I saw this book in the library and thought I'd seen it on a couple of those lists of books that everyone should read, or the greatest books of the 20tI saw this book in the library and thought I'd seen it on a couple of those lists of books that everyone should read, or the greatest books of the 20th century, or even the Night train to Lisbon, which seemed to deserve the title In search of lost time almost as much as this one did.
I finished Night train to Lisbon, but I've still got a long way to go with this one. But I've read enough to know that it is a strange book. It seems to break every rule of good writing and style. It has sentences that run over a full page, full of subordinate clauses, and when you get to the end of the sentence you have to go back to the beginning agaain to see what the beginning of the main clause was.
I've been told this is a cultural thing.
French and Spanish writers love long convoluted sentences, while English speakers don't. At least so I've been told. From my time as an editor at Unisa I know that Afrikaans bureaucrats and academics love long and convoluted sentences too -- though sometimes I think it is for the wrong reasons. They think it sounds more "scientific". Too often, however, it's just a cover-up for bullshit. People without academic pretensions seem to be able to write clear and lucid Afrikaans prose, even beautiful prose, without the need to use turgid and turbid circumlocutions. Beyers Naude, for example. It seems strange to me that a language that has such beautiful poetry seems to have so many speakers who feel the need to uglify it with bombastic prose.
I've been told that In search of lost time is written in a "stream of consciousness" style, and that might help to explain the long sentences and convoluted syntax. But I've read other "stream-of-consciousness" novels and I don't recall the main clause being divided by half a page of subordinate clauses like an if-then computer program. Yes, one thought leads to another, but the syntax follows the thought, rather than the thought being divided by the syntax -- at least that is what I recall in The Waves and Ulysses. And this one has more digressions than Tristram Shandy.
Another confusing thing is that one is never sure of the age of the narrator. One moment he is sent to bed because he's too young to sit at the dinner table with the adults, and is scheming to get his mother to come upstairs and kiss him goodnight, the next he is holding adult literary discussions with a sophisticated friend who is excluded from the dinner table because he was rude about the narrator's great aunt. Still, I suppose my stream of consciousness jumps about like that except I'm not asking anyone else to read it, and as the author says, we don't know people, we only know out memories of them. But I think the author of Night train to Lisbon says it better, and in fewer words.
I'm sure I'll have to take it back to the library before I've finished it, and even if I do finish it there are still three more volumes to go. Maybe I'll renew it, maybe I won't.
Since this is a collection of novels, I'll comment on each one separately as I read it, on my Khanya blog, and when I've done with all of them may addSince this is a collection of novels, I'll comment on each one separately as I read it, on my Khanya blog, and when I've done with all of them may add some comments on the collected works here. I begin with Burmese Days, because that was the first one in the collection that I hadn't read.
The next one in the series is A clergyman's daughter, to which I give only three stars. Not that it's a bad book, but it has some faults that I didn't see in Burmese Days.
Coming up for Air is a strange book. I was determined not to like it, and yet I felt compelled to finish it, though couldn't stand to read much more than a chapter a day; a page-turner it wasn't. It's about a fat middle-aged salesman living a dull middle-class life in a dull London suburb, who goes out to get his new set of false teeth. On thje way he sees a poster about King Zog's wedding, and that sets him off reminscing about his childhood in a small town in Oxfordshire. One expects the memories to last for a chapter or two, but they go on and on and on.
When I was 11 years old I went to high school and started Algebra. A couple of weeks after the beginning of the school term I was sick, and missed aboWhen I was 11 years old I went to high school and started Algebra. A couple of weeks after the beginning of the school term I was sick, and missed about 3 days' classes, and must have missed something vital, because I never managed to catch up. In maths exams I did well in geometry, was mediocre in arthmetic and trigonometry (mainly because of careless mistakes) but very poor in algebra. So when I saw this book in the library, I thought it might be an opportunity to see what I had missed.
I found the first few chapters interesting and informative. I was amazed at how what I had learned about vulgar fractions at school came back to me, and made more sense than it ever had at school. Even the beginning of algebra made much more sense. Perhaps it was because more than 30 years of using computers had taught me the uses of variables, though with computers one usually assigns values to variables rather than trying to work out the value of variables in equations. Things I had learnt at school as arbitrary rules suddenly began to make sense. Perhaps they made too much sense, because I found sometimes I could not follow the reasoning in the book, but following my own reasoning was able to solve simple (very simple) equations in my head.
I began to think that algebra could make sense after all.
So I read on, and then came a section where there were a lot of arbitrary unexplained rules that would need to be memorised if I were to make any more progress. Nevertheless, I kept the book in the bathroom and read snatches of it in the bath. Some bits made sense, others didn't.
I don't think I'll finish the book because the time is drawing near when I'll have to take it back to the library. That's OK. I don't think I've used the little algebra I learnt since leaving school over 50 years ago, so I doubt that I'll have much use for it in the short time left to me. But I'd still like to read a book in which the reasons behind the rules are explained. For a few chapters I thought that this would turn out to be one of those books, but it wasn't. ...more
I'm currently readi ng this in the electronic format downloded from the Gutenberg site, since I don't have a copy and the library copy is at the bindeI'm currently readi ng this in the electronic format downloded from the Gutenberg site, since I don't have a copy and the library copy is at the bindery.
A group of us on the Coinherence-l mailing list are reading it and commenting as we go. ...more
Back in the 1970s there was a school of Marxist historians who attacked the "liberal" school that had flourished 30-40 years earlier.
According to theBack in the 1970s there was a school of Marxist historians who attacked the "liberal" school that had flourished 30-40 years earlier.
According to the "liberal" school, the biggest problem in South African society was "race", and in particular "native policy", which they saw as retarding the development of the country.
The Marxist historians believed (with some justification) that the liberal historians had missed the role of capitalism in promoting poverty, oppression and misery. Capitalism was largely invisible to the "liberal" historians, because they assumed that it was part of a normal society, and if they thought about it at all, they thought of it being largely beneficial. Any glitches were simply teething troubles in the development of an industrialising society, and so in an industrial society those problems would be things of the past, just as when a baby learns to chew solid food and enjoy new tastes, it forgets the discomfort of the eruption of milk teeth.
The Marxist historians, or some of them at least, tended to deny that there was such a thing as racism. Racism, to them, was simply a cover up for class warfare, a rationalisation and an excuse for exploitation of the working class. All economic activity, and even government policies were described in terms of "extracting surpluses".
So there were two competing views of South African history -- one with the view that the central issue was "race" and the other with the view that the central issue was class.
Now this is a gross over-simplification, and I've been exaggerating the extremes and playing down the middle to try to make the two tendencies clearer, but these tendencies were nevertheless there.
There were other schools of history too -- for example, the Afrikaner nationalist school, which tended to dominate school text books in the mid-20th century, and protrayed the main theme of history as the rise and development of the Afrikaner nation, with its own language, culture and territory (which God had given them by displacing the savages who had previously occupied it). Central to this story was the Great Trek.
Marxist historians, on the other hand, tended to see the Great Trek as just one of several similar population migrations (like that of the Ndebele to Matabeleland in the present Zimbabwe) which put the ruling classes in the various groups in a better position to extract surpluses from their own groups or their neighbours.
More recently there has been, in the true Marxist dialectical pattern, a synthesis. If "liberal" historiography was the thesis, and Marxist historiography the antithesis, then the synthesis combines the two into a new synthesis. And that seems to be the role of New history of South Africa