Liberating Vision and Six Meditations
Catalogue of the Exhibition, William Kentridge, Royal Academy of Arts, London, September 2022
From the jacket material
The South African artist William Kentridge Hon RA was born in Johannesburg in 1955 and lives and works there to this day. He is internationally renowned for the expressionism of his work in numerous media, among them charcoal, printmaking, sculpture and film, as well as his acclaimed theatrical and operatic productions. As elusive as it is allusive, Kentridge’s art is shaped by apartheid and grounded in the politics of the post-apartheid era, and in science, literature and history, while always maintaining space for contradiction and uncertainty. In a brilliant exposition of Kentridge’s work, Stephen Clingman, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, undertakes a series of enquiries, of walks around the artist and his practice, through the various layers and linkages, crossings and connections of his art. As he proceeds, he considers Kentridge’s themes, explores them and moves by association to others. Along the way, overlaps, thought-collages, allusions and assemblages come together to create a connective, dimensional way of thinking inspired by Kentridge’s own habits of creation.
Click image for the Royal Academy; here for the US.
The Novels of Nadine Gordimer:
History from the Inside
Hailed on its publication as a turning point in the analysis of South African literature, Stephen’s book was also cited as ‘the best study’ of Gordimer’s work on the Nobel Prize website, when she won that award in 1991. The book is an account of historical consciousness in Gordimer’s novels, where ‘history’ is not so much a sense of the past but an urgent exploration of the unfolding present, along with its burdens, obligations, and responsibilities. Drawing on theoretical innovations of the time, the book explores both the range of Gordimer’s awareness and its limits and faultlines. It also traces an unfolding ideological trajectory in which Gordimer moved from a broad liberal humanism towards a more radical understanding and commitment. A study of form as much as of content, the book ends with an account of the ‘deep history’ of Gordimer’s fiction: its underlying topographies, split position, and impulses in the context of apartheid South Africa. ‘Remarkable, both for [Clingman’s] brilliant presentation of Gordimer’s ideas and development as a writer…. The book is a turning point in the study of South African literature.’ Jane Starfield, Weekly Mail (South Africa) ‘A brilliant, subtle, sombre, and precise book… Both as tribute and analysis, it is essential reading.’ Landeg White, African Affairs ‘Stands as an important intervention into the current theoretical debates and ideological controversies which engage contemporary literary and cultural critical practices as these are being challenged by Third World, or nonhegemonic, literatures.’ Barbara Harlow, Research in African Literatures ‘It is a book of tremendous wisdom and should find its way on to the book shelf of any person who thinks seriously about South Africa.’ Isabel Hofmeyr, (Johannesburg) Star ‘The Novels of Nadine Gordimer is the best critical work on the 1991 Nobel prize winner available… [Clingman’s] reading of The Conservationist, perhaps one of Gordimer’s most achieved works, is especially inspired.’ Elleke Boehmer, The Guardian
The Essential Gesture
Writing, Politics & Places
Selected from a catalogue of some 160 titles in Nadine Gordimer's personal archive, The Essential Gesture was the first volume of her non-fictional essays to appear. As the subtitle suggests, the essays cover a wide range, from the autobiographical and biographical, to questions of censorship, to the commitment and responsibilities of the writer, to the complexities of writing in South Africa, and the condition of living in what Gordimer (following Antonio Gramsci) calls the interregnum—a time when 'the old is dying and the new cannot be born'. Among the revelations of the collection are Gordimer’s travel writings, from the Congo, Egypt, Madagascar, and other locations in Africa. Always the essays show her acute eye for detail and atmosphere, and her unfailing sense of accountability in the context of apartheid. The book was published in the USA, the UK , and South Africa, and was translated into a number of languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese. ‘This volume of essays, skillfully selected and introduced by Clingman, is the record of [Gordimer’s] lifelong creative plunge… Nadine Gordimer has been radicalised by her time or, rather, by her attempt to write her time, and it’s fascinating to watch history happening to her prose.’ Salman Rushdie, The Observer ‘Her contemporaries, Brink, Breytenbach and Fugard, have all written non-fictional work which attempts to grapple with the conundrum of their existence as white South African writers, but none have written with more eloquence or consistency of purpose than Nadine Gordimer.’ Caryl Phillips, The Guardian
Co-Winner Sunday Times/Alan Paton Award 1999
In 1964 Bram Fischer led the defence of Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Trial. In 1966 Fischer was himself sentence to life imprisonment for his political activities against the policies of apartheid. Before his sentencing, he had spent nine months underground, in disguise, evading a nationwide manhunt. He was South Africa’s most wanted man, his cause recognised and celebrated around the world. Born into a prominent Afrikaner nationalist family, what had brought him to these circumstances? And what led to his untimely death after nine years in prison? This meticulously crafted and beautifully written prize-winning biography follows a fascinating journey of conscience and personal transformation. Weaving the personal and the public, Stephen Clingman provides a magisterial account of tragedy and transcendence, showing how the miracle of South Africa’s transition to democracy was deeply connected to the legacy of Bram Fischer. ‘An outstanding contribution to our understanding of modern South African history.’ Tom Karis ‘An astonishingly good book… [Clingman] is thorough in his research, balanced in his assessments and elegant in his presentation.’ Peter Alexander ‘Clingman has given his fellow South Africans a slice of history to be proud of.’ Victoria Brittain, The Guardian
Click image for Kindle; here for print.
The Grammar of Identity
Transnational Fiction and the Nature of the Boundary
The Grammar of Identity tackles a central contemporary paradox. Never before have we been confronted by such dizzying forms of multiplicity, while at the same time facing such powerful appeals to singularity in matters of location and identity. The question arises as to how we negotiate the relation between the two—whether we can fashion new understandings of self and place in a disparate and uneven world. Here the relevant problem is not whether boundaries exist, but the nature of the boundaries we construct. Stephen Clingman takes up the idea of a ‘grammar of identity’, considering notions of the generative, the metonymic, the transitive and navigational as ways of fashioning a sense of both self and place. Exploring these issues in the work of some of the major writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Joseph Conrad, Caryl Phillips, Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, W. G. Sebald, Nadine Gordimer, and J. M. Coetzee, the book offers not only a searching work of literary criticism but also a contemplation for our times. ‘This is that rarity—a work of lucid high complexity…a work that sets one arguing with oneself. It is also an extraordinary work of literature, in itself, achieved with compelling beauty.’ Nadine Gordimer ‘Clingman thus delivers ably on his introductory alignment of the book’s exploratory form with its boundary-navigating content, and his sense of navigation…charts an iconoclastic and illuminating course across the waterways of the world’s Anglophone literature.’ Mark A. McCutcheon, Ariel
Longlisted for the Sunday Times/Alan Paton Award
When Stephen Clingman was two, he underwent an operation to remove a birthmark under his right eye. The operation failed, and the birthmark returned, but in somewhat altered form. In this captivating and beguiling book, Clingman takes the fact of that mark—its appearance, disappearance and return—as a guiding motif of memory. In Stephen’s case things were even more complicated, because in that operation his vision was affected, and his eyes came to see differently from one another: divided vision in the divided world of South Africa. How, in such circumstances, can we come to a deeper kind of vision, find our place in the midst of turmoil and change? This is a story that is personal, painful, comic, and ultimately uplifting: a book not so much of coming of age, but the coming of perspective. ‘A profound reflection on vision and identity…. I was engrossed, challenged, moved.’ - Ivan Vladislavić ‘Clingman, like J. M. Coetzee, has an exceptional gift for making the most of memoir as genre…. It is a narrative that makes deep tracks in the psyche.’ – Jonathan Amid, Netwerk 24 ‘In Clingman’s case, one can only celebrate the work of literary art for its subtle, balanced finish, and for the way it recodes familiar terrain as strange and terribly beautiful.’ – Leon De Kock, Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg)
Click image for US edition; here for South African.