Full particulars: Where in the world is the South?

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David Attwell, Antjie Krog, Elleke Boehmer and Carrol Clarkson (photos provided)

In this second episode of David Attwell’s monthly podcast, Full particulars, David hosts Elleke Boehmer and Carrol Clarkson in discussion of the South as a place of literary imagining. Guest appearance by Antjie Krog.  

Music by Darius Brubeck. "Tugela Rail" published by Valentine Music/SAMRO.     

Also read:

Full particulars: A podcast on historical fiction – David Attwell in conversation with Zoë Wicomb and Andrew van der Vlies

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  • With regard to your references to indigenous knowledge and oceans as part of the South's literary imagining, it appears essential that one takes note of this entire conversation with Craig Foster six years ago, long before his recent raising of ocean awareness through his "My Octopus Teacher" film.
    Craig's conversation at https://youtu.be/MOHjs5JjlnU contains amongst others (from Minute 14:20 to 16:12) the most amazing descriptions of the abundance of wildlife that the first modern human species were immersed in 70 000 to 200 000 years ago at the southern tip of Africa. But, the entire video is of relevance to your discussion.
    Also, one might revisit Jan Rabie's book "Die seeboek van die sonderkossers", which I last had in my hands during the 1970s.

  • David Attwell

    Thank you, Jean, for engaging with the podcast. Your point that the evolutionary perspective on the south should be part of the conversation is well taken. I've watched the conversation with Craig Foster with real interest.

  • Gisela Coetzee

    Thank you for interesting and important commentary in times needing further enlightenment, all the time.

  • Elleke Boehmer

    Jean, like David, I'm fascinated to receive these comments and agree that perspectives from as far back as the Gondwanaland days are important for an understanding of the south today. Did you know there are plants found only in Tasmania, Kerguelen Island and Tierra del Fuego? Thank you for your feedback.

  • Elleke, thank you for pointing out plants found only in Tasmania, Kerguelen Island and Tierra del Fuego, similar to the Cape floral kingdom in South Africa.
    In order to drive home the need for your project of the South as a place of literary imagining, you may consider the correct “upside down” image of Earth as the symbol/logo for your project :-). That correct image is shown on p.2 of the document at https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/323298main_CelebrateApolloEarthRise.pdf where it is also stated:
    'The Blue Marble was the first clear image of Earth. It was originally taken “upside down” on December 7, 1972, by the crew of Apollo 17.
    Apollo 17 was the last human lunar mission. No humans since have been at a range where taking a whole-Earth photograph such as The Blue Marble would be possible.'
    According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Marble, The Blue Marble is one of the most reproduced images in history, but we know it as the reversed image wherein the North is shown on top.
    Is it not telling how humanity's neurological programming (over-emphasising the significance of the North, reversing the image of Earth in a knee-jerk manner, expressions such as "things go south" when they go bad, missing the numerous perspectives provided in the Foster interview, etc.) impoverishes its perspectives and potential?
    All of which points to the necessity of this project (Is "project" the right word?), "The South as a place of literary imagining".

  • Elleke Boehmer

    Jean, thanks, animated as I am about "The South as a place of literary imagining', I'm really grateful for your interest and pointers. The blue marble photo was of course taken by the crew of Apollo 17; it was later than I recalled in the heat of the moment of recording the podcast. And I agree about it working as a logo, as would the Spilhaus map, I don't know if you know it? Spilhaus was a South African and his map shows earth from the vantage point of the oceans, seen from the South Pole.

  • Elleke, you are first to inform me of the breathtaking Spilhaus map. It is so much more suitable for the purposes we were musing over than the Blue Marble as it emphasises the entire South (not just southern Africa as in the Blue Marble) and the vast oceans, dominating the South as you pointed out in the above podcast. The Spilhaus perspective really draws out one's dormant southern yearnings. So inspiring.

  • It was worthwhile listening to your above podcast again today. Some further impressions:
    1. What risks may lurk in developing this narrative of the South? How to guard against contributing to North-South-polarization? I guess by maintaining a constructive narrative as in Craig Foster's constructive example of, amongst others, reminding humanity of its need to respect and reconnect to nature.
    Does focus on North and South loose sight of (exclude) that broad precious lush belt of geographies along the equator?
    Your podcast shows some awareness of such concerns by, amongst others, drawing a distinction between the terms "Global South" introduced by the North and "The South" as discussed by you.
    And, I guess, to establish any semblance of balance between North and South, one has to start somewhere.
    2. If one interprets "geographies along the equator" broadly enough, it might even include the Andaman islands. Or, if this equator belt perspective is inappropriate, the Andaman region still provides an obvious example of some regions in the north offering similar settings usually associated with the South as the deeply concerning dilemma portrayed in the following video illustrates:
    3. In your discussion of "Global South" versus "South", you also cover the terms "developed" versus "developing". Your project, southern imagining, could also draw attention to the utter deficiency of always referring to only the two categories developed" and "developing". They should always be accompanied by at least a third category, which I call "paradise" but you may find a preferable term. "Paradise" as suggested by the fundamental need to not always develop but to leave things pristine (There you go. "Pristine" is another candidate for the 3rd category.). As suggested by the Jarawa tribe's environment in the Andaman Islands and so many examples the world over where the development mindset spoils everything.
    4. I could not help but notice that the "land of the sun" in your discussion of Summertime is homophonic (at least in the Afrikaans pronunciation of San) with "land of the San".
    5. Further to upside-down maps: I remember watching a video of an interview with Willie Burger (Professor of Afrikaans) years ago. Behind him on his wall was one of those standard world maps, but upside-down. So, it seems this South consciousness has been taking root.

  • Elleke Boehmer

    Hi Jean
    I'm going to take a more time to think about and address all your interesting points and observations above. But I did want to say how grateful I am to you for the Craig Foster references, to the earlier work as well as Octopus Teacher. By strange serendipity, which is how these things often work, another friend, Irish, who has never been south of the equator, recommended the OT film to me just last week, so, with two recommendations, I of course sat down to watch both, and have found so much rich material to reflect upon, also under the auspices of the southern imagining project. There is so much to say, so much detail, impossible to get it in under one heading only. But at least the detail withholds us from generalizing too much and falling prey to the polarization you rightly warn against. Thank you so much.

  • So prescient of you to release this podcast only a few months before the announcement of Abdulrazak Gurnah as this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    From the interview lower down at https://verynicequotes.com/abdulrazak-gurnah-quotes/, I notice that this Southern novelist touches on similar themes, for example, "ocean novels" and "global south".

    You also spoke of maps:

    “I speak to maps. And sometimes they something back to me. This is not as strange as it sounds, nor is it an unheard of thing. Before maps, the world was limitless. It was maps that gave it shape and made it seem like territory, like something that could be possessed, not just laid waste and plundered. Maps made places on the edges of the imagination seem graspable and placable.” ‒ Abdulrazak Gurnah, By the sea

    And, is the following quote an indication that Elleke Boehmer might have been one of Gurnah's muses? 🙂 :

    “‘That’s the way life takes us,’ Elleke once said. ‘It takes us like this, then it turns us over and takes us like that.’ What she didn’t say was that through it all we manage to cling to something that makes sense.”
    ‒ Abdulrazak Gurnah, By the sea

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