Dan Sandman

Archive for April, 2016|Monthly archive page

18:In the Heart of the Country by J. M Coetzee

In Books, Fiction on 29/04/2016 at 12:00 pm

In the Heart of the Country by J.M. CoetzeeThis book is set in the South African countryside. On an isolated farm, a disturbed character called Magda is writing down her thoughts in the present tense. Readers are given no omnipresent narrative voice, nor are we shown another side to the story. Magda controls the words on the page and we, the readers, are her confidants.

Below the surface of this closed room psycho drama lie two problematic power relationships. Firstly, from a psychoanalytical perspective, it is possible to observe an unsettling and worrisome sexual tension between a mentally ill daughter and her patriarchal father. Secondly, and relevant to any postcolonial critique of the novel, there is a more overt discourse between master and servant. Later in the novel, such relationships are shown to be held together by the power of money or the power of a gun. When this power is taken away from the master, the results are catastrophic for the social order of the household.

Coetzee presents us with another dark work of postcolonial fiction. His bleak and isolated South African landscape is a microcosm in which to explore mental illness. On first appearances, it is the violent story of an individual descent into a fantastical madness. When seen from a number of critical perspectives, it can be used to open up questions surrounding psychoanalysis, feminism, colonial history and social class.

‘A powerful study of lust, degradation and fantasy’.

17: Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

In Books, Fiction on 22/04/2016 at 12:00 pm

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. CoetzeeThis book is an allegory or narrative with a hidden meaning. Overtly, it is about a rebellious magistrate who fights against a fictional state system simply called Empire (yes, like in Star Wars). Less obviously, it is a story about the colonization of Southern Africa. The message is that colonialism is the military enforcement of Western values upon colonized peoples. It is the arrogant assumption that one can invade a foreign land in the name of civilization. The misguided belief that less technologically advanced peoples are savage barbarians to be feared and tortured.

The narrative is set in a flawed military bureaucracy. As narrator, the magistrate contrasts the hypocrisy of the regime with the written culture and archaeological history of the so-called barbarians. He also develops a quasi-sexual relationship with a girl who has been tortured by the sadistic villain Colonel Joll. Overall, there is a pervading sense that Empire is a force of evil in the world (yes, like in Star Wars). Allegorically, this is an attempt to address the problems still present within postcolonial Southern Africa.

My main criticism is that such stories offer no solutions to these problems. We might agree that the magistrate is right to rebel against Empire. Our thoughts might be with the downtrodden victims of government-sanctioned cruelty and injustice. But at at no point are we given hope that good can and will defeat evil.

Yes, unlike in Star Wars.

16: The Acoustic Guitar Handbook by Paul Balmer

In Books, Encyclopaedia, Music, Non-Fiction on 15/04/2016 at 12:00 pm

The Acoustic Guitar Handbook by Paul BalmerClassic guitars have nylon strings in the treble and silver wound strings in the bass. These strings produce less tension across the neck, resulting in a simple and elegant design. They are easier for beginners to learn on and for experts to perform on. The three most famous players of classical guitar are Andres Segovia, Julian Bream and John Williams.

Steel strung guitars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have two types in my collection, a dreadnought and a grand auditorium. They are excellent instruments for singers and songwriters, working well when played with a plectrum or with fingers. The acoustic guitar accompanies the voices of Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton.

This book is a how-to guide for students and teachers alike. Paul Balmer writes about his own acoustic guitars with great knowledge and enthusiasm. As a reference tool, The Acoustic Guitar Handbook is incredibly handy. My one criticism would be that parts of the book are a little bit repetitive.

Recommended by this guitar teacher.

15: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 08/04/2016 at 12:00 pm

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DefoeI am reading Robinson Crusoe (1719) again for my masters course. We are studying how the Crusoe myth has been adapted over the centuries. The focus is on how this colonial sea adventure story is interpreted from a postcolonial perspective. For example, we are comparing Defoe’s novel to J.M Coetzee’s Foe (1986) and Derek Walcott’s Pantomime (1978). Alongside our Crusoe inspired readings, we are also studying the myths of the San people. The aim is to critically investigate how these stories are transmitted and circulated in differing contexts.

We all know at least a small part of the Crusoe myth. A man leaves England to go on a sea adventure, against the advise of his father. After profiting from his colonial expeditions in Brazil, he gets shipwrecked on a deserted island. Here, he resourcefully builds a home for himself and keeps a diary. After years of loneliness, he defends his new home against a group of so-called savages. Following an encounter with a ship of mutineers, he eventually returns to England. Upon arrival home, he discovers that his father has written him out of his will. Dismayed, the hero journeys back to Brazil with his trusty manservant Friday. In a series of sequel adventures, Crusoe continues to be heroic and swashbuckling.

Forgetting for a moment the serious implications of this colonial myth, Defoe is still one of the most entertaining writers in world literature. His prose is full of detail, imagination, craft, style, innovation, excitement – all Things that keep those pages turning. Even in moral terms, the Crusoe story still contains a powerful message concerning self-sufficiency. It is said that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and there is something very English about Crusoe’s desert island application of DIY skills. The Crusoe myth also questions the dangers of adventuring abroad, or what today might be called Wanderlust. Would it not perhaps have been more sensible for Crusoe to have taken his father’s advise? Should he have settled for the ‘Middle Station’ of life? After all, every adventurer leaves their family, friends and country behind them. This applies as much to today’s global businessperson as it did to the sailing merchants of old.

Still an absolute classic.

14: Something of Myself by Rudyard Kipling

In Autobiography, Biography, Books, History, Literature, Non-Fiction on 01/04/2016 at 12:00 pm

Something of Myself by Rudyrad KiplingRudyard Kipling lived an interesting life. He traveled to many places, met many historical figures and wrote some world famous stories. This book, written late in his life, is his autobiography, and gives you an impression of the public face behind the great words.

Very little is revealed about Kipling’s private life, but the book does reveal a fair amount about his worldview. When Kipling encountered people, he viewed them in racial terms and drew on racial stereotypes when forming opinions. To put it plainly, he was a racist.

But he was also a man of his age, a period when men like himself ruled the British Empire. And in his life as a writer and journalist, he was at the forefront of history, reporting on events and influencing public opinion. Although his blatant imperialism may jar one hundred years later, it was a valid part of a free press.

Well written by a great writer, but not very revealing for an autobiography.