North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP)

A blog for students funded by a cross institutional scheme through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to train a new generation of skilled researchers. Offering postgraduate studentships and training across the full range of the AHRC’s disciplines. All views are those of students and are not necessarily those of the NWCDTP.

Writing For Liberty Conference, Centre for the Book, Cape Town. March 2017 (Pete Kalu)

They came. Some with formulas for solving the universe. Others suggesting only one provisional point from which to view this particular mote of dust.  Delegates carried to conference earth, air, voices from an atlas of countries, continents, languages, learnings and experiences. The subject, Writing for Liberty, was wide enough for heterodoxy, invited it, even.

The most heart and heat in conversations occurred around the problem of the Other. You are my other. I am your other. What can you know about me? What can I know about you? How do we represent each other when we write?  What is the hierarchy of privilege involved? Who gets to say what? Who claims what writing space?

This debate through another prism might be represented as a clash between the liberal humanism / enlightenment position (which as I understand it, argues that there is such a thing as objectivity in the world and therefore that some things are facts and hold true irrespective of the position of the observer) and post-modern positionality (which holds that your angle of entry into an experiment or matrix dictates your observations:  your background – ie your gender, race, class, sexuality etc – will colour your perception and form your reality, affect the matrix itself). The clash links back to who is writing what about whom, with what legitimacy, according to what if any ethics of production; and how does such writing help or hinder an Other’s liberty. All this before lunch!

The 2017 conference took place in South Africa, a country which threw off Apartheid only as recently as 1993. How far has Rhodes fallen? Legislative repeal of Apartheid did not remove entrenched privileges resulting in tensions which the “born-free” generation of younger South Africans are now having to wrestle with. The setting seeded urgency into  dialogues around freedom and writing.
That’s the meta narrative.  I’m sure conversations outside of the agenda were as rewarding.  Theory wise, I picked up signposts on Derrida, De Beauvoir, Karen Barad and Judith Butler.  And for the first time since I started the PhD I met someone who is intensely interested in the same subject as me.

As a novice to academic run conferences, I watched the different styles of presentation and exposition. Powerpoint can be brilliant.  So too can be photos. Thumb drives slotting into a laptop is the common signal a presentation is about to begin.  A clear, explanatory opening can set up a complex, imaginative paper. The “smokers’ corner” outside the building was where I found some of the most absorbing  conversations. I felt  an interloper as I didn’t smoke!

Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese

There were some challenging and inspiring ideas, conversations, papers, readings and performances. Below are a few short interviews with some of the writers and thinkers who attended. Apologies in advance for background noise and shaky camera!



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