Ivan Vladislavić chatted to Corina van der Spoel on the RSG Skrywers en Boeke show recently.
Vladislavić won the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for fiction this year, along with Teju Cole and Helon Habila. His most recent book is 101 Detectives.
Vladislavić chats about the very welcome prize money that came with the Windham Campbell Prize, how being a very precise editor has made his writing process more chaotic, and how he has become interested in the writing that does not get published (hence the “deleted scenes” in 101 Detectives).
He also talks about his relationship with Johannesburg, which he describes as “complicated”.
“My affection for Johannesburg has flourished and also withered away over time,” he says. “I find I like the place more, and then I like it less, according to my own circumstances. I still find it fascinating, for some of the same reasons that I like to write: it’s difficult. But it’s not often fun, is it?
“You have to find what’s interesting, and you have to find a way of surviving here, without the city completely diminishing you or grinding you to dust. It’s an ongoing challenge. One can take these challenges as a way of clarifying something for yourself. For me, as a writer, primarily in my work. But Johannesburg also forces you to confront things in the way that you live, and your relationship with other people, that’s maybe a good and necessary thing.”
Van der Spoel asks Vladislavić for his views on the Rhodes Must Fall movement, since his 1996 collection of short stories Propaganda by Monuments pondered similar issues.
Vladislavić says he is glad people have been forced to admit that statues and monuments are not neutral.
“If they are just a bunch of old statues, then why are people so attached to them?” he asks. “These things have value in society, they stand for something, and they don’t stand for the same thing for everybody.
“It has the potential, anyway, to make people think hard about how the society represents itself, what the power is of representing certain ideas in the form of a statue or a monument. I think that’s the positive side of it.
“We need a society and a public domain that’s complex. If we are going to represent anything in our public spaces by the construction of monuments or museums the least one would hope for is that we construct something complex and something that asks questions rather than delivers answers, delivers final position on things. I think there are many more inventive or interesting things to do with a statue than to take it away and put it in a warehouse.
“To live in a society like this you need a sense of irony. You need a sense of irony about yourself and the society, and how it came to be. How we came to be living where we live. I would hope for a broad and open and maybe even amused public space rather than one that declares certain things anathema.”
Listen to the podcast (introduction in Afrikaans):
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