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Centre for Creative Arts

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Waving Not Drowning: Writing and the Psyche at the 2011 Time of the Writer

Chiz Boys

Standing in for Amanda Patterson, who was called away from Durban, session chair Petina Gappah asked French writer Marie Darrieussecq and Angolan writer Ondjaki why they choose to write novels. Why that form in particular? Darieussecq answered that she likes the novel because it “opens windows, but does not close them, remaining fundamentally ambiguous”. Ondjaki said he chose it because it was a literary, rather than just a documentary, form. He explained that sometimes his short stories grow into novels.

An Elegy for EasterlyPig TalesThe WhistlerMoving onto the theme of the session, “Painting the Psyche”, Gappah asked the writers about their experiences with psychotherapy. Darrieussecq is a trained psychoanalyst. She said she saw three therapists before she wrote Pig Tales, which “saved my life, and my books”. She said it enabled her to “get rid of family rubbish, and ‘navel gazing’”, and to realise that “other people do exist”. She said for her writing three hours a day is good enough, as she has a husband and three children to see to, and that consulting her patients “cures” her too – in that she has to be there for them, and forget about herself for a while. Ondjaki was more reticent, saying of his experience of therapy, that it had been “very hard”.

Gappah steered the conversation around to the writer’s feelings about intertextuality. Ondjaki said quoting from other authors was “like having dinner with good friends, being in fine company in a tender, not pretentious way”. He explained that the way in which he inserted these quotations in his books was a “balance, a secret game”.

Darrieusecq said that quoting writers she likes was a way of thanking them. She said when she feels depressed, looking at her library of favourite books cheers her up: “they are there, and I love them”.

On the matter of translation, Ondjaki said that countries like Angola and Mozambique need to develop successful language strategies. He asked why they don’t have their own institutes to promote writing in Portuguese. Darrieusecq explained that she is Basque, but writes in French because she can reach a broader audience. Her work is, however, translated into Basque.

Someone from the floor asked the writers about magical realism in their work. Ondjaki said that Angolan reality is filled with magic anyway, so writing about it does not constitute a separate genre. Darieussecq noted that although she was comfortable with her texts being put under the magic realism flag, she did not like genre writer Gabriel García Márquez, who once said French was soon going to be a dead language, a statement with which she vehemently disagreed.

Ondjaki ended the session poetically, explaining that when he writes about his childhood, he “misses it”. He said for him it was at times like drowning, similar to the experience of psychotherapy, and that on those days he cries a lot, but nevertheless manages to write.

Zuma's BastardSahar ElmougyAfter the interval, blogger Azad Essa and Egyptian writer Sahar el Mougy grappled with issues of Muslim identity, guided enthusiastically by Chris van Wyk. Essa, who writes for Al Jazeera in Doha, said that web journalism has led to boundaries becoming blurred, as commentators become participants. Of the recent revolution in Egypt he said when the protesters suffered, so did the journalists. He explained that when social media intersects with mainstream media, new and important stories get told.

El-Mougy, asked to comment on the influence of feminism in her work, said the Egyptian dictatorship had been patriarchal, and that feminist work would only thrive under a democracy. She said she writes to challenge norms, because she sees so many Egyptian women internalising patriarchal discourse, and oppressing their sons and their daughters. Essa read an intriguing piece on women wearing the burqua, from his book Zuma’s Bastard.

Essa said about satire that he thought humour makes things manageable, although there were some things that should not be made fun of, for instance, the Israel-Palestine conflict. He said it was too soon to tell if his satirical approach had succeeded in making the local and global Muslim communities he targeted interrogate their attitudes more deeply.

Simon Manda, Maude SaundersAziz Hassim, Shruti Bhikha, Brian ErikssonIkbal Moosa, Yusuf Moosa, Evrahin EssaMichael Foster, Jill Rayner and Bruce Nxumalo

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Image courtesy Sahar el Mougy


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