Losing the Plot: Crime, Reality and Fiction in Postapartheid Writing
Rita Barnard reviews Losing the Plot on Litnet.
Umuzi, an imprint of Random House Struik, has released Leon de Kock’s novel, Bad Sex. In a commentary on SLiPnet, UCT professor of creative writing Joan Hambidge describes Bad Sex as a complex account of wounding that is spoken in a confessional male voice. Hambidge reads the novel through a psychoanalytic lens and finds that the story is a frame narration which turns the reader into an accomplice, at once analyst and analysand. Click here to read Hambidge’s review.
Click here to listen to podcasts of three different launches of Bad Sex, with Jane Taylor at Kalk Bay Books, Cape Town, Michael Titlestad & Libby Meintjes at Boekehuis in Johannesburg, and Ashraf Jamal at the Cape Town Open Book festival, all September in 2011.
Caryn Jeftha reports on an interview with Leon de Kock on Bad Sex at the Woordfees festival, Stellenbosch, 5 March 2012. (See bottom of Jeftha’s report for a podcast of the interview.)
News and Reviews on Bad Sex
Bodyhood (Umuzi, 2010) is my third volume of poetry, and has been met with generally excellent reviews. Available from Kalahari.net.
Joan Hambidge reviews Bodyhood on SLiPnet at http://slipnet.co.za/view/reviews/om-die-liggaam-uit-te-skryf-leon-de-kock-se-bodyhood/
For more reviews, click on the cover illustration above.
Gone to the edges
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gone to the edges (2006) was my second volume of poetry. Published by independent publisher Protea Book House in Pretoria, it was well-received, and public readings of the poems from this volume remain a powerful experience for me. See Reviews below. Available from Kalahari.net.
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Bloodsong, published by Snailpress in 1997, was my first published volume of poetry. Poems from Bloodsong won the Thomas Pringle Prize in 1995. Judges Marcia Leveson and Craig Mackenzie said the following in their commendation: “There is an enormously vivid and atmospheric description of the Highveld, and an awareness of political tensions which the father will be called on to mediate for his son … The poems are made extraordinary by the power of controlled emotion – of love, fear, and empathy.”
Zimbabwean poet and novelist John Eppel wrote the following about Bloodsong, upon request, for the back cover of the volume: “Leon de Kock’s grain of sand is family life, and in it we see, expanding out of Gauteng, and then greater South Africa, a world in which the pains of existence are celebrated with deep feeling and high intelligence … It is most welcome to come across poetry that breathes and bleeds in response to the continuing struggle to understand this violent and beautiful country. Leon de Kock’s poems are rooted in the land which malnourished him.”
The volume is now out of print, although Gus Ferguson may still have some copies left in his personal stock of old Snailpress titles.
South Africa in the Global Imaginary
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South Africa in the Global Imaginary (UNISA Press, Pretoria, Koninklike Brill NV, Leiden, 2004) is the book version of a special issue devoted to South Africa of the international literary and theory journal Poetics Today. The special issue, which I edited, was co-edited by Louise Bethlehem and Sonja Laden, then both attached to the University of Tel Aviv, and appeared as Volume 22 No 2, Summer 2001, running to almost 300 pages.
In 2002 the Modern Languages Association (MLA) awarded this special issue of Poetics Today, under the title “South Africa in the Global Imaginary”, the coveted prize Best Special Issue of 2001. The award was adjudged by the Council of Editors of learned Journals, a body affiliated with the MLA. The judges expressed themselves as follows in the award citation:
“What finally characterises the best … is a publishing design that … brings together a community of scholars … [and that] realises the potential of a publishing project, as opposed to good topics which did not mature significantly beyond a proceedings collection … Instead of the usual tactic of canonising a national or regional literature, or taking the measure of an existing tradition, this collection sets up a dialectic between South Africa’s impossibly heterogeneous literary tradition, and its position as a literary/cultural symbol in Europe and the First World … Instead of making the job even more impossible, this somehow clarifies the peculiar multidirectional traffic that makes the question of South African culture a matter of global interest.”
Verborge Skatte: Herman Charles Bosman in/oor Afrikaans (Human & Rousseau, 2001), is a book I edited as part of the Anniversary Series of Herman Charles Bosman’s literary works under the general editorship of Stephen Gray and Craig Mackenzie.
See http://www.humanrousseau.com/Books/1905 for an Afrikaans description of the book. Translated into English, this description reads as follows:
Between the years 1948 and 1950, Herman Charles Bosman published, in contemporary periodicals, a total of sixteen short stories in Afrikaans. These stories have not, until now, been published in book form. The appearance of Verborge Skatte is a unique event, because it raises the question whether Bosman should be counted as an Afrikaans writer, in addition to his status as a South African writer in English. Here, in any event, is the evidence: stories, poems, and commentary in and about Afrikaans. Some of these stories made their first appearance ever in Afrikaans, and some of them had, until this Anniversary Edition, never seen the light of day again since their first publication in now long-forgotten periodicals of the late 1940s. In other cases, both English and Afrikaans versions of the same stories exist, but the versions are almost never exactly the same. It seems clear that Bosman himself never simply translated from the one language to the other. Instead, he rewrote his stories in the space between their English and Afrikaans versions, with important and fascinating additions and deletions. Writer and translator Leon de Kock has now edited Bosman’s Afrikaans stories and compiled them for publication in Afrikaans. Here, then, is Bosman’s “Afrikaans period”.
The book has been cited and discussed in several academic studies, as a search on Google will show.
Civilising Barbarians (Witwatersrand University Press & Lovedale Press, 1996) was my first full-length book, an adapted version of my doctoral thesis, which I completed at the University of South Africa in 1993 under supervisors Ivan Rabinowitz and Greg Cuthbertson. Civilising Barbarians is an unusual scholarly monograph, in that it combines several disciplinary slants in a single study – history, literary studies, cultural ethnography, missiology and theory.
Civilising Barbarians is now available as an open access e-book on dLOC (the Digital Library of the Caribbean). Click here to have a look. dLOC is housed at the University of Florida in the US.
The book has been very widely cited by scholars in all of the above fields. Click below for reviews of Civilising Barbarians.
The Heart in Exile
The Heart in Exile: South African Poetry in English, 1990-1995 (Penguin, 1996) is a book that I compiled and edited with fellow-poet Ian Tromp. The book occasioned a lot of public interest, and caused no small amount of controversy, too.
The idea of The Heart in Exile was to capture poetic expressions of life and being in South Africa during the transition years of 1990-1995, when the country, as the book’s back-cover blurb states, ‘literally changed its face’ – that is, when South African subjects began to reconcile their ‘exiled’ hearts with a new, healing and changing, South Africa.
The back-cover manifesto for the book reads in part as follows: ‘The collection signals a new suppleness in South African English poetry. Although poets have continued, in these years, to register a sense of their own exile – and that of their fellow South Africans – from a kinder and more benevolent land in which to live, their passionate involvement with the country, its land and its people, has found a new sense of receptivity: a greater community of shared feeling in the wake of the country’s transition.
‘Old orthodoxies, spites and rivalries have begun to evaporate, and poets have felt freer to enter into this sense of homecoming as a re-engagement with human feeling in a broader range of styles, registers and forms. This diversity has been captured in this marvellously heterogeneous book of poems.’
It would now seem that, as editors, Tromp and I were perhaps being a touch idealistic when we said that ‘old orthodoxies, spites and rivalries’ – so characteristic of the SA literary scene – had begun to ‘evaporate’, because no sooner had the book appeared than a review by Cape Town poet and academic Stephen Watson appeared in the Mail & Guardian in which he trashed the anthology in the most extreme of manners, such that his review led to a flurry of outraged responses in the letters pages of the Mail & Guardian in subsequent weeks, as well as m ore formal critical responses (see below).
Watson’s review was paralleled by a highly affirmative review of the anthology by influential Johannesburg academic and literary critic Craig Mackenzie in the Sunday Independent (also reproduced below). Make up your own mind. If nothing else, the reviewing controversy raised important questions about the culture of book reviewing and the ethics of public commentary in South African literary-cultural life, such that academic Michael Titlestad took the matter up in an article in the academic journal scrutiny2.
Titlestad’s article, ‘Aesthetes and Democrats: Reading the Critical Reception of The Heart in Exile and Sue Clark’s The False Bay Cycle’ (scrutiny2 Vol 3 No 1: 28-37), sums up the varying strands in this controversy quite succinctly.
Click on the link below to read a web version of Titlestad’s article:
You will also find further links, below, to the original texts of both Watson and Mackenzie’s reviews, plus the texts of readers’ letters to the Mail & Guardian in response to Watson’s ‘trashing’ review.
Letter to South Africa: Poets Calling the State to Order
Letter to South Africa: Poets calling the State to Order (Umuzi, 2010) is a book that arose from a Versindaba event convened by author Marlene van Niekerk in Stellenbosch in 2010. Over 20 poets were asked to write a ‘South African’ version of Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, ‘America’. My contribution to the book appears below, followed by a review of the book which appeared in Die Burger, by Rustum Kozain.