Categories
Culture

Language is a meeting place, a point of confrontation, between the individual and the social. André Brink

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” Milan Kundera as quoted by André Brink in Writing In A State Of Siege .

 

There is something indescribably attractive about those individuals who take great delight in the pleasures of language. For them language is palpably alive, laden with a beauty so raw that each word is charged with this essence. Such was Andre Brink’s relationship with language, whether it was the English in which he wrote so many of his novels, or the Afrikaans he was born to, or the French he acquired during his time in Paris.

The author, Andre Brink

Brink reminds us in an essay titled, Censorship And Literature that “Language is a meeting place, a point of confrontation, between the individual and the social”. This is a point worth reinforcing at a time when language is often presented as something neutral, even innocent.

 

Brink was a towering figure, lean and tall, with chiseled features, and a deliberate manner that did not fully prepare you for his quick wit. His deeply furrowed face hinted at his intellectual occupation. But when he broke into a smile, you knew that here was a man who has tasted fully life’s sweetness. When he walked into a room you knew immediately that here was a man of substance. His range of references was vast and you could tell that he had spent as much time living life fully as had reading from texts on philosophy, poetry, history and of course literature.

 

But how do you make sense of someone who was at once a traveler, a teacher, a man of letters, poet, essayist and perhaps, most importantly, a dissident. The truth is you can’t. Such a life is impossible to sum up, because it defies the limiting categories that we use to place individuals in certain boxes. For me Brink was the quintessential homme des lettres and his life was a manifestation of how those who succumb to the lure of letters live their lives.

 

As a dissident Brink had his books banned. His novel, A Dry White Season, was banned because it threatened the safety of the state, according to the censors. In one of his last works of fiction, the novel Philida, Brink turned to South Africa’s complex and uncomfortable past and he rummages through the dustbin of the history to tell the story of the slave Philida.

 

One of the books that comes closest to giving us some sense of the complexity of Brink’s life is his Writing In A State Of Siege. This is one of the finest introductions to Brink’s own sense of how history has shaped Afrikaner discourse. But these essays also establish his own concern with history and its effect on identity.

 

If Andre was once lithe, athletic even, in later years he had been slowed down by the ravages of age, and where his walk was once a swift and graceful stroll, it had now become slow, deliberate, even labored. But his mind remained as keen as ever, and the spark in his eyes remained a measure of his vitality.

 

He has left us a rich oeuvre and those who wish to acquaint themselves with his considerable body of work can choose from works such as Before I Forget, A Fork In The Road, An Instant In The Wind, The Wall Of The Plague, The Other Side Of Silence, A Dry White Season and his other writings. When you read his memoir, A Fork In The Road, it is clear that for Brink, the confluence between distance and historic events in Paris led to his own social awakening. After this he had no doubt that Apartheid was a very dark evil, and one that he would write against in both his fiction and essays.

 

Brink’s books, such as An Instant in the WindA Dry White SeasonRumours of Rain and The Other side of Silence, established his ability to tackle head-on Africa’s “big” subjects in fiction, colonialism, Apartheid, and a rapidly changing world. It is worth comparing his fiction with his more personal views as reflected in his memoir, A Fork in the Road.

Throughout his life and career, language and culture were very important concerns for Brink. For a writer who did not stay with one language, the idea of “translation as rewriting” loomed large in his own work. Once he was banned by the Apartheid bosses, Brink was forced to adopt English as a co-first language. But even though he drew from a very wide circle of influence, it was quite clear that Brink regarded himself first and foremost as a South African writer – one who had experienced both the exilharating discovery of new worlds and the claustrophobic boxing-in of Apartheid, which sought, at its most basic level, to deny experiences other than those dictated by its segregated, racialised norm.

Andre Brink, a portrait

 

Brink received France’s highest honour when he was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government; and in 1992 he was awarded the Monismanien Human Rights Award from Sweden’s University of Uppsala, for making known the injustice of apartheid to the wider world.

 

It was always such a pleasure to see Brink’s name in a literary programme for his presence at today’s ubiquitous literary events was a guarantee of a certain old fashioned literary seriousness that is fast disappearing under the pressure of literary celebrity. Brink’s works will serve as a reminder of how the past invariably imposes itself on the present. But they will also sharpen our sense of the pleasures of language that he felt so acutely.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Culture

Some thoughts on why I started The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast

By Victor Dlamini

It is the age we live in that gives one that rush of blood to the head – and you suddenly feel as if you were a David of sorts, ready to slay your Goliath. I mean only in this new millennium would one be so foolhardy as to dare to dream of starting a new show on a completely new media platform. But then there is all around us a keenness to try out new ideas, and the young generation, the ‘digital natives’ have shown us just how big the ‘information age’ is destined to become. It is nearly a year now since I left traditional broadcasting and embarked on what may have seemed at first like a perilous plunge into the unknown, and in this piece I would like to share some of my own thoughts that led me, perhaps even compelled me to start the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast

Much is made of what is called ‘New Media’ but since we all know that nothing stays new forever, and that certainly ‘New Media’ is no longer new, this convenient term seems destined for the dustbin. Whatever the term that will come to define this shift from the ‘traditional’ media such as Radio, Television and Print to a web based digital platform, it seems clear that it presents new and exciting possibilities to democratize mass communication without recourse to expensive financing of ‘broadcasting’ infrastructure.

The rise of ‘citizen journalism’ has been one of the most fascinating effects of new technology on our society, and I believe that in a few years some of the old-school broadcasters will be totally out of touch, chasing a dwindling and ageing audience. Once I’d grasped this idea that one no longer needed to be tethered to the inflexible edifice of the corporate media to reach readers and listeners, I knew that I had to break free, become independent and start the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast.

Citizen journalism is a symptom: a deeper social reality is reflected by the phenomenal rise of Podcasting and Blogging, probably two of the most important developments in our recent history as social beings. Podcasting and Blogging bring with them a promise of democratizing speech in an age when ‘big media’ wields more power than most countries. All around us we can see that the interests of the powerful, be they vested in big corporations, big countries, big individuals, or big institutions, are stifling the voice of the independently minded.

One of the things that I found quite frustrating about South Africa’s public broadcaster was that there one had to try and deliver a high-quality programme whilst working with so many ill prepared, inexperienced individuals that had been given jobs that are well beyond their means. It is not just a question of training, but also of simple common sense, and if you have members of the team who think it is their birth-right to pitch up at the last minute, without any preparation, then the institution is doomed to deliver content of substandard quality. If there ever was a recipe for failure this is it, and I weep for this potentially World Class institution. It is of course heartening to see that many of the so-called big players have since followed my lead, right down to emulating or copying my technical solution to deliver high-quality Podcasts. That is one of the joys of possessing a pioneering spirit, but the benefit is for the larger community that loves the arts and now has more choice.

The poet, publisher and activist, James Matthews

It is one of the great ironies of our age that at a time when newspapers and magazines are getting bigger by the day there is actually less to read. Radio and television are much the same – with the possible exception of a few hours here and there on talk radio. This is because publishers and media owners, with the tacit agreement of editors, reserve more and more space to satisfy the demands of commerce. Little wonder that in so many parts of South Africa the consumer culture has become the primary impulse of most workers, who spend what little time they ‘have to themselves’ rushing to the nearest shopping mall.

One of the truly outstanding features of Podcasting is that it offers ‘content on demand’. Those who wish to tune in can do so at any time and no longer do they have to sit around waiting for their favourite programme to go on air. After my first ten shows I was struck by how quickly the Podcast had established a truly international audience. Clearly, the availability of the content 24/7 is one of the features that suits such an audience: time differences and geographical or even political barriers that still plague traditional media do not affect it in the same way.

Independence is one of the most cherished words in any language, and there was once a time when freedom and independence were used almost interchangeably. But nowadays the terms seem on the verge of divorce, and there has been a sense of the retreat of the latter – especially when it comes to individual freedom in public spaces. Since it was founded, The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast has given writers, social critics, cultural activists and other creative voices a unique platform to express their ideas freely on this independent show.

I have always been attracted by the purity of ideas, not their popularity: that is why I love the deep conversations that I have with those who come on to the show. It is a truly great delight to listen to someone who has the gift of language and imagination express his or her ideas without any limitation. So far, since starting the podcast, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down to have at least two such conversations each week with remarkable individuals.

The writer and language activist Ngugi wa Thiong’o

I suppose, finally, that on a personal level I have also always loved the notion of turning what at first seems like an impossibly small or remote idea into something substantial. I think that Podcasting is still in its infancy today, but the success of the iPod shows that its growth as a legitimate medium is assured. No longer do individuals care to have someone else choose for them the things they listen to and watch. Part of what is truly exciting about working in this field, using these tools is that power and choice are returning to listener. To me Podcasting is a fascinating confluence of content, technology and freedom – the freedom to create choice on an untold scale for audiences across the globe, and the corresponding freedom to decide when you want to tune in.

I have no doubt that through my conversations with so many outstanding writers, thinkers and other creative individuals on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast, I have an opportunity to add to our ability to imagine beyond the confines of our circumstances. In these conversations those I speak to have never ceased to surprise me by how much they are prepared to open up to me, and I think that all of us can glean something from their answers. In the final analysis I do believe that the import of all this is that through the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast we may once again realize that an untethered, unfettered imagination, as found in our various literatures, fictions and other narratives, may provide us the greatest freedom of all.

It has been a pleasure to post my conversations with artists such as Andre Brink, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Dennis Brutus, Kgebetli Moele, Emmanuel Dongala, Gabeba Baderoon,Shailja Patel, Maestro, Ben Zander  Breyten Breytenbach, Lewis Nkosi, Vusi Mchunu,Eben Venter, Sandile Ngidi, Mbulelo Mzamane, Nawal El Saadawi, Anne Landsman, Njabulo Ndebele, Gcina Mhlophe, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Napo Masheane, Sello Maake Ka Ncube, Ben Williams, Antjie Krog, Kevin Bloom, Rosamund Zander, Zapiro, Sindiwe Magona, Ravi Naidoo and many others

 

A view of city Johannesburg, one of the world’s greatest cities