Monday, April 24, 2006

Linguistic revolution

I have just left a seminar from a Literary theory class in which we were discussing Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. We got into quite a debate over two points, firstly, and quite predictably, the idea that all European literature is inherently racist, and secondly, the validity of the author's call for African writers to write in indigenous African languages. The first caused some understandable tension, not least because it is an entirely white class of mainly literary scholars. The general debate, again predictably, focused on authorial intention, though there was a brief digression in the direction of semiotics, which I felt was the most useful point. I am convinced that what Ngugi meant was that the trace of a language that identifies "black" with darkness, evil and the negative and "white" with light, good and the positive, etc. Is what makes all cultural production both in English, and at this time, inherently racist. That that racism rests partly with an audience that is intensely race aware is, however, largely ignored. That "black" and "white" are identified as races, rather that that colours which could, technically (though perhaps not practically) be dissociated from race, are symbolically identified with good and evil, is the reason for the difficulty of this trace.
The idea that African writers should write in native African languages, therefore, is linked to the idea of the tyranny of the trace, as discussed above. Ngugi suggests that African writers should be enriching their own languages through producing work in them, and also implies, though he doesn't state this explicitly, that their use of colonial languages buys into the subordinating, complicating trace of these languages. While the discussion we had suggested that subordination centers around economic imperatives, a point that I agree with, I would suggest that the subordinating influence of the trace is more relevant.
I still disagree with the original point that African authors should be writing in indigenous African languages because this is nothing more than a call to obscurity. In an ideal world, sure, but in the present time, English really does seem to be it. How can one engage a hegemony without working in its own language.
An besides, this delegitimates the work African writers and scholars (myself included) who consider English, or French, or Arabic, our home languages.
It all comes back to my frequently reiterated point about covert resistance. If the challenge is too great, the point is lost!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Race and Pedagogy Project

Race and Pedagogy Project. This blog is a resource for all matters postcolonial. It consists mostly of reviews of available material, but they are comprehensive and helpful. While I am always on the look-out for online sources/publications, sometimes there is no substitute for library work, though a resource like this can make things just a little easier.

Friday, April 21, 2006


I spent several rather confusing hours on Wednesday at a series of seminars around the topic "is the Underground dead?". That question was quite definitively answered in the affirmative by practically everyone there, but what confused me was precisely what the point of it all was.
The program referred to the wikipedia definition of the underground, so perhaps that is the place to start.
The idea of something which is "outside of the public consciousness", or related to a "subculture"is the version of the definition relevant to this discussion. Following the link to Underground Culture revealed that there is a connection to resistance movements, and hence, political resistance. Now that to me makes sense. If there is something wrong with a political system, you change it, and you probably have to go underground, outside of the space in which your actions are likely to be detected, to do it. I have always felt that the most effective form of resistance is covert, resistance from the inside that is invisible from the inside. If the body politic doesn't feel threatened by confrontation, they are less likely to resist change. So the concept of going underground makes sense.
But the practice of underground culture doesn't. At least, what I saw on Wednesday doesn't. The type of underground that was represented there was the type of in-your-face cultural inversion and resistance that makes the main stream run away. It makes people wonder what went wrong, not necessarily with the system, but quite frequently with the artists staging resistance. It encourages people to disregard what it is saying. It begs not to be taken seriously. Someone said at some point in the conference that surely the point was to get "above ground", that underground wasn't a choice, but a state of being before you hit mainstream, and that the purpose was to become mainstream in order to be heard. Now I understand that that may sound like a sell-out in the making. The easiest way to become mainstream is, after all, to imitate what is already in the mainstream, and in terms of changing things, that doesn't achieve much. The problem is that so much of what I heard on Wednesday was about finding a way to be different, not necessarily for a purpose, and then being angry about it. It was as though the artists in question were seeking marginalization in order to have something to be angry about. And the point is?
If something is wrong, it needs to be fixed by winning minds. Education, not alienation.
The reason I attended the conference in the first place was that there was supposed to be something about blogging in the program. In the end the person who was supposed to present on this topic didn't show up, but I was nonetheless still interested in the idea that blogging is "underground". It made me wonder about the way in which my activities on this blog are viewed. Certainly I am aiming to change certain perceptions in the academy from the inside out. I am frustrated by what I perceive to be a narrow-minded approach to information sharing, and the nature of our vocation as academics. I didn't start this blog for that purpose, though. It grew up organically as a purpose after I encountered difficulties accessing information, and discovered people's unwillingness to participate in this process from within the academy. This blog started as a convenient way of organizing and accessing information.
So is it "underground"? If being so means I am going to spend my time searching for things to complain about, I hope not. Thing is, looking at the past few months of posting on this blog, I am starting to wonder.... What happened to the Choirgirl who was excited about every piece of information found, and every bit of knowledge gained?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

sidewalk chalk guy

sidewalk chalk guy
I'm attending a conference on "the Underground" later at WISER, so I thought this little bit of frivolity was appropriate.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

micropayments and Music Piracy

I Can't Stop Thinking! #6
I ran across this amusing and thoughtful, though (by nature, I guess) simplistic comic detailing a suggested solution to music piracy. There is a response, linked to at the bottom of the page, that addresses some of the issues, and if you follow some of the links in that, you can cut a trail through the entire controversy the comic generated, plus some other interesting data. In general, though, I suspect that the reason this is so emotive for so many is because all sides feel ripped off. A big question in Africa is, why is so much of our money leaving the country, even when we buy our own artists music? Will a system like this keep it more local, or is the wealth divide just too great to make it practical?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Back home again

I'm inadvertently doing the John Denver thing again. I do want to sing today, though. It has been a coping mechanism for me for a long while, that when things get to much I spend time along, and make music, either at the piano, or with my voice, or both, or whatever. Today, though, I want to sing because I am happy. Things are looking up here at work, I am no longer doing what was causing me so much trauma, with the support of the head of school, and I am much happier.
And I just got back from Mthatha! I had such fun there. I love staying in hotels. Somehow the soap in a hotel shower always seems to lather better than what I buy at home. Perhaps its because the bars are so dinky. I love finding the little cellophane parcels on my pillow in the mornings. This hotel was brand new. They had just finished building it, and we were the first people to stay in our rooms. All thirty-odd of us. I shared with a yound woman who taught me piano a few years ago. We had the same supervisor last year and the year before. I had the most fascinating conversations with her, not least, about setting boundaries. It made me feel so understood!
The conference itself was really productive, and I was very pleased to receive positive feedback on my paper. I also just had the greatest time hanging out with a group of people who have all become my good friends.
On the second night we were there, we were treated to a performance of Xhosa dancing at the university, and I was completely delighted by the colour, and variety of sound, and novelty of the dances. What a delightful way to spend an evening, particularly for the non-South Africans from our group. And on Wednesday evening, we visited Port St. Johns. What a magical place. A friend of mine had visited it more than a year back, and so it was lovely to put images to the places she had spoken of. It was like visiting another world. At one point, I stood on top of a bluff overlooking the sea, with a light rain falling, and a red Cape Honeysuckle blowing in the breeze in front of me. The beech looked so tranquil, and the green roling hills, and steep cliffs, made it feel like a tropical paradise. Who could wish for more.
I had dreaded coming home, but not the unpleasantness is over, and I can enjoy myself again!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

SSARN in Mthatha

I am off to the last conference of the SSARN series next week. For a while I didn't think I would be able to make it, and then I was considering attending only part of it, but finally, after much soul-searching and a long sleepless night last night, I decided to tell certain unpleasant other commitments to get lost. They have been possibly the biggest source of stress, and hence, health difficulties, over the past several months, and I have decided to give the more important parts of my life priority. If it keeps me sane and healthy, it is worth all the conflict it is likely to cause in the week that follows. Still, I am aprehensive, despite my excitement over seeing Mthatha for the first time.