Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Part 1 Debate: Q & A with Zakes Mda: "All art is political"

Your novels have dealt with the political conditions in South Africa, have you considered them “political novels” –  what do you think is meant by that tag?All art is about power relations. Therefore all art is political whether its’ creators overtly intend it to be or not.
Is the perceived value of a novel in this country still measured against the depths with which the novelist plunges into the ‘state of the nation’?  No. Any successful novel is about characters and their conflicts. The characters interact actively with their environment, which includes the setting. Some of that environment will be shaped and informed by the social, political and economic conditions.
What is at stake for the characters in their conflicts may therefore be overtly political in nature, be criminal, romantic, existential, erotic, religious, scientific, fantastical etc. or any combination and permutation of these.
A novel that is dominated by the “issues” (including “state of the nation”) at the expense of credible character development (for literary fiction) and engaging plot development (for genre fiction), or a combination of both,  will be an utter failure.

Some literary commentators have suggested that the nature of the political novel is under threat in SA for the simple fact that commentary on the state of the nation is being more ably serviced by other forms– in particular the crime genre. What is your take? That’s silly. Is the crime genre not a novel? And of course crime novels are political because they are about power relations at different levels. A lot of crime does happen in a political context and a lot of politics is driven by criminal activity. The statement contradicts itself. It says the political novel is under threat and at the same time crime novels ably handle political themes. I don’t share the snooty attitude that crime and other genres of fiction belong in the lower rungs of some literary hierarchy.
Humour is a vital ingredient in your writing – particularly in Black Diamond – do you think that the post-apartheid era has allowed writers to deal with the socio-political conditions in this country through a more humorous lens than before?No. There was more humour during apartheid.
Look at our anti-apartheid theatre, our agitprop, our theatre for liberation, our protest theatre etc.
It was all comedy! It was satire! It was farce! It was parody! It was gallows humour! Audiences overseas used to ask: “How do you create comedy with such dire themes.” - published June 10, 2012

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