Thursday, 19 June 2008

Never underestimate

Thursday Evening

It is always possible, I guess, to sell out a large hall to see a great writer speak. Dickens toured America after all. Yet, I think its important that we don't underestimate our great writers, rather, that we give them their due. I found myself, on Tuesday, sat next to J. M. Coetzee, and he poured me a glass of water at the start of our literary salon. Tonight, he was the main casting, central billing. Coetzee talked tonight about a singular, vital issue, censorship. Not in any polemical way, but based on his own experience. It is very easy to forget that he has lived through far more turbulent times than we have, and, in the conversation we've been having all week about "how writing can change things" he was writing novels at a certain frontline. A few years ago he was given the "readers reports" of his early novels. They were all published in London, imported into South Africa, and had to get by the censors. What surprised him was that he knew the reviewers, he'd been invited around their houses; in the small intelligentsia of seventies South Africa, he'd been sharing hot dogs with his enemy, without knowing it. He read, not from his latest novel, but from two of the novels they had censored. It is fascinating to see such a calm man gnawing on a thirty-year old bone in such a measured way. I've so much admiration for a writer that , given this situation, is non-polemical. He leaves it to us to decide whether the Afrikaaner censorship board was behaving correctly or not.

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