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States Of Emergency
by Kenneth Mcgooghan

Andre Brink on the insidious effects of censorship THE DEVASTATING politics of apartheid," the white South African author was telling his Canadian audience, 11 engulf, every hidden, private corner of my existence as an individual. Where I live, where and what I teach, my association with friends and colleagues, the choice of a school for my children, the buying of a loaf of bread ?? the minutiae of my life and the privacies of my love are all invaded, every moment of my waking and sleeping life, by politics and the power structures from which it emanates." Andre Brink, visiting Calgary last May at the request of the Writers' Guild of Alberta, was holding his audience spellbound during a panel discussion with Ted Scott, Carolyn Johnston, and Susan Crean on freedom of speech and the writer. "At one point in 1974," Brink continued, "when I was still writing exclusively in my other tongue, Afrikaans, seeing myself completely cut off from my reader ship and forced into silence ?? which for a writer is tantamount to death ?? I discovered that censorship extends far beyond any legal formulation or codification of it. It is the climate of uncertainty and fear surrounding censorship that in the long run becomes one of the most pernicious aspects of the practice ?? with the end result of writers inhibiting themselves." Brink, the first Afrikaner writer to have a book banned in his native land, took issue with those who think "that censorship affects only a handful of writers, who may he potentially obnoxious anyway, without realizing that what is at stake is their own freedom: that is, the freedom of society at large, the freedom of choice. When that is taken away from us, when that is eroded or threatened, everything that constitutes our common and individual humanity is in danger. When we consent to that, either actively or by not resisting it, it is our own humanity that is insulted." Brink, whose 13 novels have been translated into 26 languages, was one of the first Afrikaner writers to question apartheid, and became committed to the anti?apartheid struggle in the early 1970s. His subsequent novels ?? among them Looking on Darkness (1974), An Instant in the Wind (1976), Rumors of Rain (1978), The Wall of Plague (1984), and States of Emergency (1988) ?? have earned him widespread international acclaim, but at home his reception has been much more mixed. When it was published in Afrikaans, Looking on Darkness ?? which explores a multi?racial love triangle through the eyes of a "coloured" actor who awaits execution for the murder of his white lover ?? was received with widely diverging attitudes, Brink told me after the panel discussion. "On the one hand it was absolutely acclaimed by the younger generation of readers. But it was totally rejected by the establishment: denounced from pulpits, burned in public, attacked by cabinet ministers. And then it was banned, which was a totally traumatic experience, because at that stage I was writing exclusively in Afrikaans. So that my whole contact with readers was dependent on that. And suddenly, I found myself without readers." The banning of Looking on Darkness compelled Brink to start writing in English as a way of ensuring that he still reached an audience, a practice he has followed ever since. "I still write in Afrikaans as well, but everything I write now is written in both languages, Afrikaans and English. Depending on the book, I might do certain portions in Afrikaans and others in English. For instance, when I wrote A Chain of Voices" ?? a historical novel about a revolt of South African slaves that is structurally reminiscent of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying ?? "I wrote some voices in Afrikaans and some in English, to get different distances and textures of writing." Brink's most recent novel is States of Emergency, which portrays a South African trying to write a love story while the country around him is going up in flames. The novel is postmodern in its questioning of the nature of narrative, and also in the way "real life" violence intrudes on the writers art. "I've always liked experimenting with new technique.,,, new approaches, new possibilities of writing. I think one of the greatest dangers I writer faces is repetitiveness, and so perhaps it was inevitable that I should try to explore this, a direction which I first explored many years ago in the '60s, in one of my Afrikaans novels that has never been translated. "But in a sense the Peculiar form of States of Emergency was dictated by the circumstances in which I wrote. In the years preceding it I hadn't written anything at all, partly for personal reasons, but mainly because the whole political situation in the country had been deteriorating. Literally every day there would be people turning LIP for some kind of help, saying that a father or a son or a cousin or somebody had been arrested by the security police, or that someone had been thrown out of his house because he couldn't pay the rent. Especially black people who knew my writing, or didn't even know it first hand but knew about me, and regarded me as somebody they could come to for some kind of help. It meant that more often than not I was so exhausted at the end of the day that I sunply didn't have the energy to write. "But I realized that if this was going to go on, then that would he the end of me as ;I writer ?? and writing is something that is absolutely indispensable to my Consciousness. So I knew I would have to write ,(Inething which in form Would allow me to spend, say, three hours writ ing today, haIf an hour tomorrow, then .I week without anything, then another ])our. And so the mosaic form of shorter incidents and passages, reflection, quotations, that whole form was really to take advantage Of the situation in which I wrote, writing about the very problem which made it almost impossible for me to write. III other words, exploring the situation of the writer trying to write in a situation where be cannot write." Now Brink is writing a "double?decker thing, a contemporary story grafted on to a long historical fiction. Part of it I'm writing in English, the rest in Afrikaans, which means that afterward one has to disentangle two separate versions. What complicates things is that it's never a matter of simple translation. It's a total rewriting, a refeeling, a rethinking of the whole experience in another language. Before Looking on Darkness, I used to write very fast. But from that book onwards, the whole process has slowed down, leading to about one book every two years, and now one book every three or four years." On the question of South Africa's future, Brink is Cautiously optimistic. He believes that the release of Nelson Mandela is enormously significant. "It goes much further than being merely symbolic because he is not just ,I figurehead, he is [lot just a symbol, he is a very forceful, charismatic figure. fie has the respect of the very large majority of the people in the country, and lie just seems to he the Luau for the moment." The lifting of the prohibitions on organizations like the African National Congress, followed by the liberation of Mandela, led to "a kind of euphoria that swept the country," Brink said. "Everybody was just elated by the sudden new hopes that seemed to stream into the vacuum. But we are at the beginning of a very difficult and dangerous period, when this euphoria, these hopes, these promises and possibilities now have to he translated into political and social realities."

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