Future nostalgia

The English Department at Rhodes University recently ran a symposium on nostalgia (“Nostalgia and disillusionment in the Southern African literary imaginary”) and having had a recent visit from Jacob Dlamini (author of the still-controversial Native Nostalgia), I decided to attend. Probably the most interesting insight of the day was shared by a few of the presenters and came from a very interesting Russian academic (who died this year) called Svetlana Boym which deals with how nostalgia affects the future.


Svetlana Boym

In fact Boym, an academic and artist (essays, plays, photography) fled the USSR for the US in 1981 and made the dealing with the past via nostalgia central to all her work and ideas. This very startling idea (which is the title of her book on the issue, The Future of Nostalgia) is encapsulated in a paper called “Nostalgia and its Discontents“.  Boym says: “Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.” She goes on to say that nostalgia is most often connected to loss of home or place but actually it is a longing for a different time — “better time, or slower time — time out of time not encumbered by appointment books”.

But then comes the very interesting thought: nostalgia is not always retrospective, “it can be prospective as well” — “the fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, have a direct impact on the realities of the future”. Continue reading

And another dog

The DogI’m not enamoured of short stories, they often feel like a cop out: “I couldn’t manage to write a whole novel, so here I wrote 10 000 words instead”. But in the hands of a really good tight writer, wow! So I gotta rave about The Dog by Jack Livings and confess that the only reason I picked it up was because of the dog on the cover. But once you get reading you realise a smart new short story writer has come onto the scene. The Dog has been awarded the 2015 PEN/Robert W Bingham Prize for debut fiction and named Best Book of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement.

Although Livings lives in New York and works for Time Inc, the stories in The Dog are all about China — another one of its attractions for me. Continue reading

Story is everything

Turan Ali

I attended a workshop run by Turan Ali, Director of RNTC International Media Training Centre, in The Netherlands at the recent Highway Africa conference and Ali’s very important point (aimed at journalists and people who work in the media) is that information delivery is very different from actual story-telling. Story-telling is what humans have done for millennia and are wired to do and listen to, and receive meaning from. Information imparting has a vital place in our societies but just doesn’t have quite the same power.

So what if journalists could use story-telling techniques and information imparting techniques together? It’s a tantalising thought. These are my notes from the really interesting two-hour workshop in Grahamstown. Continue reading

Voice in multiple voices

Writers VoiceOnce a year I read Al Alvarez‘s The Writer’s Voice. I do this because in the second half of the year I teach a class in long form journalism to media studies honours and final-year BJourn students and it’s one of the few books available that actually talk about voice in writing. Alvarez thinks about what voice is and why it matters for writing, writers, reading and readers. So I go back to it again and again to take students through this part of the course. This year I thought I’d jot down my notes on what Alvarez has to say because the rereading always provokes me to think differently about what he says.

This time around what caught my attention was that reading is so very much a listening (and this feeds into my research interests in voice and listening — see my work on academia.edu and at the mediaandcitizenship blog). One really does hear a voice in one’s head when reading and what that voice sounds like — “its presence on the page” — is a quality that is more than the story being told. It might be voice that keeps one bonded to a particular author and not just extraordinary writing ability, technique or style (all of which Alvarez is clear are not quite the voice). Continue reading

Dogs x 3

20140925_082648_1I’ve read three books about dogs in a very short period of time and none of them by design. They are: EB White on Dogs, edited by Martha White his grand-daughter, Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren.

EB White on dogs Inside of a Dog What the dog knows

I was at an airport looking for something to read and Inside of a Dog and What the Dog Knows were on a two-for-one special, then back home my colleague Simon Pamphilon accosted me in the passage at work to say that he’d discovered that White of Strunk and White was the same dog man in that book. (Strunk and White being those very famous pedants all journalism teachers keep on using to get a degree of language precision onto the radar of students). Continue reading

The conceit of colourlessness

Colourless_Tsukuru_Tazaki_and_His_Years_of_Pilgrimage-_Haruki_Murakami_EDIIMA20130417_0342_13By page 83 of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage I was thinking, wow! this book is so clever in its story within a story within a story. At that point I was reading about Tsukuru’s friend Haida’s story told to him by his father about an encounter he had as a student with a man about to die who was sort-of reluctantly offering him the chance to take on his ‘token of death’ for the chance to see auras and have a short, but heightened experience.

We had got there with very little effort on the part of the reader and a great deal of lovely plotting: Continue reading