The following are some questions I get asked quite often, and I thought it’s best to deal with them here.
What is your thesis on?
My working title is ‘The politics of style in the late works of Nadine Gordimer’, and I haven’t yet mined the novels for snappy quote or epigram yet. I am looking at how Gordimer finds new modes of political engagement in post-apartheid South Africa. I am particularly interested in how the ambivalent and self-interrogating form of her late works in the face of the corruption and persisting inequality in the new political dispensation reconciles such betrayals of the ideals of the freedom struggle for which radicals like her fought, the growing sense of disillusionment and ennui amongst these activists and, above all, the pressing need for continuing political engagement. There is a significant correlation between this this post-ness of apartheid (and whatever tumultuous transition and disillusionment that entails) with a marked stylistic shift in her works, all of which lends evidence to a ‘late style’ reading of her works.
For starters, I’m a massive fan: I regard her as an important political writer from the last century and I admire her prose, both in her fiction and in her non-fiction. There is no denying how deeply engaged with South African politics Gordimer’s novels are, and her last novel, No Time like the Present, is so current and topical in its blistering critique of Jacob Zuma that it may as well be about the actual present. Besides, the questions that Gordimer’s works raise are perennial: questions of justice, issues of race and class, a critique of neo-liberal global capitalism, and, most strikingly, how someone of a privileged background can engage with these issues in a way that is honest and meaningful, but not in bad faith in a way that effaces the voices of the very people for whom one fights. These are questions which all of us should be asking ourselves, and something I ask myself on a regular basis while working in postcolonial studies within academia.
How is your thesis coming along?
Never ask a PhD student how their thesis is coming along!
As a general rule, a thesis never comes along well until after the final submission. It is always a perennial sense of SNAFU until it’s all over. And in the meantime it is always a matter of utter disarray and agony.
But if you would like a more honest account, well, there are good days and bad, so there’s no way to tell.
How long do you have left?
Never, under any circumstance, ask a PhD student this question! And seriously, don’t remind me!
Not enough time. That’s how long.
What model of typewriter is that?
Seiko-Silver Silverette from the 1970s, donated to me by a former flatmate. It is in perfect condition and it works like a charm. Needs the odd clean every now and then, but it’s a solid workhorse.
Do you write your thesis on your typewriter?
Of course not! That would be terribly inefficient, and I’d give myself an RSI in the process.
Have you heard of the invention of the word processor?
No way! I feel silly having typewritten several lines of php code on sheets of paper for this web site! This computer malarkey is something I really should look up.
So what do you do with the typewriter, then?
It’s mostly for recreational use: make of that what you will. Creative writing, odd letters, or whenever I have to send someone a cheque and I want to emphasise the supposed anachronism.
Where do you get ribbon?
I buy it on ebay. There is a DIY method of recycling your old ribbon (it only works for mono-colour ribbons), and that is to press it down and run it over a stamp pad. There are downsides to this: the ribbon is really wet and it smears on the paper quite easily. It also splashes droplets and flecks of ink onto the paper and machine. Also, stamp pad ink is intended for use with rubber stamps only and can potentially corrode the type bar. So only ever use this method if you have no other option.
What the hell is korfball?
It’s a Dutch mixed-sex limited contact ball sport, kind of like a cross between basketball and netball. But honestly, I don’t quite know myself most of the time.