Home Page Homepage
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsProfiles of Emergent African WritersFictionPoetryDramaArtReviews

  Jack Mapanje
Niyi Osundare
  Lauri Kubuitsile
  Peter Addo
  Kola Boof
  Nii Kwei Parkes

  Anietie Isong

  Chinelo Achebe-

  Akin Adesokan
  Tolu Ogunlesi

  Adaobi Tricia
  Eghosa Imasuen
  Mpalive Msiska
  Roi Kwabena

  Nnedi Okoroafor-

  George E. Clarke
  Kimyia Varzi
  Uche Nduka
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Obododimma Oha
  Leila Aboulela
  James Whyle
  Koye Oyedeji
  Becky Clarke
  Nike Adesuyi
  Derek Petersen
  Afam Akeh
  Olutola Ositelu
  V. Ehikhamenor
  Molara Wood
  Chime Hilary
  Wumi Raji
  Chuma Nwokolo




Your Letters

If you have a reaction to anything you read on these pages please send your emails here


Photo: Kimya Varzi

 Your Feedback  


Reactions to Issue 2


Still on Disgrace
I’m not entirely sure why the essayist would expect my response to his work to be arranged along the borders of “reading” Disgrace. I have stated that it is not my intention to defend Coetzee against the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism. When we arrogate to ourselves the right to speak for a writer in ways that actively occlude the writer, there is then indeed no balm in Gilead.

I argue against placing Coetzee as a Europhilic writer because to do so is simply to subject his works to the worst excesses of a historicizing reading praxis. To pin down Disgrace in this manner is, I believe, to familiarize (and/or render knowable) those features of Coetzee’s writing that discomfort and perplex his readers, such that the import of the alienating process is completely lost.

I use the word “believe” deliberately: the essayist suggests negativity in the process of belief, while ignoring the cultural origin of all belief: to read is to interpret, and we interpret according to particular cultural signs, so that is pretty much a moot point.

Let us turn, then, to the notion that Coetzee is Europhilic. I argue that Coetzee’s work certainly participates within literary traditions that extend beyond the African, but the same could be said for any writer. Are we to dismiss all works that “write back” to European texts, then? Coetzee’s writing may draw on Beckett and Kafka for inspiration (to put it crudely), but surely that is because the disruptions of 20th century Europe had direct implications for the state of affairs in South Africa?
Is Coetzee simply Europhilic? He is a white South African writing in English, and translating from other languages. He uses Western intellectual discourses to problematize South African political relations. Does this make him “Europhilic”? Why the pejorative view of European affiliation? Coetzee’s works are no more implicated in Europeanism than that of any writer who has undergone the colonial experience. Certainly, to raise the cudgel against South African literature for engaging with European contexts is to miss the close links between the two contexts. In any event, when we dismiss Coetzee in ways that are distinctly anachronistic, we miss out on new ways of reading, new ways of understanding the ethical dimensions of the reading project that do not ignore how the South African position is a manifestation of a wider historical position.

I propose that in Disgrace, Coetzee is not advocating a solipsistic concern with the self: He is problematizing the position. Further, he is problematizing the nature of positions, and their inscriptive function.

And this is precisely where logocentric analysis slips on the glaze of textual subtlety: in insisting on realist representation, such a mode fails to note that the text is just that: a representation. The false foregrounding of history is something Coetzee has always argued against: it has no more authority than any other form of storytelling. I argue against such a mode of reading because it by its very nature presupposes a causal relationship between history and literature, ignoring altogether the nuanced relationship between ethics and literature.

The last paragraph is unfortunate in its use of ad hominem. How to respond to this? My reading is not uncritical, nor is it meant to displace the essayist’s reading of the text: I am fully aware that in opposing the essayist’s reading I appeal to another discourse. Disregarding the slight whiff of tu-quoqism, I think that it is a mistake to try to confine Coetzee to any particular version of structuralism. Coetzee’s conflict between structure and history is far from confined to Europe or European discourse, despite the rather mysterious nature of its correspondence with European writing traditions and theories.

Of course, it is unfortunate that in writing this I encounter a rather pre-formed position, where what I articulate will be read as “fan resistance”, rather than a call for a more nuanced engagement with the text that seeks answers within it, rather than attempting to see what the text is saying through the gaze of other works.

Wamuwi Mbao, Rhodes University, Grahamstown,
South Africa.
22nd October, 2007


Response from Essayist:
Mbao's response, however, is hardly a reading of either Coetzee's Disgrace or his writing generally. He has not shown, as he sets out to do, that Coetzee is anti-Coetzee - in other words, that Coetzee is not Europhilic as the writer himself has repeatedly demonstrated in his fiction and nonfiction. What Mbao has done is to state his own belief in and about Coetzee's writing, just as many believe in God though they fail to explain His nature. Mbao also advocates for a move beyond what he calls "the restrictions of logocentric analysis," but again fails to explain what it is or what is wrong with it.

Mbao's reading exhibits a common symptom in literary dialectic which may be described as "fan resistances." In effect, whatever the critic says about the "lack" of a famed creative writer, the doting fan cries out in speech act phatic retort: "logocentrism ... logocentrism." As I said in the note to "South African Hunger," my forthcoming essay on “Secret/aries of In(san)ity: J. M. Coetzee’s Male/diction” will attempt a definitive reading of Coetzee’s “intellectual allegiance” to western alienists.

Obiwu 19th October, 2007


Mis-reading Disgrace
I am not writing to defend Disgrace [South African Hunger and Literary Excess; Obiwu, , Oct/Nov ]. I feel that such debates have been done to desiccation, and in any event Coetzee’s works and investment in literature are an able defence in themselves. I must say, however, that I find branding Coetzee as Europhilic to be reflective of a rather odd reading praxis.

After all, Coetzee himself has stated unequivocally that his “intellectual allegiances are clearly European, not African.” This might be considered a damning self-indictment, until one sees him (as he sees himself) as a

“late representative of the vast movement of European expansion that took place from the sixteenth century to the mid twentieth century of the Christian era, a movement that more or less achieved its purpose of conquest and settlement in the Americas and Australasia, but failed totally in Asia and almost totally in Africa.”

To impute a blind immersion in European writing from this is to miss the nuanced and informed position from which Coetzee articulates his political position in the world. Far from seeking a glory that never was, grounded in a “Europhilic” tradition on the liminal boundaries of South African life, Coetzee’s works show that the history of the arts is a history of unceasing cross-fertilization across fences and boundaries.

As for the claim that Disgrace exhibits a hegemonic lycanthropy, let us remember that at the heart of Coetzee’s concern with animals and their relationships with humans is a belief in the ethical responsibility to the other. While it is not my place to generalise from my own limited particular to the greater whole, I’m fairly certain that David Lurie’s Disgrace is not Kurtz’s disgrace, humbled by the depravity and animalism of a dark continent, but the failure to love, to envision the other as an other, if you will.

What do I mean by this? I am saying that Coetzee’s concern is not with escaping ethical responsibility by wrapping his novel in the comforting folds of Europhilia, but with mapping a particular white middle-class position. In a world where dehumanisation and inequality are still very prevalent, Coetzee suggests that if fraternity and love are to have any meaning or efficacy, they must be selfless. This selflessness is shown in Lurie’s dealings with the dogs: his failure is one of being unable to negotiate the fine line of complicity and implication which Coetzee himself treads so well.

In any event, all this is very removed from my actual point, which is that intellectualising Disgrace in this manner removes the importance of the corporeal: I advocate a move beyond the restrictions of logocentric analysis, towards a reading of Coetzee that takes full cognisance of its place (and the place of South African writing in general) in a wider historical context.

Wamuwi Mbao, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. 11th October, 2007

Nike Adesuyi is Changing
The poet and literary activist Nike Adesuyi used to be as acessible as the poet Niyi Osundare — at least writing in the Nigerian Newspapers — but with what she has on your website she has left some of her admirers behind, I find her poems, relatively speaking, unusually challenging.

Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth, Essex, England. 17th October, 2007




Reactions to 's Debut.

Congratulations on the launch of  African Writing. This is an amazing achievement on your part. It is also a momentous occasion for Africa, Africans, and writers all over the world. This is  a cause for great celebration.

Jennifer Fielding, Said Business School. UK


Bias against Kola Boof and Calixthe Beyala
I am writing you to say thank you for acknowledging [the work of Kola Boof, included in your 50 African Writers List] but to say that I noticed that hers, along with Calixthe Beyala's profiles are the only two that mention any 'negative' aspects of their careers.   
     I would like to thank you again for this, because you have pointed me out to the two females that are probably saying things that I will not hear from the African mainstream. But as an editor of a magazine for women of colour at the University of Pennsylvania, I thought I should let you know that I sensed a bias here. Peace.

Ashley Alexis McFarlane, Communications, UPenn '08, US


What a Harvest
Thoughtful and rich, as usual. Well done. African Writing is a gift. A new clarion for the silenced, a new haven for the dis/mis-placed. We thank you for it.

Niyi Osundare, USA.


Congratulations on the debut of African Writing and thanks for a wealth of engaging essays and stories. I particularly liked Chuma Nwokolo’s brilliant whodunit and Ikhide’s frank review, speaking of which the cartoon credited to Agosto does have an Ikhide ring to it… love it. Hopefully, someday soon someone will give us an excellent work on the migrant experience that packs some kind of tragic humour.

Olu Oguibe, USA


Monkey Love and Death of a Poem
I haven’t read any poems by Harry Garuba in a very long while, but while love still happily engages the poet, these two poems would seem a departure from his extremely lyrical, evocative, impassioned poems in Shadow and Dream, especially so in his unpublished collection, Season of Rains. It is great to notice that Harry Garuba the poet has grown and become comfortable enough with his craft to speak in a voice shorn of artifice. He has always advocated being simple without being simplistic. These poems speak these qualities. I miss his lush lyricism in these poems though.

Nike Adesuyi, Nigeria.


Where is Tsitsi Dangambera!!
Your magazine "African-Writing.Com" is quite amazing and much needed. Thank you! I was very happy to read your 50 African Writers list but you did not include Tsitsi Dangambera!!

Dustin Brandywine, UK

Editor's Note: The list was limited to writers born after 1960 - which let out the talented Tsitsi


Copyright © Fonthouse Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to permissions@african-writing.com.