just tell me that they do not understandit and, quite frankly, it is not anything they can sell. The latest letter I showed André [de Villiers] said the novel is too self-contained.Now what does that mean? You get all kinds of things like that, and you know that you're not getting a feedbackfrom your own cultural milieu, and that is a problem for a writer outside. Yes, whom are you writing for? Whereis your audience,if you continue to write about your own people? Whatkind of feedback do you get? Is it from a relevantculturalmilieu or not? Or is it just, you know, a disembodiedvoice floating around, across oceans and mountains and so on. I always envy people who have the courage - or foolhardiness- who simply decided to plonk themselvesin the new culture they found themselvesin and absorbedit, soaked it in, and decided to write about it. I could not do that. A number of South Africanwriterscan do that: I think Dan Jacobsonhas plantedhimself now in England,but I just couldn't. NadineGordimer:Zeke, I think from a subjectivepoint of view it is very interesting to hear how you feel about it, and obviously one must agree. But objectively I can't agree, because how is it that we can enjoy a book by YasharKemal from Turkey or from Latin America?It's a totally differentmilieu. GabrielMarquez Es'kia Mphahlele: No, I'm talking about . . . if I'm writing about, let's say, an Africansituation, to me what matters most is what the people think whose cultureis reflectedin my ...
Nadine Gordimer: Yes, I accept that. Es'kia Mphahlele: Yes.
Nadine Gordimer: . . . but I cannot understandwhy any publisheror any reader anywhereelse should object to a book because it relates to a set of circumstancesin a country that is not known to them . . . Es'kiaMphahlele:Oh yes, I see, yes, that is right. Nadine Gordimer:. . . because it is not known to them, because this would mean that literature from any part of the world would be inaccessibleto any part of the world. AndréBrink:This is just a matterof prejudicereally. I found that the United States publishersare very insular,really, in their approachto anything offshore, or even to South American writers. Only the few really greats, like Marquezand one or two others, Uosa and so on, do manage to get published in the States. Even your top Frenchauthorshave difficulty in findingpublishers. Es'kiaMphahlele: Yes, that's true, yes. Chairman: On the writer in exile question, André, you're on record in the press as saying, when you were in Paris,that you were thinking of not returningto South Africa. And I think it's true to say also that you're on record as sayingthat if the banningscontinued you would think of leaving. Are you in a position to talk
about this with us tonight? AndréBrink:That'sthe problemwith the DocumentationCentre.8They alwaysdig up these old pronouncements.When I went to Paris at the end of '67 without any sort of family or other obligationsand ties and with every reasonin the world to settle in Paris,which I still love above all other cities in the world, I reallythought that this was for keeps. But it so happenedthat 1968 was the year of the student revolts;the entire French society was turned completely upside down by those revolts. The particular sort of socio-political exploration of society and the anguishingsoulsearchingthat was going on in Frenchsociety, in the people that were very close to me in Paris at the time, forced me to do the same sort of thing in terms of my own relationshipwith South Africa.I felt that livingin Pariswould be in a sense marvellous - I had wonderful friends there, I could live perfectly happilythere - but my centre of gravity was South Africa. I had the same sort of experience that Zeke just spoke about. I felt that if I believed in any sort of relevancein the writingthat I wanted to do, I had to come back and assume the responsibilityfor whateverI wrote. It's much too easy in a sense to stay out and write from a distance of 10 000 km, and criticise blandly, and not be forced to accept the responsibility,physically and otherwise,for in every single word one writes. Therewas a feeling of being redundant the marvellous French society in which I found myself. The writer wants to be loved, or - well hated. He wants to be accepted,he wants to have a society with which he can interact. As far as that other pronouncementis concerned, no, I no longer stand by it. I don't think I would so easily considerleaving South Africa if the banningscontinue, because I now realise that there are other ways of still making oneself heard and read,and I'd ratherexplore those to the utmost. Nadine Gordimer:And isn't the key to it that you've made such a tremendous step of changingthe languageyou write in. You now write in a world language. AndréBrink:That too. NadineGordimer:Surelythat's the key. André Brink: Although at the same time I must say that it remainsvery important to me to continue writingin Afrikaansas well, and to be known in this country and in other countries as, first of all, an Afrikaanswriter. As an adventure,writing in Afrikaans must be almost unequalledin the world because it is so young, it is so malleable, one can still do almost anything with it. You can do a hell of a lot with English, but English has got this enormousheritagewithin it, and it's very difficult, at times it's even dangerous,to try and deviate a little bit to this side or to the other. In Afrikaansanythingis still possible because it is still young. So the exhilarationof this adventureof writingin so young a languageis importantto me as a writer. In recent years the Afrikaans languagehas become more and more identifiedwith a specific political system, but the languageis so much greaterthan that political system; it can take so much more. If a numberof Afrikaans writersgo on writingmore or less dissenting stuff in Afrikaans then I think it becomes a sort of safeguardfor the language;then the languageneedn't disappearwith the regime - because all regimes eventually,thank God. [Laughter] disappear
Chairman: Nadine,have you ever consideredexile? NadineGordimer:Oh, from time to time, but neverseriously. Chairman: The three of you are established South African writers with internationalreputations.What new directions do you see in South Africanwriting now - here? Nadine Gordimer:Well, I think the most strikingdevelopmenthas been the change in Afrikaansliteraturewithin the last, I suppose it's almost a decade now. Afrikaans writers have begun to face - to use a polite euphemism - the subject matter here in a way they didn't before. Do you agree,André? AndréBrink:To a largeextent, yes, yes. Chairman: Zeke, what do you think of the group for which Staffrider is a mouthpiece? Es'kia Mphahlele:They're going to go through fire and brimstonefor quite some time, the way I see it. The political authoritiesare never going to relent. It's going to be watched for a long time. But people write out of an inner compulsionand they will do so and respond to their condition. The only thing that worriesme is this: that it may be trappedinside its situation, inside its condition. And so that it may transcend these conditions, as André and Nadine have indicated before, we need to go beyond the image of the instant, with resonancesgoing forward,backwardand forward.Our young writersneed a myth; they haven'tgot it yet. I still think, Nadine,that it matters a lot that they've started something without any knowledge of what's gone before. Whathas gone before - and I'm talking now of what has appearedin magazinesand journals- all is lost to them. NadineGordimer:Yes, that's true. Es'kia Mphahlele:Isn't that so? It's so completely lost to them. They are starting somethingquite new, and at a time when the mood has also changed.Maybethey will one day create a myth. They do need it for this kind of resonanceI'm thinkingof, in their creativework. As I say, we're going to go through fire and brimstone for quite some time, and yet iïStaffrider continuespublishing - who knows?- there may be a catchment somewhereahead of us in time, where it'll spill into and create something biggerthan they may even imaginethemselves. They are doing something different with the English language. There is some African song at the back of their minds distilling itself into what they are writing. When a person writes a conversation piece, you hear that African music coming through. It's a residue of their memory. It isn't anything they've heard from their mother's lap; it's something that is accumulatedover the many generations,and it comes through, so that when a person writes in English something happens in his mother tongue, in his own mind, and when it gets into print, it sends out something quite different from EnglishEnglish.We'reseeing this happeningall the time, which is incidentallypart of a whole pattern of Africanliteraturethroughoutthe continent. Nadine Gordimer:Yes, I would certainly agree. I happen to believe in a collective consciousnessfor artists,writersor painters.We drawfrom other people without them knowing it, in this subconscious way. But on the one hand you've got the
phenomenonof drawingon the collective consciousnessin very troubledtimes, which comes out in a magazinelike Staffrider, and on the other hand, you have got the Englishlanguagebeing bent to express new situations, and to me that's what'simportant about it. But I think there's something else we haven't mentioned. Staffrider hasn't sprung from nothing. Staffrider is a kind of logical consequence,not only of the times and of people's will to express themselves, but also of the new spirit of adventureand courage among people interested in writinggenerally.The new small publishing houses, starting off with Renoster Press, who did Oswald Mtshali'sfirst book of poems, and then Donker, Bateleur,and now Ravan,are constantly bringing out new works by new writers,and taking a chance on them. It takes guts to do this, because there's the financialloss for a strugglinglittle publishinghouse if something's banned, and there are all sorts of incalculableconsequences for the writer himself. As I said before, this is where black writersdiffer from white. Whereas with a white writer the book may be banned and that's an end of it, if it's a young black writer whose book is banned, especially if it's somebody who hasn't publishedbefore, then his life at once comes under scrutiny by the Special Branch.I'm not fabricating this; it is happeningall the time. But that there are, at least, publishers preparedto publish their work is givingpeople a wonderful kind of encouragement.In the last five years, this is the most importantthing that's happenedin South Africanwriting. Es'kia Mphahlele:That's very true. This is why I say I take off my hat to people like Mike Kirkwood [directorof RavanPressand editor of Staffrider] who confront this literaturewith a sense of adventure,looking for new things, and not walkingthe beaten track,the gold path of literaryusageone becomes so accustomedto. André Brink: I think all one could really say about the future with some certainty is that writing will survivein South Africa, whereasone can't be all that sure about the censorshipsystem which is tryingto kill it. [Laughter] Chairman:Well, on that hopeful note, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming, thank you for listening, and to Zeke, Nadine, André a special thank you for beinghere.
NOTES 1. After a lengthy embargo by the Department of Customs and Excise, the Publications Committee approved the book. The Directorate appealed against this decision but, on 7th May, the decision was upheld. This meant that for a period of six months the embargo had remained effective, if not legally so, for booksellers did not risk ordering the book until the Directorate's appeal had been quashed. 2. Gordimer's latest book, Burger's Daughter, was the third to be banned. The ban was lifted three months later, on 12 October 1979. 3. Before Mphahlele's personal banning order was lifted in 1978, none of his writing was legally available to South African readers. However, the bannings of these individual works have not been lifted. 4. Judge Lammie Snyman was the Director of the Publications Appeal Board until his early retirement was recently suddenly announced. He has been replaced by an Acting Director.
WRITERS TALKING 23
5. Nadine Gordimer adds: "By the urne Burger's Daughter was banned, I had decided on principle to have nothing to do with the processes of the censorship law, since I am totally opposed to censorship. The Director of the Publications Control Board instituted an appeal; the ban was lifted. Non-cooperation is my attitude." 6. This paper, "A Writer's Freedom", was delivered at the Conference on "Writingsfrom Africa: Concern and Evocation" held by the South African Indian Teachers' Association in Durban, September 1975 ; and published in English in Africa, II, 2 (1975), 45-49. 7. A paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Association of University English Teachers of Southern Africa (AUETSA) in July, and to be published in the next issue of English in Africa. 8. The National English Literary Museum and Documentation Centre, closely associated with the Institute for the Study of English in Africa.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.