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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Mini-seminars

The Franschhoek Literary Festival: Think, feel, imagine

Lynda Gilfillan - 2011-05-27

So, what’s new, Fred? And why the either/or? C’mon: most young people prefer to live their own lives to reading about fictional lives – and those who do read would probably enjoy Lane Smith’s It’s a Book. It playfully and artfully subverts many assumptions of the digital age.

The ageist/race thing is passé, too. Of course older white people (like me) with more leisure and disposable income are the more likely consumers of literary culture. But surely, by now, we know our history. Do we really need to go over this fracked ground again?

As we strolled through the twee streets of Franschhoek two weeks ago, or sipped cappuccinos at pavement cafés, it was all too clear from the expressions on many faces that there is little consolation in South Africa today. Speaker after speaker – Jansen, Klatzow, Altbeker– warned that the end of the status quo is nigh: paradise is noisily closing down. Behind the bonhomie and chatter of my class I sensed an intense disquiet.

But to get back to the real issue – books and reading: human beings are programmed to respond to stories and sagas, whatever their form. How else does one explain the persistent popularity of long novels like Van Niekerk’s Agaat and Franzen’s Freedom? And the last two Booker Prize winners were anything but tweets: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a tome, and Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question blends challenging political satire with an old-fashioned love story.

During the festival the streets of Franschhoek rang with a cacophony of competing – and often complementary – voices: from sassy Lauren Beukes to suave Michiel Heyns to impish Khaya Dlanga. Whether digital or analogue, they wove a wild and innovative and ever-changing national narrative where the real players are you and I. Not a bubble at all, but a boat on a stormy sea, with mutineers, and no captain at the helm – and lots of talented interpreters making us laugh, making us cry, making us think and feel and imagine.