Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pikoli for President

Mbeki, Selebi, Pikoli. It sounds like the start of a limerick, but, on examination, plays out more like a tragedy. The lost innocence of the Rainbow nation.

According to the Mail & Guardian Mr Mbeki suspended Mr Pikoli, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, for failing to consult with him before obtaining a warrant to arrest Jackie Selebi, the National Commissioner of Police. Now Mr Selebi is, by his own admission, a friend of Glen Agliotti. Who was a business associate of Brett Kebble, who died in a shooting down the road in Melrose. Mr Agliotti was then arrested for Kebble’s murder. And turned state witness, thus starting an NPA investigation into “drug dealing, racketeering, money laundering corruption and murder.” In which Mr Selebi was implicated. Thus the warrant for his arrest. Mr Pikoli, “took a principled position. He felt that Selebi was unfit for office.”

So, if Mr Pikoki obtained a warrant for Mr Selebi, why not… give Mr Pikoli a medal? Because, suggests a Mail and Gaurdian source, Mr Mbeki needs Mr Selebi in his pocket ahead of the ANC Conference in Polokwane. He needs him in order to prosecute his agenda in the ANC leadership war. In which he is threatened by Jacob Zuma, a man so implicated in the legally proven guilt of Shabir Shaik, that he really, really should have been kicked out of the ANC long ago.

I backed the ANC before 1994, and have voted for it ever since. I’m stopping now. Tony Leon is gone, replaced by Helen Zille, who helped bust the Biko doctors, and the Democratic Alliance will get my vote. The ANC, under Mr Mbeki, is busy laying waste a reputation built over decades. They’ll have to appoint a man of principle, like Mr Pikoli, before they see my mark on a ballot paper again.

Friday, September 28, 2007

LibraryThing - Power to the Reader

The business of books is in the hands of marketers, grey men, with grey shoes who deposit grey stools into grey bowls every morning at seven o’clock when their wives tell them to. Will digital technology and self publishing change that in next ten years, but putting the power back into the hands of readers?

LibraryThing is a step in the right direction. Members create libraries of the books that matter to them. This in turn leads readers to books that might matter to them, rather than the latest rubbish by Dan Brown.

You can have a look at the beginnings of my personal canon, by clicking on the catalogue URL here. And you can see the authors here. A warning though: they are on the whole, barring Alexandra Fuller, better to read than to look at.

I discovered LibraryThing via Gerrie Hugo. Thank you, Gerrie.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Botha, King of the Congo.

Just after Louis the 16th’s head had been severed by the guillotine, a citizen leapt on the platform, grabbed a handful of royal gore, and flung it over the crowd.
“We were threatened that the blood of Louis would be on our heads,” he said. “And now it is.”

This is from Fatal Purity, a biography of Robespierre by Ruth Scurr. It’s not an easy read, but what a plot! What a story! Moving from great moral adventure, with concerned citizens taking control over their country’s destiny in the face of Royal idiocy, to black Orwellian farce when the Committee of Public Safety becomes the greatest danger to those very citizen’s life and limb.

My daughter is taught in 1st year politics that what happened in South Africa in 94 was not a revolution. But there are a few disturbing similarities. Like the kind of language used in the aftermath. “Enemy of the revolution.” “Traditional enemies of the struggle.” And the fact that the revolutionaries use these words about previous comrades. And the continual accusations of conspiracy and corruption. And the use of state organs to prosecute vendettas.

A crucial difference is that France was invaded by Marie Antoinette’s family in Austria. The fact that hordes of armed Austrians, including Goethe, oddly enough, were approaching Paris tended to ratchet up the tension. Thank God FW de Klerk didn’t have a cousin, Botha the 7th, King of the Congo.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

One Night at Windsor Castle

At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber.

'Now that I have you to myself,' said the Queen, smiling to left and right as they glided through the glittering throng, 'I've been longing to ask you about the writer Jean Genet.'
'Ah,' said the president. 'Oui.'

This is Alan Bennet, imagining a literate Queen Elizabeth. (See: Bennet's conclusion is that reading would humanize the good woman. If she wasn't too busy ruling.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Not for the faint hearted

I have just had, courtesy of a Litopian friend, Larry Harkrider, my biggest musical surprise since The Roches and Steve Earle and Radio Kalahari Orkes.

It is Liz Phair of Girly Sound, with the song...


It is not for the faint hearted.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Murder of Steve Biko

Steve Biko died in September 1977 after being assaulted by Police in Port Elizabeth. At the time I was living not far away with a girl friend in Grahamstown. I had never heard of Bantu Stephen Biko.

Is this how it happened?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Deep Afrikaans Words Fail to Impress Elephant

"We shouted 'deep' Afrikaans words at her. Words I can't repeat, but we encouraged her to go away."

Despite (because of?) the linguistic profundities, the elephants were still angry.

"We were just getting ready to move off again when Sean screamed: There's an elephant cow behind you!"

News 24

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

William Gibson Don’t Plan (II)

Literary agent, Peter Cox, commenting on this site’s feed on Litopia, (for which I am extremely grateful) had this to say about the William Gibson post below:

The trouble is, unplanned writing is usually a mess. Usually, but not always.

As my clients know, I can be a royal pain about planning. Perhaps sometimes I even take my obsession with planning too far. But the truth is, planning makes the tough work of writing – and yes, selling – a book far easier. It ensures that the writer’s effort is expended in the most effective way possible.

I can accept though, that there are writers who have such a strong instinct for plot that they either consciously or unconsciously plan as they go. Maybe that’s a state all writers naturally aspire to

I’m not against planning myself. In something that relies on plot, it is essential. (And Gibson is the exception which proves the rule.) What worries me is that, in these discussions, the element of discovery is left out. Which is what Gibson is talking about when he says: “The book is what happens when your fingers are hitting the keyboard”

Rian Malan’s, My Traitor’s Heart is an interesting example. The book was sold to a publisher off a proposal. It was to be a history of the Malan family from its Huguenot beginnings to the present, exploring the fact that many branches of the family were black. The deal had a television series attached. It was really going to set the author up. The advance was $80 000. Malan was planning to do a quick hit. He’d write the book and retire to a fine apartment in New York.

But then he returned to South Africa and, perhaps, his senses. He abandoned the book deal, losing the balance of his advance and the television series. And he wrote the book South Africa, and his heart, told him to write.

Plots, and synopses, are finally, I suspect, mathematical. If allowed to dictate, they close things down. But there is an element of discovery in the act writing that defies analysis. When it happens, writers should welcome it.

Surely the crucial quality, Peter, is not “a strong instinct for plot”, but a strong instinct for something much grander? Story, maybe? Some resonant, artful humanity which lifts books above plots, out of the bestseller slush, and, without making them “arty” or “literary”, places them in the canon? Places them among the books we hand on to our children?

Note - Peter’s agency Red Hammer Management recently secured a luscious deal for children’s author, MG Harris. May her books be among those that live.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Justice Malala for President

"Here is a truth: we are beautiful. We are a nation born of the ideals of Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli, South Africa’s first Nobel laureate...

What happened to us? How can we have two such unedifying characters — a potential power-grabber and an ignorant chauvinist — as the only real contenders to lead our country?"

Justice Malala

Sunday, September 9, 2007

William Gibson Don’t Plan.

Believers in planning your book before writing it throng the internet writer’s sites of the cyberworld. So perhaps it’s evil of me to collect evidence of successful writers who don’t.

“…no book gets written by the guy who walks around thinking about writing books. The conscious ideas I had for the book were not very good ideas. They never are. The book is what happens when your fingers are hitting the keyboard.”

After the success of Neromancer, William Gibson was surprised to find himself a cult hero.
I didn't think I was Dylan going electric. I thought I was Willie Nelson doing something slightly shocking.”

And he is happy enough to live with the lack of critical respect that is the inheritance of Science Fiction writers.
'The best thing about science fiction was always its lack of legitimacy. It was like, "Fuck it, I've run away and joined the circus."

What is the modern fantasy canon? I would suggest Tolkein, Ursula le Guin, William Gibson

You can read Tim Adams’ excellent Guardian profile here.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

R390 – Steynsburg to Gariep Dam

Electric crucifications mark the horizon.
A windmill listens.
Silent fences lope the hills,
Racing the talking wires.

A Gate.
T.H. White.

A bush.
Not burning.

A casual corpse.
Dark stain on tar.

The dam, a sheet of gleaming paint, burnt umber, reaching into blue hills.

A bird looms from the verge, lifting in its claws a perfect circle.
I am astonished.
A bicycle tire?

The eagle lands.
On a fence pole.
Its burden writhes, forked tongue searching freedom.
Eve’s friend, damned by a book, coiled in heraldic claws.
The raptor, wings spread, head cocked, considers lunch.
It is etched there, full Spielberg frame, filling the sky.
And then I’m gone.

The chariot, 2.4 TDI, powered by Ahura Mazda, created in the month of Nissan, crosses the dam wall.
I survey The Two Lands:
This riven, hieratic, loving landscape,
And the inscape.

Ambassador to Kush and Great Zimbabwe, emissary of Ra, Consul of Nubia, Ally of Ur and Babylon, friend, cousin, brother, uncle, husband, bewildered father,
Bearing gifts,
Reading the signs carefully,
I glide onto the N1 and race the charging neurons home.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Exposure for "And the Dead"

I have just learnt that African Writing want to use the opening of And the Dead Watch Over Us as, “one of the arresting works from/on South Africa we are featuring to generate interest for next month's AW South African special”.

I think it’s time to say thank you once more to Nick Poole of Litopia, who has truly mentored the tome and who suggested the prologue that appears to be making it more accessible to reviewers on YouWriteOn.

I’m 60 000 words in now, and four free weeks would probably be enough to find the ending and do a thorough rewrite…

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bring Me My Condom

ANC Youth League spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, quoted in IOL on Jacob Zuma’s song, Bring Me my Machine Gun:

"This song was sung by our cadres during difficult times in exile… When we sing it, we do so to remember those times and to ponder the future."

If we're pondering the future, I would recommend a change of lyrics. For Mr Zuma, a man of big appetites, “Bring Me My Condom.” And for the rest of us, with special reference to the ANC Youth League, Bring Me My Trowel, My Blackboard, My Stethoscope, My Computer, my Instrument of Work.

You can find an English translation of Mr Zuma's favourite song, right at the bottom of the page, here. And one of the best things our president has said, incidentaly, was "lets get to work".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Prayer for South Africa

"I believe the state should stop taxing books and spend a lot more on libraries and related services." - Anton Harber.

Yes, they should. But does the ANC want a literate electorate? A literate electorate might just understand that the president's prose style is that of a man keener to conceal truth than reveal it.

A little prayer: May our next president be wise, human, honest and a straight talker.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Gwedging Polar Bears on Facebook.

My quote of week comes from charming internet bloggista, Peas on Toast, who appears to live up the road in Illovo. She’s talking about personal revelations on the internet.

“…why did my recent ex have to go and post pictures of himself gwedging some polar bear” on Facebook?

This is great dialogue. I hope Peas won’t be too outraged if she hears it issuing from her television set at some stage. I googled “gwedging,” and was led to this. Has a new word been coined here? (And what does it meant for polar bears?) I asked my daughter and was advised that "tapping" and "waxing" were more common usages.

Peas on Toast should be syndicated by a newspaper. Johannesburg's Sex in the City. Or consider a career in television drama.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Niceness of Novelists, Motoring with The Master and Two Vaginas in Paris.

A thread on Litopia recently discussed the necessary qualities of novelists. Could niceness be one? I’ve been reading Something to Declare by Julian Barnes. (Who was it who wrote Nothing to Declare?) Barnes writes: “Could it be a rough truth that poets are egotists who write mainly about themselves, whereas novelists diffuse their personalities and are therefore more familiar with the action of sympathy”.

Barnes’ subsequent description of Simeon lifting the chamber maid’s skirt as she polishes the table and rogering her like a robber baron casts doubt on his theory. Or might for some.

Other snippets from Mr Barnes:

The great novelists are often poor. Henry James (“the motor is a magical marvel”) went motoring with Edith Wharton. Wharton was well off. Her motor had all mod cons, including windscreen. She told James she bought it with the proceeds of her last novel.
“With the proceeds of my last novel,” said James, “I purchased a small hand barrow on which my guests luggage is wheeled from the station to the house. With the proceeds of my next, I shall have it painted.”

And… did you know that John Updike wrote a poem called Two Cunts in Paris? It’s about Courbet’s painting, The Origin of the World, “a splayed female nude, painted for the Turkish diplomat, Khalil Bey.”

Beneath blanched thighs
Of fat and bridal docility

A curved and rosy closure says, “Ici!”

I presume Updike himself must be the other one.