Cover image for Living in hope and history : notes from our century
Living in hope and history : notes from our century
Gordimer, Nadine.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
viii, 244 pages ; 24 cm
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PR9369.3.G6 Z468 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Internationally celebrated for her novels, Nadine Gordimer has devoted much of her life and fiction to the political struggles of the third world, the New World, and her native South Africa. Living in Hope and History is an on-the-spot record of her years as a public figure -- an observer of apartheid and its aftermath, a member of the ANC, and the champion of dissident writers everywhere. Including her reminiscences of Nelson Mandela and Gunter Grass, her correspondence with the Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe, and her reflections on race in Africa and America, these passionate writings lay bare the preoccupations of a lifetime.

Author Notes

Nadine Gordimer was born in Gauteng, South Africa on November 20, 1923. She attended the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa for one year. She is a novelist and short-story writer whose major theme is exile and alienation. Her first short story collection, The Soft Voice of the Serpent, was published in 1952 and her first novel, The Lying Days, was published in 1953. Her other short story collections include Jump, Why Haven't You Written: Selected Stories 1950-1972, and Loot. Her other novels include A World of Strangers, A Guest of Honour, Burger's Daughter, July's People, A Sport of Nature, My Son's Story, None to Accompany Me, The Pickup, and Get a Life. She has received numerous awards including the Booker Prize for The Conservationist in 1974, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, and the French Legion of Honour in 2007. She died on July 13, 2014 at the age of 90.

(Bowker Author Biography) Nadine Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nobel literature laureate Gordimer (The House Gun, etc.) has collected decades' worth of erudite essays and lectures about literature, culture, human rights and, of course, her work and home ground of South Africa. The first essay, a 1988 effort on fiction, morals and politics, lays out the distinction between political partisanship in her nonfiction and "the free transformation of reality" in what she refers to as her more "true" fiction. As essays, these writings shouldn't be expected to attain the nuance and depth of Gordimer's best fiction, but some of them are devastating, such as a 1966 piece on how South African black writers were being banned while whites were offered lectures called "Know the African." The more recent pieces deftly capture what she calls "the epic of our transformation": South Africa's first democratic election, she writes, "has the meaning of people coming into their own." Still, it troubles her that writers she admiresÄHungary's Joseph Roth, Milan Kundera, Czeslaw MiloszÄhave rejected the leftist politics to which she remains committed. Unfortunately, this book lacks Gordimer's up-to-date reckoning with the fate of South Africa's Left, not to mention the more autobiographical reflections readers might desire. Still, this literary world citizen ranges widely (there are essays on Senghor, Grass and Mahfouz), musing thoughtfully about the sociocultural "givens" that a writer and reader must share. In her 1991 Nobel Prize lecture, Gordimer asserted that "the writer is of service to humankind only insofar as the writer uses the word even against his or her own loyalties." Though it is a tough credo to live up to, these essays are the work of a tough-minded, morally rigorous writer who has managed to do it. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, Gordimer has been writing about her native South Africa for more than 50 years, and in this lively collection, she continues to tell the contemporary stories of people going about their own affairs within history's fall-out. The title story has fun with today's secrets: now things are in reverse, whites wanting to claim black. European immigrants can no longer grab what they want. Meanwhile, many local whites are leaving for Australia or Canada, where the Aborigines and the Red Indians had been effectively dealt with. And the identity clichés explaining where you are from to foreigners have changed: from Africa. South Africa. Mandela. Then there is the Holocaust survivor, an assimilated German Jewish grandma who witnessed the worst; she survives as a truly frivolous woman. Three great recently dead writers, Susan Sontag, Anthony Sampson, and Edward Said, enjoy a passionate argument in a New York Chinese restaurant. No slick irony, no heavy messages; as always, the mix of intimacy and politics stirs everything up.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2007 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Gordimer on her very public role as both novelist and political observer. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-This collection of nonfiction pieces, written for the most part in the 1980s and 1990s, takes a tough, uncompromising look at the moral interplay between literature and politics. Gordimer's essays, lectures, speeches, and commentaries address such subjects as Gnter Grass, Joseph Roth, Naguib Mahfouz, Nelson Mandela, apartheid, censorship, and human rights. Yet, all of the pieces have one overriding theme: writers must, as she quotes Salman Rushdie, "speak the unspeakable," so that they may help the rest of us take a moral stand with certainty and conviction. Although Gordimer's nonfiction generally does not have the same power and accessibility as her fiction, there is much here for teenage readers, especially those young people developing a strong sense of moral outrage at the political injustices of the world.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One THREE IN A BED: FICTION, MORALS, AND POLITICS * * * Three in a bed: it's a kinky cultural affair. I had better identify the partners.     Politics and morals, as concepts, need no introduction, although their relationship is shadily ambiguous. But fiction has defining responsibilities that I shall be questioning all through what I have to say, so I shall begin right away with the basic, dictionary definition of what fiction is supposed to be.     Fiction, says the Oxford English Dictionary , is `the action of feigning or inventing imaginary existences, events, states of things ... prose novels and stories collectively'. So poetry, according to the OED, is not fiction. The more I ponder this, the more it amazes me; the more I challenge it. Does the poet not invent imaginary existences, events, states of things?     If I should ask any erudite and literary gathering to give examples of the powers of the poets' invention of imaginary existences, events, the poets' matchless evocation of `states of things', all drawn, just as the prose writers' is, from life--the fact of life--as the genie is smoked from the bottle, I could fill pages with quotations. If fiction is the suprareal spirit of the imagination, then poetry is the ultimate fiction. In speaking of fiction, I should be understood to be including poetry.     What is politics doing in bed with fiction? Morals have bedded with story-telling since the magic of the imaginative capacity developed in the human brain--and in my ignorance of a scientific explanation of changes in the cerebrum or whatever, to account for this faculty, I believe it was the inkling development that here was somewhere where the truth about being alive might lie. The harsh lessons of daily existence, coexistence between human and human, with animals and nature, could be made sense of in the ordering of properties by the transforming imagination, working upon the `states of things'. With this faculty fully developed, great art in fiction can evolve in imaginative revelation to fit the crises of an age that comes after its own, undreamt of when it was written. Moby-Dick can now be seen as an allegory of environmental tragedy. `The whale is the agent of cosmic retribution': we have sought to destroy the splendid creature that is nature, believing we could survive only by `winning' a battle against nature; now we see our death in the death of nature, brought about by ourselves.     But the first result of the faculty of the imagination was, of course, religion. And from the gods (what a supreme feat of the imagination they were!), establishing a divine order out of the unseen, came the secular, down-to-soil-and-toil order of morals, so that humans could somehow live together, and in balance with other creatures.     Morals are the husband/wife of fiction. And politics? Politics somehow followed morals in, picking the lock and immobilizing the alarm system. At first it was in the dark, perhaps, and fiction thought the embrace of politics was that of morals, didn't know the difference ... And this is understandable. Morals and politics have a family connection. Politics' ancestry is morality--way back, and generally accepted as forgotten. The resemblance is faded. In the light of morning, if fiction accepts the third presence within the sheets it is soon in full cognisance of who and what politics is.     Let me not carry my allegory too far. Just one generation further. From this kinky situation came two offspring, Conformity and Commitment. And you will know who fathered whom.     Until 1988 I would have said that the pressures to write fiction that would conform to a specific morality , whether secular or religious, long had been, could be, and were, safely ignored by writers in modern times. The Vatican still has its list of proscribed works, but in most countries one assumed there was freedom of expression--so far as religion was concerned. (The exception was perhaps in certain North American schools ...)     Blasphemy? A quaint taboo, outdated, like the dashes which used to appear between the first and last letters of four-letter words. Where censorship was rigidly practised, in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and South Africa, for example, the censors were concerned with what was considered politically subversive in literature, not with what might offend or subvert religious sensibilities. (In the Soviet Union these were not recognized, anyway.) This was true even in South Africa, where the Dutch Reformed Church with a particular form of Calvinistic prudery had twisted religion to the service of racism and identified the church with the security of the state, including its sexual morality based on the supposed "purity" of one race. A decade ago, in 1988, an actor in South Africa could not get away with exclaiming "My God!" in a secular context on the stage, and Jesus Christ Superstar was banned; by 1989, savage satire of the church and its morality was ignored. As for sexual permissiveness, full frontal nudity in films was not snipped by the censor's scissors.     But in holding this illusion about freedom of expression in terms of religious and sexual morality, I was falling into the ignorance Islam finds reprehensible in the Judeo-Christian-atheist world (more strange bedfellows)--that world's ignorance of the absolute conformity to religious taboos that is sacred to Islam. And here Islam was right; I should have known that this kind of censorship was not evolving into tolerance, least of the rights of non-Muslim countries to grant their citizens the freedom of disbelief, but was instead becoming an international gale force of growing religious fanaticism. Then came the holy war against The Satanic Verses , in which the enemy was a single fiction, a single writer, and the might and money of the Islamic world were deployed in the fatwa : death to Salman Rushdie.     Now I, and other writers, were stunned to know that situations were back with us where religious persecution--the denial of people's right to follow their faith in freedom--is turned on its head, and religion persecutes freedom--not alone freedom of expression but a writer's freedom of movement, finally a writer's right to life itself . Now in a new decade, with freedoms rising, we see that while a writer becomes president in one country, another writer is being hounded to death throughout the world. We see how a religion has the power to terrorize, through its followers, across all frontiers. Political refugees from repressive regimes may seek asylum elsewhere; Salman Rushdie has nowhere to go. Islam's edict of death takes terrorist jurisdiction everywhere, contemptuous of the laws of any country.     Pre-Freudian hypocrisy, puritan prudery may be forgotten. The horror of what has happened to Rushdie is a hand fallen heavily on the shoulder of fiction: pressures to write in conformity with a specific morality still can arrive, and pursue with incredible vindictiveness, even if this is unlikely to happen to most writers.     Am I positing that morals should be divorced from fiction? That fiction is free of any moral obligation? No. Fiction's morality lies in taking the freedom to explore and examine contemporary morals, including moral systems such as religions, with unafraid honesty.     This has not been an easy relationship, whether in the ghastly extreme of Salman Rushdie's experience or, say, that of Gustave Flaubert, who, commenting on the indecency case against Madame Bovary after he won it in 1857, wrote of the establishment of spurious literary values and the devaluation of real literary values such a case implies for fiction. `My book is going to sell unusually well ... But I am infuriated when I think of the trial; it has deflected attention from the novel's artistic success ... to such a point that all this row disquiets me profoundly ... I long to ... publish nothing; never to be talked of again.' (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Nadine Gordimer. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable, to speak the unspeakable, to ask difficult questions--Salman Rushdie
Three in a Bed: Fiction, Morals, and Politics
The Status of the Writer in the World Today: Which World? Whose World?
Turning the Page: African Writers and the Twenty-first Century References: The Codes of Culture
The Lion, the Bull, and the Tree
Guuml;nter Grass
The Dialogue of Late Afternoon
Joseph Roth: Labyrinth of Empire and Exile
An Exchange: Kenzaburo Oe, Nadine Gordimer
How shall we look at each other then?--Mongane Wally Serote
1959: What Is Apartheid?
How Not to Know the African
A Morning in the Library: 1975
Heroes and Villains
Crack the Nut: The Future Between Your Teeth
How Shall We Look at Each Other Then?
29 October 1989--A Beautiful Day, Com
Mandela: What He Means to Us
The First Time
Act two: One Year Later
The Essential Document
As Others See Us
Labour Well the Teeming Earth
The ceaseless adventure.--Jawaharlal Nehru
The Writer's Imagination and the Imagination of the State
Writing and Being
Living on a Frontierless Land: Cultural Globalization
Our Century