Jy blaai in die argief vir 2010 Desember.

#24(i) Is die hand van Suid-Afrikaanse kritici te sag? (Joan Hambidge)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Waarskynlik het die Afrikaanse literatuurkritiek sagter geword vergeleke met die tagtigerjare toe ons noodtoestande beleef het en daar selfs van skrywers verwag was om “betrokke” te skryf. Nou beleef ons die keerkant van die munt: ’n nuwe politieke geweld met skrywers wat in opstand kom.

Felle kritiek was daar in die tagtigerjare, en waarskynlik word boeke aangeprys binne hierdie nuwe politieke klimaat met die vrees dat Afrikaans sal uitsterf – om Jameson se “political unconscious” te aktiveer.

Kritiek is ’n gesprek. Dit moet kompromisloos en krities bly. Dit moet weet dat die tyd die belangrikste en mees gesaghebbende oordeel sal vel. Ek het in 1980 begin resenseer en het vele skrywers sien kom en gaan. Veral gaan. Niemand word ’n guns bewys deur ’n bespreking wat nie ingelig is of deelneem aan ’n groter internasionale gesprek nie. As jy wil skryf oor Wallace Stevens, moet jy Stevens se verhouding met Eliot begryp. Jy moet Cleanth Brooks ken. Jy moet die skrywer binne sy konteks plaas. Indien jy hom vertaal of herdig, transporteer jy hom na ’n nuwe ruimte. As jy Allen Ginsberg se “Howl” as sentimenteel ervaar, begryp jy nie teen watter politieke of sosiale ongerymdhede hy in opstand gekom het nie.

Om te bloggereer is seker goed, maar dis juis waar die sagte kritiek uitgespreek word met ’n neogemoedelik-lokale (internasio-)realisme van webwerwe waar vinnige uitsprake en komplimente seëvier. Of ontersaaklike persoonlike opmerkings.

En ’n blog behoort kritiese reaksie uit te lok: woord en wederwoord. En kritiek wat agter skuilname gedy – soos dié van Crito – neem my terug na Wimsatt en Beardsley se “intentional” en “affective fallacy”.

Die inlees van intensies wat nie noodwendig iets beteken nie – die kennis van agter die skerms. Of die effek wat bepaal word op ’n leser wat dikwels nie eens bestaan nie.

Die Ideale leser vir Crito is nie noodwendig my Ideale leser nie.

My Ideale leser spreek sy/haar mening onder ’n eie naam uit en is nie deel van ’n anonieme groepswoeps wat private byltjies slyp nie.

Die Ginsberg-kollokwium het Harold Blood se diktum bevestig dat poësie literatuurkritiek is en die oorweldigende stortvloed van swak verse het net Ginsberg se statuur bewys. “America” is ’n klassieke en groot gedig.

Juigkommando’s moet maar juig. ’n Goeie politieke gedig moet steeds beeldend oortuig.

Hermetiese en praatverse eis elkeen ’n regmatige plek op. Stilte en stryd mag naas mekaar bestaan.

Die kritikus moet krities bly: as ’n skrywer betaal om ’n boek te publiseer of werk agter die skerms te laat gebeur of die resepsie met geld of manipulasie te probeer beheer, weet net: jy kan nie jou posisie “koop” nie.

Of as ’n skrywer ’n beurs ontvang wat in stryd is met sy eie politieke oortuigings, moet dit uitgewys word.

As twee sinne uit een resensie verbatim in ’n ander een land, ruk Derrida van die rak en weet: daar is ’n buiteteks!

As middelmatige boeke bekroon word, sien dit as ’n wisseltrofee. As ’n speurverhaal as puik uitgewys word en jy kon al by hoofstuk 3 die moordenaar eien, kyk eerder The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.

Dalk het die Afrikaanse kritiek in die openbaar te sag geword? Dalk praat mense tog nog oor al die ongerymdhede, krisisse, oor- en onderskattings?

Die Afrikaanse letterkunde behoef ál haar ingeligte stemme.

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#24(h) Is die hand van Suid-Afrikaanse kritici te sag? (Crito)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Mens hoef eintlik nie eers te wonder oor die antwoord op só ‘n vraag nie. Ja! Die dae toe LI Bertyn en Kees Konyn sirkulasiesnellers was, is verby. Ek het al begin vir lief neem met die feit dat die meeste boekresensente in die akademie staan en goedhartige mense is wat nie graag aanstoot gee nie. Ten minste kry mens dan ingeligte vakkundige menings.

Wat my wel kwel, is dat daar bitter min resensente is wat goeie ou retoriese middele soos metafoor, ironie, sarkasme, satire en gewoon flambojante styl gebruik in hul kritiese besprekings. Min resensente skyn bewus te wees daarvan dat houding (arrogansie, hovaardigheid, meerderwaardigheid, ens) ‘n retoriese funksie kan hê. Of hulle vergeet van toon, van oordrywing en onderbeklemtoning, van die uitstraal van die resensent se persona as deel van die kritiese argument.

Maar ek bly hoop. Eendag lewer die Afrikaanse boekewêreld dalk sy eie Kenneth Tynan op.

Crito

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#24(g) Is die hand van Suid-Afrikaanse kritici te sag? (Izak de Vries)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Spasie in ons koerante is só beperk dat die essensie van ’n boek baie vinnig  in ’n resensie moet oorkom.

Alle Suid-Afrikaanse uitgewers is boonop afhanklik van die “advertensiewaarde” van ’n resensie. As ons ’n digbundel stuur aan elke Afrikaanse koerant in die land, praat ons soms van twee persent van die drukoplaag wat weggegee word.

Lesers van boeke is intelligent. Daar is subtiele maniere om ’n leser opgewonde te maak oor ’n teks, of af te sit van ’n teks.

Resensente is mense. Ons kan ’n teks verkeerd lees. Ek vind egter ook dat dit belangrik is om die lesers – soos daardie wonderlike mense wat aan leeskringe behoort – iets te gee om aan te knibbel. Help hulle om te sien hier is iets ágter die teks.

Kommersiële uitgewers se begrotings is klein. Waarom dan ’n vrot boek uitgee?

As ons al bogenoemde in ag neem, is dit nie nodig om met lang messe rond te loop en boeke willens en wetens te slag nie. Ons moet bloot die lesers laat dink oor ’n teks. Hulle kan self besluit.

Boonop is daar altyd Crito wat darem ’n ogie oor ons hou!

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#24(f) Are South African critics too soft? (Helen Moffett)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Among the worst debacles I saw this year (leading to cancelled friendships, etc) were folk responding angrily or passionately to bad reviews, or even just one critical line in an otherwise good review. Unless you have actually been slandered in a review (as I was in 2008 in a local paper, which later set things right via their ombudsman), or a reviewer admits in the review to not having read/finished the book (this actually happened in the case of Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City – and once again the same paper did the decent thing and asked someone else to re-review), the best thing is to take it on the chin. It’s hard for younger writers, I know, but try dignified silence and counting to 57893.

A reviewer I know had nothing good to say about a young writer’s first novel – she even hated its cover – and agonised over her negative review. The young writer was gracious, conceded she had lots to learn, worked extra hard on her second novel, and the two in fact became friendly. This is only possible if the reviewer has critiqued the book with a pure heart, however.

There are grey areas. For example, in a “review” or, rather, personal attack of Chris Thurman’s Sport Versus Art , it was crystal clear that the reviewer had only read Chris’s intro and not the rest of the book. That should have been caught by the books page editor, though, but I guess the deadline was too tight.

There does need to be a code of conduct for reviewers. The guy who wasted column inches saying “I never got past page 70 of Zoo City, so instead of a review I’m going to write an essay about metaphors” should never be allowed to write a review again, but how did he get past the editor in the first place? Flagrant score-settling (as in the Thurman case) should also be grounds for barring someone from reviewing.

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#24(e) Are South African critics too soft? (Moira Richards)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Are South African book critics too soft? Or is it that South African authors and publishers are too soft?

Is it that South African authors, publishers and reviewers don’t understand the nature of book reviewing and are also unwilling to unpack and debate the subject? Not to repeat what I’ve said before about reviewing and the reluctance of authors and publishers to engage with what reviewers write, I’ll focus now on a redressing of the supposed writer-reviewer divide. (Although, since I’ve been publishing book reviews since 2001, and books too, for the past three years, I’m not sure which side I’m expected to be on.)

Surely cruel and spiteful criticism does not point to an inadequate book, but to an incompetent reviewer? Surely gushings of unsubstantiated praise, too, do not point to a wonderful book but to an incompetent reviewer? Surely everyone in the book business should be invested in good reviewers doing a good job?

Surely reviewers understand that they have no real power to make any difference at all to the sale of a book and career of its author or publisher? Surely critique, and not criticism, is the point of reviewing a book, and surely we all know the difference between the two? And should be insisting that reviewing accedes to this?

If our reviewers imagine their role to be arbiter of taste and dispenser of carrots and sticks, and if our authors and publishers allow them the illusion, then is it not the latter who are too soft? Is it not authors and publishers who should be getting out there to call sloppy reviewing to account? And also, to be writing and publishing critique of the work of their peers to show how reviewing should be done? It’s tough work and not easy, but get into the zone by asking yourself:

Is it OK to be nasty about the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not about that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger,  nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Is it OK to be honest about the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not about that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger / nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Is it possible to assess objectively, the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger / nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Is it possible to really understand the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger / nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Like my daughter-in-law said as I set out for the first time to drive, solo, in the Jo’burg traffic, “You can, Do it!”

 

Moira Richards hangs out on the net here:
http://www.darlingtonrichards.com
and
http://www.redroom.com/author/moira-richards.

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#24(d) Are South African critics too soft? (Karabo Kgoleng)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

JCW asked the same question at Franschhoek earlier this year on her panel “Reviewing the Reviewers”. I was on the panel.

There is space for constructive criticism of a book or piece of art without crucifying the artist. There is too little space in our media for exposure as it is; to use it all up crapping on others’ work is not on. If I really don’t like something I prefer not to cover it at all. Having said that, there is no accounting for taste and that is what a reviewer needs to keep in mind. If a piece of work is badly edited, so be it – that we can do something about. If you disagree with an idea you can do so without passing yourself off as the ultimate authority on good ideas and bad ideas. For me to turn my taste into the holy grail of what is good and what is bad art is the kind of arrogance and self-righteousness that I pray never to display on a public platform. It’s insulting to the artist and the public. As a result, I’ve learnt to suspend my distaste towards something and that has, in many cases, forced my mind open, which I appreciate, even if I still don’t like it or agree with it after the fact.

Karabo Kgoleng
Presenter, writer, MC

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#24(c) Are South African critics too soft? (Zukiswa Wanner)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Having been both a writer and a critic I found the debate very interesting (I saw the original when Fiona brought it up.)

In being critical I am always anxious to criticise in such a way that future works are made better. Jabulile Ngwenya’s I Ain’t Yo Bitch was one such a text. I felt that the text showed much promise for the teen reader but what it lacked was a good content edit – and this was by no means the fault of the author but rather of the editor and/or publisher. I have, however, been quite brutal once or twice where I felt a book (particularly when it’s a collection of essays) became emotive when facts were there to be gathered and make a stronger statement.

As a writer I have benefited greatly from reading some criticism. I read some and choose what I am going to take and not take – and generally what I have taken has helped to make me a better writer. However, in these days of technology, if a critic does not understand anything I have written or they feel it’s way out there, it might help their criticism to get in touch and ask some questions as this makes their writing more balanced. For instance, the book that got the most brutal slamming from critics, Behind Every Successful Man, is the book that has been doing very well in sales and I even get women accosting me in the malls for it.

That said, I have read some gratuitous criticism in literature, music, art and theatre in South Africa where one cannot help but think there is some envy from the critic. It is then that you think the saying “Those who can’t do, crit” may have some truth to it. An example of this was Bongani Madondo’s criticism of Simphiwe Dana’s One Love. Not only did he fail to focus on the music, but rather he chose to get personal about the artist – and that, to me, should always be a no-go area.

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#24(b) Are South African critics too soft? (Gary Cummiskey)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

First of all, Fiona has some very valid points.

A couple of years ago, when I first started writing for The Bookseller in the UK, I wrote a piece saying how wonderful it was that South African readers were beginning to read and positively respond to South African writers and were finally shedding that colonial mindset that dictates that anything not produced in “the mother country” is probably inferior. However, I also sounded a warning, right at the end, that in our enthusiasm we should not lose our sense of critical evaluation of what is good writing and what is bad – though of course, what constitutes good or bad writing is so often subjective.

In terms of the situation of book reviewing in South Africa, or at least newspaper book reviews, I also wrote a piece for The Bookseller on this, pointing out that the situation many newspapers are in with regard to the books pages – eg diminishing budgets and book reviews often ending up being written by in-house staff etc – should be weighed up against the common moan by writers that book reviewers often don’t know what the hell they are talking about, produce poorly written reviews, etc.

From my own experience of having been a reviewer over the years for Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Independent, The Citizen and The Weekender I can say that if I have found a book to be weak or lacking in some respect, I have said so – but not in a destructive manner. I have had some fairly destructive reviews published of my own work and know what it is like, so I am sensitive to authors’ feelings. But if I think a book is weak or could have done with improvement, I have said so, even if the author – as has happened – has been a close associate of mine. There is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of constructive criticism and it is, after all, simply my opinion – I would never maintain that my word is final.

Of course, the South African literary scene is close-knit and often incestuous – it is so damn small it is difficult to get around it – and being published is often a precarious matter at the best of times, so I can understand it is possible that certain writers-cum-critics are edgy about saying anything bad about a book, etc, as it may well be in the back of their minds that there might be some fallout at some time or another.

Or, perhaps, they just want to be nice since they think as it is now so wonderful that so much is being published in South Africa, and we haven’t had this for so long, etc, that we can’t possibly say anything bad?

Like when I wrote a balanced, but sometimes critical, piece about the Cape Town Book Fair and had someone say to me, “You know, at long last we actually have a book fair in South Africa and you have to say something bad about it!”

But is the situation in publishing overseas any different? I wonder. The publishing and writing scene in the US, or UK, might be bigger, but it is also far more competitive, and probably more vindictive and cut-throat than a backstreet bar in Hillbrow.

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#24 (a) Are South African critics too soft? (Janet van Eeden)

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

This is a difficult question. Would anyone really want reviewers to launch into South African writers across the genres to prove how clever they are at dissecting and comparing their work with UK and USA literature? Would it serve any purpose to discourage the fle dgling literary and film industry? I think not.

I have felt this way ever since I was first asked to review books and plays and occasionally films for the Witness. I was incensed by the vicious critiques critics meted out especially to South African films brave enough to venture on to the screens. Film critics especially couldn’t wait to show how clever they were and ripped the films to shreds before they’d even opened on the main circuit. Then the film industry wondered why there wasn’t a South African film viewership? Why would viewers prefer to see any old US rubbish instead of a well-made South African film? Not even our Oscar winner Tsotsi made a profit, thanks to this mentality.

The same is true of South African writing. We should praise wherever we can, though not in a blanket way. There is room in South Africa for sensitive and positive critique wherever possible, and helpful guidance towards room for improvement where appropriate. That’s what I try to do with each book I review. Only occasionally do I hate books outright. I find blatant violence and porn deeply offensive, not only as a woman but also as a sensitive human being. I’ve had to review a few gratuitous shockers, one of which came with a silk garter on the cover. That was the best part of the book. I did resort to harsh criticism then and said that hardcore porn was to erotic writing what fart jokes were to PG Wodehouse. I actually burnt that one on a specially lit fire. Occasionally I have also given negative crits to writers who offend others by their own prejudices in their work.

On the whole we have done very well to produce an enormous amount of good writing for a fledgling democratic country. So I believe positive reinforcement works one helluva lot better than destructive criticism. It’s not hard to be destructive in a crit. If you don’t believe me, send me your book and I’ll critique it viciously just to show you how clever I am. But I have made a deliberate choice to build up the industry of writers in literature as well as film wherever I can.

I feel very strongly about this after years of having had my plays and films broken down by smart-arsed critics trying to prove that they were cleverer than I was.

I’ll continue to appreciate the good in the work I’m asked to review when I find it, and when the author or filmmaker’s writing is inspired, I’ll rejoice and reflect that in my review, which will also be inspired.

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#24 Introduction: Are South African critics too soft?

Desember 3, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Following Fiona Snyckers’s recent blog post on the state of criticism in South Africa , LitNet asks: “Are South African critics too soft?”

Read all the contributions here.

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