Death of Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer Aged 90

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Scepticalscribe, Jul 29, 2014.

  1. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    Death of Nadine Gordimer: Nobel Laureate, Writer and Political Activist Aged 90.

    On the many 'Death Of' threads which frequently appear on this sub-section of the forum, I continue to be astonished at the references to celebrities I have never heard of (okay, I am not from the US, and not immersed in the admiration of many of the icons of modern US culture), while, at the same time, the deaths of giants of literature and politics - and sometimes, someone who lived a life which effortlessly straddled both with courage, dignity, aplomb, and boundless creative gifts as Nadine Gordimer did - passes without comment on these threads.

    Nadine Gordimer was one of those incredibly gifted, sensitive and courageous individuals who wrote with often savage yet subtle insight about South Africa where she grew up, and lived, during the years of apartheid.

    While brought up in a relatively comfortable background, the fact that she was Jewish, and female, as well as white, gave her an unusual perspective from which to interrogate and dissect the society she wrote about with such devastating insight.

    She was one of the 'liberal (Jewish) whites' in the dark days of the apartheid regime. Inevitably, her observations, and her writing led her into political activism as she sought to challenge both apartheid and the dark attitudes assumptions and laws which buttressed this rotten belief system.

    Indeed, she came to view the role of a writer seeking to change society as the challenge 'to write as well as you can' - while her political activism led her to become friendly with Nelson Mandela's defence team (and, inevitably, with Nelson Mandela himself) when he was on trial in the early 1960s, assistance she rendered in the form of helping to edit his justly famous speech from the dock which he delivered prior to his incarceration in Robben Island. She was one of the first people that Mr Mandela wished to meet on his release from prison.

    Her political activism went well beyond seeking to challenge apartheid, and she fought long in favour of the classical liberal values which underpin functioning democratic societies, in South Africa post apartheid, in the US, and elsewhere.

    A woman of courage, integrity, and genuinely committed to the liberal values of freedom of expression, assembly, and the idea that one's inherent and inalienable right to rights are based on the fact that one is born human, she was also a prodigiously gifted writer with an exquisite and meticulous prose style.

    She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, and I had the wonderful privilege of attending a public reading which she gave on a European tour in the mid 1990s. RIP Nadine Gordimer.
     
  2. Shrink macrumors G3

    Shrink

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  3. Scepticalscribe, Jul 29, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2014

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    I meant to write about her earlier, but was too busy and it slipped my mind. Hence, tonight's thread, a little belated though it is.

    I do recall her cool, collected, elegant, poised, presence on stage, and her clear, incisive, crisp delivery as she read a a number of selected extracts from two different books which she had written and proceeded to discuss her works (and graciously answered questions) with the audience that summer evening in the mid 1990s when she gave a public reading as part of a European tour.

    Merely because she was a member (for years a secret member) of the ANC - at a time, naturally, when such activities were illegal - she did not give an intellectual or political pass to the ANC government either, and insisted that they attempt to live up to and adhere to the standards they had claimed to have wished to stand for.

    Both the apartheid Government - and shamefully - on occasion, its successor - banned her works. The brilliant Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, (himself a Nobel laureate, too) described her as 'a guerrilla of the mind'.

    And, for you, Shrink, , my friend, I have cut, copied and pasted a piece I found from 'The Boston Globe', dated 26.07.2014 about Nadine Gordimer.

    A tribute to Nadine Gordimer

    By Margaret H. Marshall | GLOBE CORRESPONDENT JULY 26, 2014


    "During the long years that I was unable to return to South Africa, where I was born, raised, and lived for the first 25 years of my life, I could spend time with Nadine Gordimer only when she visited Boston. She often stayed with close friends of hers in their home on a quiet, leafy street, close to the center of Harvard. She seemed to thrive during those visits, tasting the freedom that we who are privileged to live here too often take for granted. It was a response I knew well: I had endured the offensive restrictions of apartheid, and breathed deeply on my few visits to the United States before I settled here.

    My husband, Anthony Lewis, and I often invited Nadine — for that is who she became to me — to dinner with friends, either hers or ours. As a young student in South Africa I had been an avid reader of her books and had admired her, always from afar. Here, in Cambridge, I discovered in a different way her demanding intellect, her incisive moral views, her generosity, and her sense of humor. A tiny, slightly frail-looking woman with a soft voice, she was made of steel. A white South African, she wrote again and again of the black experience under apartheid. That required courage. She never spoke of her political activities against apartheid at home — they were illegal in South Africa at the time. She chose to be known — she took the risk of being known only through her writing.

    After the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, and the attendant political changes in South Africa, Tony and I would spend time with her each time we were there. We usually met at her home in Johannesburg where she loved to walk with Tony, himself an avid gardener, around the garden she loved, answering his endless questions about South African trees and flowering plants. As liberation from apartheid stretched into and beyond its first decade, neither Gordimer the writer nor Nadine the person was blind to any offensive aspects of the implementation of democracy. She could be biting in her criticism, yet she never forgot the long, bitter, tenacious history of white domination that each new, democratic South African government has confronted. I loved her for that and for so much more.

    In 2005 the brilliant, energetic Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., organized a stunning event. To celebrate the 70th birthday of the great Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize in literature, Gates invited three other Nobel Laureates in literature to an intellectual feast in honor of Soyinka: Nadine Gordimer (1991), Derek Walcott (1992), and Toni Morrison (1993). He asked me to introduce Gordimer, which I did to a packed, riveted audience at that historic gathering.

    A portion of my remarks follows:

    “I am an enormous, enormous admirer of Nadine Gordimer and her writing. One might be tempted to presume that my admiration stems from a shared history. We both grew up as children of privilege, white children, in the ‘rigidly racist and inhibited colonial society’ (those are her words) of small-town, provincial South Africa. Our vision of the world took shape on the hard, cruel anvil of apartheid. We both found the voice of our conscience in words: mine in the law, hers in potent works of imagination.

    But it is much more than a commonality of formative experiences that draws me to Nadine Gordimer’s work. Like readers the world over, I am touched, again and again, by the gifts she has shared with us: her humanity, her fierce integrity, her deep commitment to exposing the twisted roots of racism and all forms of inequality, her transcendent quest for justice through truth-telling.

    Others have captured these qualities better than I. Nadine Gordimer is ‘archivist and . . . lighthouse keeper,’ said Swedish writer Per Wästberg [at the time of the announcement of Gordimer as the 1991 recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature]. ‘Above her collected experience, the light sweeps, illuminating parts that would otherwise have lain in darkness, helping us navigate towards a South Africa that . . . depicts a universal landscape.’ Paul Theroux calls Gordimer ‘one of the most reliable witnesses to the seismic South African transformation’ since apartheid’s fall. And for Seamus Heaney, she is one of the ‘guerrillas of the imagination.’

    Gordimer herself has said that, ‘[t]he best way a writer can serve a revolution is to write as well as he can.’ Having written as well as she can for over 50 years, Nadine Gordimer is justly celebrated as a moving force in the revolution of the human spirit.”

    Today I treasure my memories of that extraordinary evening. My memories of the times I spent with her? It is hard to describe what those mean to me."

    A native of South Africa, Margaret H. Marshall is a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Until the defeat of apartheid in South Africa in 1990, the apartheid government prevented her from returning to South Africa.



     
  4. Shrink macrumors G3

    Shrink

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    Thanks, friend Scepticalscribe.

    Chief Justice Marshall is quite an impressive woman in her own right...the first Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, born and raised in South Africa, and is an ideal person to write an Appreciation.
     
  5. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

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    Thank you greatly for this, SS. I must read some of her work.
     
  6. snberk103 macrumors 603

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    Your posts are almost always fun, witty, intelligent and something to look forward to. In this case, though, I am going to object to something you've said. Mildly.

    A great loss, no question - but why does it matter that she was Jewish? It is ironic that the life of someone who dedicated their life to erasing racial and gender boundaries is itself labeled unnecessarily. While I am a little proud that a member of my tribe did such good work - it has no bearing on her as a good human-being. If she had been Catholic, Baptist or Agnostic then I doubt her religion would have been noted at all. Why is being Jewish different in this case?

    Ideally - this discussion should be held in a quiet pub over a couple of pints (a local IPA for me please).
     
  7. Scepticalscribe, Sep 5, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2014

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    Actually, I'd be more than happy to join you over a few nice, artisan beers in the convivial atmosphere of a good pub (complete with snugs, roaring fires, and ancient blackened oak beams……).

    Re Nadine Gordimer, I think her cultural background reinforced her sense - or, added an extra layer to - her sense and her experience of being an outsider. Afrikaaner South Africa defined itself in male, white, and linguistic and cultural terms with a very specific take on Christianity.

    Most of the whites who opposed the apartheid regime were 'British' whites, who spoke English (not Afrikaans), and who would have subscribed to, (irrespective of how secular they actually were) or come from, a sort of Church of England (Anglican/Episcopalian) cultural background, (for example, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is an Anglican archbishop, not a member of the Reformed Church - I doubt he could have risen so high, or developed such a subtle and compassionate worldview, as a black leader, had he been a member of the Reformed Church) rather than a more radical take on the Reformed Church, which most of the Afrikaaners belonged to; so religious and cultural identity mattered, in this society.

    Indeed, being Jewish (culturally) in such an environment tended to mean that you were viewed as what the old Soviet state (under Stalin) would have described - dismissively - (because this term was always used to describe urban, sophisticated, well-travelled, well educated, and usually secular, Jews and nobody else) as 'a rootless cosmopolitan'.

    Therefore, in this context, while I do take your point, I also do think that her cultural background allowed her a more nuanced insight (and a greater degree of distance) into her society than if she had been born into the religious - and thus, cultural and racist - identities of other groups.

    Moreover, - and of even greater importance, to my mind, - is the fact that the experience of the Holocaust cannot but have informed the perspective and insights of a writer who wrote about a society which was legally constructed around the very concept of defining people on the basis of what race, or ethnicity they came from, and awarding or denying rights on that very basis, and where identity was constructed primarily around race and what rights accrued (or were denied) on the basis of that.

    Once Nazi Germany was defeated, with the single striking exception of apartheid South Africa, few other states had defined matters of national identity so strongly along a predicated set of laws, and values which used race and racial definitions as their core statement of identity and concomitant rights. Thus, I think that in this context, Nadine Gordimer's (Jewish) background - along with the fact that she was female - was crucial in enabling her to see what she saw, and to render this in scintillating prose.
     
  8. snberk103 macrumors 603

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    Don't suppose you're on the west coast, eh?

    I agree with everything you say. Just a hint of all of that background in the original post would have made her Jewishness relevant.

    I'm touchy on this subject because all too often a person's Jewish connection is pointed out when it has no relevance at all, except in the context of some discrimination (usually only hinted at). Obviously that wasn't the case here. When there is a relevance, I just think it needs to be stated. Or at least hinted at.

    We make good beer here...
     
  9. Scepticalscribe, Sep 5, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2014

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    Delighted to learn that the beer is good; now, you are tempting me.

    However, no, alas, I am not on the west coast, and nor am I in the US - indeed, I am neither from the US, and nor, despite being exceptionally well and widely travelled, have I ever actually visited the lands Across The Pond.

    But, as Our US Cousins are wont to say, I'll take a rain-check on the invitation to a beer……..this is one invitation I will rarely have difficulty in accepting.

    By and large in the US, I would have thought that a Jewish cultural identity would have been seen as something positive (this is because, to my mind, the description 'liberal' so often accompanies 'Jewish' in US socio-cultural-political discourse).

    Re Nadine Gordimer, I would assume that her Jewish cultural identity and background would have also gifted her with a very positive environment which was well disposed to and generally supportive of matters such as reading, writing and learning in general (something which was emphatically not the case in the wider Afrikaaner society, where sporting prowess, hunting, and accomplishments deemed more 'masculine' were much more respected.)

    When writing my initial post, I merely wished to draw attention to the passing of this extraordinary human being, a person of great literary gifts and astonishing physical and moral courage; her (Jewish) cultural identity would have - must have - informed her perspective - as, indeed, it could have been otherwise in a society constructed along racial lines, as apartheid South Africa was, but I didn't wish to labour that point, important though it was.


     

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