Where I Stand 20/03/16

There is a sense always in what I do that I am producing a piece of old hat.  I don’t suppose this is a unique experience, in fact I know it is not, certainly even that is a piece of old hat. On reading an essay written by Dan Jacobson in 1959 (for God’s sake) called ‘Out of Africa’ he makes the point that I felt was necessary to make in 2015 in that letter concerning that monument to the South African situation that they are constructing at the Waterfront, in name, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. In the essay Jacobson says this:  ‘Should they ask, anyway, what they mean by Africa?’

Jacobson goes further than this, pointing out that south of the Sahara there is no literary tradition as there is in India and China.  Of course that would no doubt set off a cornucopia of yelling these days but he makes the point that he is not singling out black Africans but white ones too.  Of course there are perhaps different reasons for these two generalised groups not having a written literary tradition.  The point he makes for whites is an interesting one and is one taken up by Stephen Watson in his, quite frankly brilliant essay, ‘A Version of Melancholy’.  As Jacobson says: ‘The white writer is a member of a society which has no roots in the past, or no past at all; his present so far as it is stable, is tawdry, vulgar and thin…’

Jacobson goes further to state that if an‘African’ literature is going to emerge it will have to stave off the western proclivity to consume it and adapt it to its own ends.  It will have to stand up to the treatment that someone like Melville received in American literature.  What, if anything, the art being collected at the ZMOCAA is, on the whole, is certainly not Melville. It is merely easily consumable ‘Africa’ for the west, with the word ‘contemporary’ appended to it.  Or a least that is my estimation of it, no doubt there are some works in there that aren’t but I would think they would be the exception rather than the rule.

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