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Authors: Nadine Gordimer

Living in Hope and History



The Lying Days
A World of Strangers
Occasion for Loving
The Late Bourgeois World
A Guest of Honor
The Conservationist
Burger's Daughter
July's People
A Sport of Nature
My Son's Story
None to Accompany Me
The House Gun



The Soft Voice of the Serpent
Six Feet of the Country
Friday's Footprint
Not for Publication
Livingstone's Companions
A Soldier's Embrace
Selected Stories
Something Out There
Jump and Other Stories



The Black Interpreters
The Essential Gesture
Writing, Politics and Places
(edited by Stephen Clingman)
Writing and Being



On the Mines
(with David Goldblatt)
Lifetimes Under Apartheid
(with David Goldblatt)









Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Copyright © 1999 by Nadine Gordimer
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Jonathan D. Lippincott
First edition, 1999


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gordimer, Nadine.

Living in hope and history : notes from our century / Nadine Gordimer—1st ed.

        p. cm.

ISBN 0-374-18991-9 (alk. paper)

1. Gordimer, Nadine—Authorship. 2. Politics and literature—South Africa—History—20th century. 3. Literature and history—South Africa—History—20th century. 4. Literature and morals—History—20th century. 5. Ethics in literature. 6. Fiction—Authorship. I. Title.

PR9369.3.G6Z468 1999



For Antonin Miguet and Conrad Cassirer
The new century is theirs






One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable,
to speak the unspeakable, to ask difficult questions
—Salman Rushdie


Three in a Bed: Fiction, Morals, and Politics

The Status of the Writer in the World Today: Which World? Whose World?

Turning the Page: African Writers and the Twenty-first Century

References: The Codes of Culture

The Lion, the Bull, and the Tree

Günter Grass

The Dialogue of Late Afternoon

Joseph Roth: Labyrinth of Empire and Exile

An Exchange: Kenzaburo Oe, Nadine Gordimer




How shall we look at each other then?
—Mongane Wally Serote


1959: What Is Apartheid?

How Not to Know the African

A Morning in the Library: 1975

Heroes and Villains

Crack the Nut: The Future Between Your Teeth

How Shall We Look at Each Other Then?

29 October 1989—A Beautiful Day, Com

Mandela: What He Means to Us

The First Time

Act Two: One Year Later

The Essential Document

As Others See Us

Labour Well the Teeming Earth




The ceaseless adventure
—Jawaharlal Nehru


The Writer's Imagination and the Imagination of the State

Writing and Being

Living on a Frontierless Land: Cultural Globalization

Our Century





History says
, Don't hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme

Seamus Heaney

One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable, to
speak the unspeakable, to ask difficult questions
—Salman Rushdie






hree in a bed: it's a kinky cultural affair. I had better identify the partners.

Politics and morals, as concepts, need no introduction, although their relationship is shadily ambiguous. But fiction has defining responsibilities that I shall be questioning all through what I have to say, so I shall begin right away with the basic, dictionary definition of what fiction is supposed to be.

Fiction, says the
Oxford English Dictionary
, is ‘the action of feigning or inventing imaginary existences, events, states of things . . . prose novels and stories collectively'. So poetry, according to the OED, is not fiction. The more I ponder this, the more it amazes me; the more I challenge it. Does the poet not invent imaginary existences, events, states of things?

If I should ask any erudite and literary gathering to give examples of the powers of the poets' invention of imaginary existences, events, the poets' matchless evocation of ‘states of
things', all drawn, just as the prose writers' is, from life—the fact of life—as the genie is smoked from the bottle, I could fill pages with quotations. If fiction is the suprareal spirit of the imagination, then poetry is the ultimate fiction. In speaking of fiction, I should be understood to be including poetry.

What is politics doing in bed with fiction? Morals have bedded with story-telling since the magic of the imaginative capacity developed in the human brain—and in my ignorance of a scientific explanation of changes in the cerebrum or whatever, to account for this faculty, I believe it was the inkling development that here was somewhere where the truth about being alive might lie. The harsh lessons of daily existence, coexistence between human and human, with animals and nature, could be made sense of in the ordering of properties by the transforming imagination, working upon the ‘states of things'. With this faculty fully developed, great art in fiction can evolve in imaginative revelation to fit the crises of an age that comes after its own, undreamt of when it was written.
can now be seen as an allegory of environmental tragedy. ‘The whale is the agent of cosmic retribution': we have sought to destroy the splendid creature that is nature, believing we could survive only by ‘winning' a battle against nature; now we see our death in the death of nature, brought about by ourselves.

But the first result of the faculty of the imagination was, of course, religion. And from the gods (what a supreme feat of the imagination they were!), establishing a divine order out of the unseen, came the secular, down-to-soil-and-toil order of morals, so that humans could somehow live together, and in balance with other creatures.

Morals are the husband/wife of fiction. And politics? Politics somehow followed morals in, picking the lock and immobilizing
the alarm system. At first it was in the dark, perhaps, and fiction thought the embrace of politics was that of morals, didn't know the difference . . . And this is understandable. Morals and politics have a family connection. Politics' ancestry is morality—way back, and generally accepted as forgotten. The resemblance is faded. In the light of morning, if fiction accepts the third presence within the sheets it is soon in full cognisance of who and what politics is.

Let me not carry my allegory too far. Just one generation further. From this kinky situation came two offspring, Conformity and Commitment. And you will know who fathered whom.

Until 1988 I would have said that the pressures to write fiction that would conform to a specific
, whether secular or religious, long had been, could be, and were, safely ignored by writers in modern times. The Vatican still has its list of proscribed works, but in most countries one assumed there was freedom of expression—so far as religion was concerned. (The exception was perhaps in certain North American schools . . . )

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