Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where Do they Come from?

Among people likely to change countries are writers. Today most writers of Indian descent are now either British or American Writers. In Africa most of the high-flying writers have stayed outside of the continent for so long that sometimes what they write about it could be described as either complete patronage or romanticisation. However, for some of these writers the flight from the country is the only means for survival. An example of which is Bessie Head, when she left South Africa for Botswana. For others such as Coetzee it was a personal decision. The question is how should such writers be classified in terms of their citizenship? Is Coetzee a South African or Australian? What about Bessie Head, Albert Camus, Doris Lessing?

17 comments:

  1. Does it matter? We are in a world that is getting more globalized every day that passes. People (and intellectuals especially) can hardly be ascribed to a nationality. I think one must simply acknowledge the personal path undertaken by every writer and let go of nationalistic claims. The problem of romanticisation or patronage must be considered separately, in my opinion. One day, however, the best African writers will be home-grown. I feel positive about that!

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  2. You are right Stefania. Perhaps as we gradually become citizens of the earth through globalisation the question of nationality becomes less and less important. And perhaps writers and some intellectuals have found this out already. Tying oneself to a part of the earth is limiting and can negatively affects ones creativity. Yet there comes a point where home is not everywhere. Where one is even if not by himself but by another has to be placed to a unique place. However i agree with you on this diminishing importance of nationality.

    Regarding the patronage and romanticisation i guess it could be another topic of discussion. I believe one should be at a liberty to write about any place one wants. But it should also resonate with readers else they (readers) would feel ripped off just as i feel anytime i hear of Naipaul's name.

    Regarding the article at the link you provided would you want my opinion in the form of an article or i should append it to the comment thread?

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  3. I'd like to hear your opinion, in any form you like. If you don't feel like writing a post about it, just answer in the commen thread. :-)

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  4. i would write a post on it tomorrow. I believe so. It is a beautiful article but one i could also respond to. It would take too much should i use the thread. Thanks for the link Stefania.

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  5. As someone who reads a lot of Latin American authors, Nana, I can assure you that this situation exists in other parts of the world as well. For example, many of the so-called "Boom" writers (Cortázar, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, etc.) wrote most of their big hits in "exile" (i.e. real or self-imposed) abroad--and these are works which defined "Latin America" in the imagination for a generation or two until recently. I think Stefania's call to respect the "personal path" of authors rather than trying to define nationality is the way I would try and process these matters as well.

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  6. Such a great point and something that I've often wondered as well, especially with my Nigerian Fridays. It is hard to know how to classify authors and sometimes one even wonders why bother. But I do think it is important to have a varied reading diet which for me means looking for writers from other countries, and so it comes up again and again...

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  7. @Richard... that's the only way we can choose in accepting these. However, we can't run away from the fact that for a particular work of art to resonate with the people, for them to accept the work as theirs, for the work to hit on an inner truth, it first must be truthful (even if fictitious, though I believe most of our novels are abstractions from reality). Most of these authors (this could be another topic for discussion) are in total disconnect and pretend to 'define' a given literature.

    I understand what you are saying.

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  8. @Amy, it is in this vein that the question also came up for me. I had at first put Bessie Head under Botswana, then I changed to South Africa then I changed back to Botswana. So the question hit me: Why are our known and famous authors only those that live and have lived outside their own countries and continents and 'pretend' to understand the lives about which they write. I have sometimes find a total disconnect between what they write and what prevails or what the people here think and go through. I have had discussion with friends in an attempt to encourage them to read African novels and they are fed up with the kind of things they are written about.

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  9. Hi Nana, this is a really great discussion. Thanks for hosting it. Zimbabweans always talk about this, and lots of Zimbabweans get very cross about those who live abroad commenting. You might enjoy this post, from Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah: http://petinagappah.blogspot.com/2011/03/in-which-i-rouse-wrath-of-one-peter.html

    She got very cross with him, but I understand what he is saying, also.

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  10. @Sarah, I have read the comments and I must say I also get what Moyo was saying. I got it as someone who has lived in his country for his entire life only to read how he is 'supposedly' living. I got it when I see individuals who have stayed outside for such a long time trying to tell us how abject we are, especially if those individuals 'were' one of us. I once attended a program where one of the facilitators said she has not as yet seen any positive thing being done in Ghana and that person 'was' a Ghanaian who has moved out and made movies about the country. the link is below

    http://freduagyeman.blogspot.com/2010/12/barcamp-ghana-2010-where-ideas-walk.html

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  11. Oh Mine! Nana, it is very good that you made this post. As small as the length is, see the arguments it is generating. I have read Norah's link and I am loving the whole argument. But Nana, judging from Petina's point of view, don't you think that one can still write better from what he's witnessed in his/her childhood although that person may not be living in his country of origin at the present? This is not to say that I am backing Petina since Moyo also has a bigger point there. This whole issue about where a writer comes from and what he/she writes about seems to be complicated!!

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  12. @GR... yeah this is a big issue. I believe Petina Gappah has the right, as every writer has, to write about anything she wants. Again, she is at liberty to do whatever she wishes with her works. There are individuals whose five-day visit to Africa turned them into experts in African issues how much more those who have been born on this continent.

    The point about this post is some writers are difficult to associate to a country. And it veered off a bit into something else. However, what I detest is when writers pretend to know so much, care so much, love so much about a place they have hardly stayed and would use their piece as a platform on which to launch their 'political' career. In fact some misrepresent the people only to be famous and be seen to be doing something. the issue is broad. I have observed a trend where writers, who are mostly in Europe and America, try hard to write desolate themes about Africans. Just to feed into the popular stories and sell books. Yet, good literature lasts longer. See why I love Armah?

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  13. I have sent a comment already but this point escaped me. I see Coetzee in there. I can never let go without making a point on him. I am happy you stated that Coetzee's own is a personal decision. In Coetzee's case, he has stayed much longer in S.A although he took educational sojourn for a while in U.K and U.S. The point I want to make is that, for one who has stayed for a longer period in S.A but now lives in a different country, could it be said that he cannot write better about his country because he does not live there? Perhaps, that is why I see Stefania has a point there. And Nana, thanks for bringing this issue up. It has been in mind for quite sometime now.

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  14. thanks Geosi for the point. I think I brought Coetzee in there because he took citizenship with Australia some time ago. So he is now considered an Australian citizen.

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  15. I don't think citizenship is necessarily important--people move countries for all sorts of reasons. What matters IMO is the author's positionality. I've read quite a bit of fiction by Indian authors living in India which is utterly divorced from any form of authenticity; I've read work by Indian authors living in America which has spoken directly to my heart and brain. I think it's more important to acknowlege where the author is coming from in terms of his/her socio-political and cultural persona than a passport.
    That said, there is indeed a lot of (well-deserved) ire for authors who, after a stint living outside the homeland, take it upon themselves to "explain" their home country to the (western) audience. It's a huge peeve of mine!

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  16. @Niranjana... I agree with you on this.

    "That said, there is indeed a lot of (well-deserved) ire for authors who, after a stint living outside the homeland, take it upon themselves to "explain" their home country to the (western) audience. It's a huge peeve of mine!" That's the point.

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