I suppose when all is said and done, my home town is Parow in the Cape (famous for Afrikaans rapper Jack Parow)North of the “boerewors curtain”. I went to the first English medium high school in the Northern suburbs and was good at Maths and Science, but one day, listening to the Rolling Stones, I went through a kind of religious, or perhaps what is better termed philosophical conversion. Three years later I was at the “local” University, studying English and Philosophy. Two years later I was given the blessing of having a future Nobel Prize winner as my English tutor, inspiration, and most recently subject of a dastardly corrective response from me that ran as a feature article in the education section of our premier left/liberal weekly, the Mail and Guardian.
As a result of this conversion I besieged the local library for books by philosophers and on philosophy, and also books by the greatly venerated modern writers, including James Joyce’s Ulysses. This I borrowed from the library, and when it came to time for return, asked my Mother — who was taking some Dr Seuss books back for my brother, to get it renewed for me. On seeing my Mother renewing Ulysses, the young Afrikaans assistant librarian asked who it was for, and then went to the fiction shelves under ” S” and gave my Mother this book to take out for me which she said ” I would also love”. Imagine my surprise when my Mother came back with Ulysses and this recommended book, which I became instantly so intrigued about, only to have the huge shock in realizing that the book the librarian had recommended was… from the eighteenth-century. Most certainly the rather shameful thought passed through my brain that here was a clear indication that the young librarian woman didn’t know much about literature and probably didn’t know what she was reading.
I could not have been more wrong. It’s a long time since I RW-read Ulysses (a re-reading is clearly overdue). It’s about a year now since I re-read the eighteenth-century text. I had to, because I was giving a conference paper on how it was adapted into a film (a great postmodern film with comedian Steve Coogan). In the film, comic writer and actor Stephen Fry talks about the book as a “postmodern text coming long before the term was coined”. It is also possibly the world’s greatest comic novel, outrageously adventurous and was one of the key novels I studied when I was a Masters student of eighteenth-century English literature at Manchester University.
I am not sure if I love Tristram Shandy more than I love Ulysses. But as a writer I know Sterne is absolutely much closer to me in spirit.
Yes, Mom, you can tell the librarian that eventually I came to like that novel very much indeed.