borrowing history

The Lives of Objects

10-throne-of-weapons_544Oxford Centre for Life Writing | 20 - 22 September 2013 | Archive and Public Culture gazette. ...Stories, like objects, have contours and patterns. And certain objects might allow us to tell stories that are shaped more irregularly and are more interestingly patterned than the vast, over-arching narratives we are often saddled with. As the objects circulated through the auditorium, he spoke evocatively of the ‘synapse’ of cultural energy that links an object with the place from which it has come...

See also: The Lives of Objects in the History of Cape TownMolo (Dec 2013).

“Jews are to history,” Philip Roth once wrote, “what Eskimos are to snow.” I have often thought that the remark could just as well apply to South Africans...

Imagining the Cape Colony

ZAH01_100000081_XReview of David Johnson, Imagining the Cape Colony: History, Literature and the South African Nation (UCT Press, Cape Town, 2012). Historia 58 | May 2013.

 

Imagining the Cape Colony is a slim but dense work which examines how this part of the world has been written up and analysed as a political community by eighteenth-century travellers, thinkers and theorists from Europe; but also by settler rebels, emancipationists and early African nationalists who drew on Enlightenment precepts of equality and governance in various ways, and for various reasons. Surrounding and giving texture to this enquiry is attention to a wide range of historical and literary works, allowing us to see how certain elements of the past come into cultural visibility at certain moments, and why. For “poetical genius”, to quote the young radical Robert Southey who appears in these pages, “is certainly a barometer that rises or falls according to the state of the political atmosphere” (p 21)...   [Read as PDF, pages 246-50]

Unpacking whose library? Borrowing history in the postcolony

Paper presented at Silence in the Post-World: Literature, Culture and Reimagining of Geography - A One-Day Symposium| Freie Universität Berlin | Friday 15 June 2012. Abstract.

I am unpacking my library.  Yes, I am. Walter Benjamin.

…Today a memorial by Micha Ullman consisting of a glass plate set into the cobbles, giving a view of empty bookcases, commemorates the book burning. Furthermore, a line of Heinrich Heine is engraved, stating ‘Das war ein vorspiel nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen’ (‘Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people’). Students at Humboldt University hold a book sale in the square every year to mark the anniversary…

 Walter Benjamin's library card.

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The Chimurenga Library: An Introspective of Chimurenga Magazine  | Cape Town Central Library 21 May- 21 June 2009. http://www.chimurengalibrary.co.za/about.php

In Africa, when an old person dies, it is a library that burns.

Amadou Hampate Ba, UNESCO General Assembly, 1962.

[T]he boss of Credit Gone West doesn’t like ready-made phrases like ‘in Africa, when an old person dies, a library burns’, every time he hears that worn-out cliché he gets mad, he’ll say ‘depends which old person, don’t talk crap, I only trust what’s written down’…

Alain Mabanckou, Broken Glass, Serpent’s Tail, 2009.

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...Which is what I love - the critical intelligence in the imaginative position... (i) Reality Hunger (ii) A Piece of Monologue.

How to change your view of Africa | Chimurenga in the FT

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times | 27 January 2012. I once had coffee in Cape Town with a Cameroonian named Ntone Edjabe. He ran an English-language journal called Chimurenga, but what I remembered from our chat were his vignettes of Lagos (where he’d studied) and Johannesburg (where he went next). In Lagos, he said, you’d be driving down the highway and suddenly see a guy selling cars on the highway. Lagos was crazy, and yet it felt entirely safe. Whereas Johannesburg seemed sane, but never felt safe.

I sent Edjabe some articles, but otherwise forgot about Chimurenga until a recent issue arrived in the mail. (Declaration of interest: I’m proud to say I have an article in it.) I read it and was staggered. I’d always thought the zenith of journalism was The New Yorker, but in parts, Chimurenga is better.

It’s also more surprising: I love well-off media types from New York or London, but by now we do tend to know how they think. By contrast, reading Chimurenga you keep thinking, “Who knew?” Who knew that (as one article recounts) Bloemfontein has a literary scene of authors and critics writing for no money, guided by a Nigerian immigrant, and headquartered in an Afrikaans literature museum? Chimurenga changes your view of Africa, and of journalism... [Continue reading]