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MER1CA

MER1CA

On first impressions, snap judgements and Achille Mbembe's sense of style.

Openings column (shorter version): Financial Times14 August 2015.

‘America is the most grandiose experiment that the world has yet seen,’ wrote Sigmund Freud in 1909, ‘but, I am afraid, it will not be a success’. 106 years later I spotted the line on a poster while attending a conference at New York University – my first visit to the States. It cheered me up during a misanthropic, jet-lagged daze and set off a complex series of recognitions. For one thing, I had been thinking along the same lines myself, and marshalling every scrap of evidence to clinch the case: the bad coffee at four dollars a pop; the garbage everywhere; the fact that I got asked to move out the way at least five times a day.

But at another level, what I responded to was the tone: the sweeping confidence of the declaration, with that magisterial throwaway clause – ‘I am afraid’. How this Mittel-European sentence stoops down from on high, taking its time (four commas), to deliver a vast, over-reaching social diagnosis on an entire continent. This, I realized, was a voice that I recognize from people coming to my country and making huge pronouncements on South Africa – or just ‘Africa’ – when they have barely stepped off the plane. A short taxi ride from Cape Town International to the guesthouse and already they are experts.

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Prince Pro

Prince Pro

About my father's record collection and my mother's tennis racket.

Object Relations: Essays and Images.  Edited and photographed by Stephen Inggs | Michaelis School of Fine Art, 2014. Reprinted in Monday Monthly | 1 December 2014.

...It is a Prince Pro, with a dark frame and a brown grip. Once, in the 1970s perhaps, it was cutting-edge, the era when my mother was wielding it from the baselines of the Rec Club (she was never much of a net player), dispatching her trademark cross-court slices. The grip seems to be the original, and is worn smooth like old wood by the serves and volleys, the ceaseless changing between forehand and backhand, rough or smooth, p or d.

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