Monthly Archives: January 2019

You Make Me Possible at the Woordfees

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One of my favourite events of the year opens the literary festival season and I am really looking forward to speaking about You Make Me Possible at the Woordfees with Kerneels Breytenbach on 6 March 2019, at 12:00, in the ATKV Boektent.

OUR LOVE LETTER

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Karina Szczurek, in gesprek met Kerneels Breytenbach

 Aangebied deur Protea Boekhuis

Haar man het haar met briewe die hof gemaak, vertel Karina Szczurek van die skrywer André P. Brink, met wie sy ’n dekade getroud was. Nou is dié briefwisseling sedert hulle ontmoeting in Desember 2004 in Oostenryk deur Karina gebundel as laaste liefdestaak teenoor André. You Make Me Possible begin in die roes van die ontdekking van ’n geesgenoot, dokumenteer die brose begin van ’n byna onmoontlike verhouding, en daarna die verdieping daarvan tot ’n volwasse verhouding in ’n nuwe wereld van saamwees en erkenning. Kerneels Breytenbach vra haar uit.

6 Maart 12:00

60 min | ATKV Boektent

R55 | R70 by die deur

You Make Me Possible at the KKNK

The KKNK is turning 25 this year and it is my great pleasure to be part of the writers’ programme at the festival.

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“Die KKNK bied hope geleenthede om die room van die Suid-Afrikaanse kunste in verskeie genres, dissiplines en vorms te beleef. Vermaak vir oud en jonk word met ’n program propvol drama, humor, musiek, diskoers en vermaak aangebied. Die fees gee aanleiding tot die skep van nuwe materiaal soos toneelstukke wat spesiaal vir die KKNK geskryf word en jaarliks word die topkunstenaars en-produksies by die Fees vereer met Kanna-toekennings.”

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YOU MAKE ME POSSIBLE: THE LOVE LETTERS OF KARINA M. SZCZUREK & ANDRÉ BRINK

MET Karina Szczurek en Erns Grundling (gespreksleier)

Novelist André Brink married Karina Szczurek when he was 71 and she was 29. They were together for ten years before he died on a plane, beside her, high above Africa in February 2015.

Selected and edited by Karina M. Szczurek, the love letters between herself and André included in You Make Me Possible tell in detail the story of how they met in Austria in December 2004, fell in love, and decided to forge a future together. The intense correspondence which followed in the weeks after their fateful encounter recounts their courtship in words, revealing their initially unacknowledged attraction, their fears and longings, and writing a new world of recognition and togetherness into being. The letters chronicle the time between their first meeting and Karina’s decision to relocate to South Africa to be with André in 2005 – a relationship which lasted until his death in 2015.

Engels | Gesin | 60 min

22 Maart 15:30

 

Being a cat

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In the Acknowledgements of my novel, Invisible Others, I wrote: ‘My furry family, Glinka, Salieri and Mozart, true experts at life, keep trying to teach me how to make the most of it; I hope they will succeed one day.’ It is four years later, but no matter how desirable, being a cat is not an easy task. I might, however, be closer than ever. ‘Your immediate goal is to be a cat’, writes Jaron Lanier in the introduction to his Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), a book that is, despite its title, ‘about how to be a cat.’

‘Cats have done the seemingly impossible: They’ve integrated themselves into the modern high-tech world without giving themselves up. They are still in charge. There is no worry that some stealthy meme crafted by an algorithm and paid for by a creepy, hidden oligarch has taken over your cat. No one has taken over your cat; not you, not anyone… Cats on the internet are our hopes and dreams for the future of people on the internet’, says Lanier. And he should know, not only as a Silicon Valley insider, but as someone who shares his life with cats – Loof, Potato, Tuno and Starlight – who taught Lanier ‘how not to be domesticated’.

Books, like cats, have the ability to change lives. I read Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now over the festive season and it did exactly that: changed my life. I haven’t deleted the only social media account I have (yet?); that, too, is ‘part of your prerogative, being a cat’, as Lanier emphasises. But I did decide to change the way I interact with social media.

The problem with social media that Lanier identifies – ‘relentless, robotic, ultimately meaningless behaviour modification in the service of unseen manipulators and uncaring algorithms’ – is, of course, something that many of us have been aware of for quite a while. But it was ultimately his book that encouraged me to do something against it in my own private capacity. I am tired of the exploitative, manipulative, addictive, artificial, often toxic and aggressive, nature of social media. It seems that no matter how much you try to curate your experience, there is no way of avoiding all the negative side effects of engaging with the diverse platforms. There are just so many accounts that you can block without feeling that you are totally wasting your time and could invest it in something much more creative and positive, something that perhaps you yourself – and not some ruthless, greedy company – can profit from, if not exactly financially, then definitely intellectually and emotionally. It’s time to ‘detach from the behaviour-modification empires for a while’, as Lanier says.

‘Go to where you are kindest,’ he suggests, and it resonates with me deeply. Kindness is essential to my survival. It is kindness that has carried me to safety across the roughest storms of my life, and there have been way too many in recent years. I want kindness and calm in my life, and cats and books. That is what makes me happy, what makes life worthwhile for me.

What has changed? Nothing drastic. I stopped tweeting on 31 December. Mid-January, I am still missing it sometimes (it is addictive, after all), especially the interaction with friends and followers I truly care about but, mostly, I feel a lot of relief. I still look at notifications every now and then and acknowledge the ones which I would have in the past, and I use DMs to communicate with a few people, but I completely ignore my timeline. Many social media accounts are of interest to me, but I look at them directly when I feel like it. Basically, I shifted from an active participant to a passive observer. I want to give it a few months to see how I will feel about it all later in the year.

It is amazing how much time I save every day by not engaging with social media. And I decided to use that time for creativity. As Lanier says, the internet is not the problem, the problem is how we use it and how it is being used against us. Producing and sharing creative content about topics I am passionate about, that I or others can also profit from – directly or indirectly (from the exchange of ideas or book sales, for example) – feels right. It is crucial to consider, in Lanier’s words, ‘sustainable, dignified business models’ where a transaction between two parties does not have to go through a third one ‘who is paying to manipulate them.’ Lanier asks for social media that he can pay for, and where he can ‘unambiguously own and set the price for using my data, and it’s easy and normal to earn money if my data is valuable.’ I like that idea very much.

Lanier asks, ‘What if listening to an inner voice or heeding a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?’

What if? Indeed.

I upgraded my blog, so that it does not feature any ads I cannot control; I love the new, clean look which is focused on my – personally chosen – content. The costs involved were minimal in comparison to the benefits.

I decided to choose my online news and entertainment sources directly and to pay for content I find valuable. Well-researched, -considered, -written and -presented content costs money to produce and I want its creators to be well-paid for their intellectual and creative work. Quality, not quantity – that’s what I seek.

The word ‘content’ itself deserves more attention. I find it problematic, but that’s a thought that needs further consideration.

I love paper and never read e-books if I can help it. Reading print media of diverse nature during the festive season made me remember how good it feels to lie next to the pool and turn the pages of an informative, fun magazine. I want more of that in my life again, too.

There is a wonderful passage about writing in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It turns a premise writers live by on its head: ‘You can’t read well until you can write at least a little’, claims the author, and continues, ‘The reason we teach writing to students is not in the hopes that they’ll become professional writers… Instead, we hope they’ll learn what it means to write, and to think, which will make them more thoughtful when they read.’ And he adds, challenging us: ‘You can’t use the internet well until you’ve confronted it on your own terms, at least for a while. This is for your integrity, not just for saving the world.’

Integrity, like kindness, deserves to be cultivated with the utmost care.

Finally, I find Lanier’s description of certain questions as ‘tender’ beautiful. Let’s ask more of those ‘tender questions’ together.

Empathy is the fuel that runs a decent society.’

— Jaron Lanier

(PS I tweeted the link to this post and pinned it to my timeline as a way of explaining my disappearance from Twitter; my friends have been asking whether everything was all right. It is. Thank you for caring!)

Stephen Johnson – a tribute

Stephen Johnson was one of the first people my late husband André Brink introduced me to when I made Cape Town my permanent home. He was André’s publisher, advisor and, along with Kerneels Breytenbach, a trustee of The André P. Brink Literary Trust from the time it was established in 2003. Above all, Stephen was a friend André cherished and trusted.

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In the past four years since André’s death in February 2015, I had the exceptional privilege of working along Stephen, Kerneels and André’s son Gustav Brink as one of the trustees of André’s Literary Trust. Stephen’s input has been essential to all our decisions and he will be greatly missed in this capacity.

Stephen and I were never personally close, but in my dealings with him, I admired his erudition, his impeccable taste, his love for the written word and the objects which contain it, and his integrity. Seeing Stephen handle a beautiful book and hearing him talk about the writing he admired was pure pleasure. He was an extraordinary, perceptive reader. I remember his eloquence and his voice, both magnificent. He was an old-school publisher – he knew and cared about his writers and befriended many. To him, publishing was an art form as described by another illustrious contributor to this field, the Italian publisher Roberto Calasso. Stephen recognised and revered true talent and treated his authors like royalty. He saw us primarily as creative beings, not only as potential goldmines to be exploited. Expertise, imagination, loyalty and empathy were the cornerstones of his achievements.

It was Stephen who gave me my publishing break when he took on the project which resulted in Touch: Stories of Contact, my first major publication as an editor ten years ago. And more recently, he was one of the people who had helped me navigate the rough waters of a storm I had feared might end my publishing career for good. It is now two published books later and I feel that I have arrived in a safe harbour. I owe a lot of that safety to his wisdom and guidance.

Professionally and personally, we lost a fine man. Whenever we corresponded, he signed his letters with ‘fond regards’ and I associate the phrase with him. His last communications came through on 29 December, one of them also signed thus. I will remember him with the fondest of regards and would like to offer my condolences to all his loved ones as well as the people who were substantially enriched by his presence in their lives. May he rest in peace.