The link below is to an article which looks at how to download Audible books to the Apple Watch.
Keorapetse Kgositsile, the South African-born poet who passed away in 2018, lived in exile in the US from 1962 to 1975 and was at the centre of the country’s 1960s and ’70s Black Arts Movement. Informed by his South African and Tswana background, the poet makes a case for multiple inflections of voices, geographies, and histories in the making of transnational black modernity.
Analysing his work offers ways in which African poetry can disrupt dominant thinking on Black Atlantic studies, particularly Paul Gilroy’s
1993 text The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. The Atlantic world referred to by Gilroy tells the histories of Europe, Africa and the Americas, two hemispheres joined by the Atlantic ocean and exchanging influence. Kgositsile’s poetry can be read as challenging the direction of influence from north to south.
Uhuru Phalafala considers the rich oral traditions passed on from Kgositsile’s grandmother and mother as a key system of knowledge that informed and shaped his black radical imagination. Aretha Phiri interviewed her.
Aretha Phiri: Your colloquium paper situates the celebrated poet-in-exile at the centre of and as uniquely influential to the Black Arts Movement?
Uhuru Phalafala: It was a time when African Americans were seeking to define their identities, with Africa as key metaphor. Kgositsile happened to not only come from that continent, but also used his mother tongue, Setswana, spiritual practices, and music from southern Africa in his work. By interweaving Tswana vernacular with the black diaspora parlance, he affirmed African America’s legitimate affiliation to the continent, as seen in the example of his influence on “the grandfather of rap music”, The Last Poets.
He also came from a mass liberation movement that was experienced in politics of armed confrontation, generated solidarities with other liberation organisations, and adept in decolonial politics. His work became a resource for his contemporaries. Today, when we look at, for example, Kendrick Lamar’s influential album, To Pimp A Butterfly, and the number of references to South Africa in it, we must understand it as grounding itself in the foundation that people such as Kgositsile laid in the sixties and seventies. South Africa will always have an enduring place in the African American imagination.
This is diaspora consciousness. He also admired Nina Simone’s sound, which he called “future memory” to signal that it is not new or emergent, but reminiscent of the protest tradition of South Africa.
Aretha Phiri: In focusing on the oral traditions inherited from his female lineage, you make a case for the specific use in his poetry of a “matriarchal archive”?
Uhuru Phalafala: The colonised come from different conceptions of time (temporalities). Colonial temporality is not only racialised but also gendered. The arrogant coloniser inaugurated the beginning of history in his assumption that we did not have a history before he arrived. “History” began with the arrival of the coloniser, and marched forward in a linear fashion. With time, black men accessed modernity’s time – through missionary education and working in the mines – at a different period than women.
We now know that when anti-colonial wars were fought they were primarily and solely about the emergence of the black race from subjugation. When women and queer people attempted to bring the particularities of their oppression to the agenda they were told to wait. When independence was achieved those doubly and triply marginalised did not attain their independence at the same time with their countries because they continued to fight against black patriarchy.
If we backtrack we can then make certain observations. A type of double location of time was constructed when the colonisers’ history was instituted: theirs and ours. Because of lack of contact with missionary education and industrialisation, loosely speaking – of course there were women who accessed modernity – women occupied a different temporality. One of continuity from precolonial to colonial time, with its attendant way of life, philosophies, worldview, oratory practices, etcetera.
Aretha Phiri: In describing this archive, how do you guard against potential accusations of advancing a gendered essentialist claim?
Uhuru Phalafala I do not wish to rehash gendered essentialist claims. This is just historical process. My grandmother never set foot in a classroom but has a world of knowledge, so to say. Men who were later ferried to missionary schools, or those who went to work in the mines en masse, existed in a double location of time. The flow from precolonial to colonial time was interrupted by modernity’s time, fashioning a coexistence of the two.
These men came face to face with the colonial alienation and “first exile” from their home cultures which were denigrated by colonial assumptions of superior culture. This is how temporality is also gendered. The women who suffered the blows of this history, mostly in the rural countryside, continued to live life on their own terms, without their men. They continued to practise their indigenous ways of knowing – which are not an event but an ongoing process.
These knowledges evolved with time and did not freeze in some dark past. They progress, transform, and evolve as humans do. Today when we call for decolonisation we are actually wanting to retrieve this knowledge that was silenced and erased by the multiheaded hydra of colonialism. Where can we find it if not from those who had little contact with this hydra? In my view black women, in the context of southern Africa, are that “matriarchive”.
The book Black Radical Traditions From The South: Keorapetse Kgositsile and the Black Arts Movement by Uhuru Phalafala will be published shortly.
This article is part of a series called Decolonising the Black Atlantic in which black and queer women literary academics rethink and disrupt traditional Black Atlantic studies. The series is based on papers delivered at the Revising the Black Atlantic: African Diaspora Perspectives colloquium at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study.
One grey morning in October 1970, in a crowded, tizzy-pink courtroom on the corner of Melbourne’s Russell and La Trobe Streets, crown prosecutor Leonard Flanagan began denouncing a novel in terms that were strident and ringing.
“When taken as a whole, it is lewd,” he declared. “As to a large part of it, it is absolutely disgusting both in the sexual and other sense; and the content of the book as a whole offends against the ordinary standards of the average person in the community today – the ordinary, average person’s standard of decency.”
The object of Flanagan’s ire that day was the Penguin Books Australia edition of Portnoy’s Complaint. Frank, funny, and profane, Philip Roth’s novel — about a young man torn between the duties of his Jewish heritage and the autonomy of his sexual desires — had been a sensation the world over when it was published in February 1969.
Greeted with sweeping critical acclaim, it was advertised as “the funniest novel ever written about sex” and called “the autobiography of America” in the Village Voice. In the United States, it sold more than 400,000 copies in hardcover in a single year — more, even, than Mario Puzo’s The Godfather — and in the United Kingdom it was published to equal fervour and acclaim.
But in Australia, Portnoy’s Complaint had been banned.
Politicians, bureaucrats, police, and judges had for years worked to keep Australia free of the moral contamination of impure literature. Under a system of censorship that pre-dated federation, works that might damage the morals of the Australian public were banned, seized, and burned. Bookstores were raided. Publishers were policed and fined. Writers had been charged, fined and even jailed.
Seminal novels and political tracts from overseas had been kept out of the country. Where objectionable works emerged from Australian writers, they were rooted out like weeds. Under the censorship system, Boccacio’s Decameron had been banned. Nabokov’s Lolita had been banned. Joyce’s Ulysses had been banned. Even James Bond had been banned.
There had been opposition to this censorship for years, though it had become especially notable in the past decade. Criticism of the bans on J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Norman Lindsay’s Redheap had prompted an almost complete revision of the banned list in 1958.
The repeated prosecutions of the Oz magazine team in 1963 and 1964 had attracted enormous attention and controversy.
Outcry over the bans on Mary McCarthy’s The Group and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover had been loud and pronounced, and three intrepid Sydney activists had exposed the federal government to ridicule when they published a domestic edition of The Trial of Lady Chatterley, an edited transcript of the failed court proceedings against Penguin Books UK for the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Britain in 1960.
Penguin goes to battle
Penguin Books Australia had been prompted to join the fight against censorship by the three idealistic and ambitious men at its helm: managing director John Michie, finance director Peter Froelich, and editor John Hooker.
In five years, the three men had overhauled the publisher, improving its distribution machinery and logistics and reinvigorating its publishing list. They believed Penguin could shape Australian life and culture by publishing interesting and vibrant books by Australian authors.
They wanted Penguin’s books to engage with the political and cultural shifts that the country was undergoing, to expose old canards, question the orthodox, and pose alternatives.
Censorship was no small topic in all this. Those at Penguin saw censorship as an inhibition on these ambitions. “We’d had issues with it before, in minor ways,” Peter Froelich recalled, “and we’d have drinks we’d say, ‘It’s wrong! How can we fix it? What can we do? How do we bring it to people’s attention, so that it can be changed?’”
The answer emerged when they heard of the ban placed on Portnoy’s Complaint. Justifiably famous, a bestseller the world over, of well-discussed literary merit, it stood out immediately as a work with which to challenge the censorship system, just as its British parent company had a decade earlier.
Why not obtain the rights to an Australian edition, print it in secret, and publish it in one fell swoop? As Hooker — who had the idea — put it to Michie, “Jack, we ought to really publish Portnoy’s Complaint and give them one in the eye”.
The risks were considerable. There was sure to be a backlash from police and politicians. Criminal charges against Penguin and its three leaders were almost certain. Financial losses thanks to seized stock and fines would be considerable. The legal fees incurred in fighting charges would be enormous. Booksellers who stocked the book would also be put on trial. But Penguin was determined.
John Michie was resolute. “John offered to smash the whole thing down,” Hooker said, later. When he was told what was about to happen, federal minister for customs Don Chipp swore that Michie would pay: “I’ll see you in jail for this.” But Michie was not to be dissuaded.
In July 1970, Penguin arranged to have three copies of Portnoy smuggled into Australia. In considerable secrecy, they used them to print 75,000 copies in Sydney and shipped them to wholesalers and bookstores around the country. It was an operation carried out with a precision that Hooker later likened to the German invasion of Poland.
The book was unveiled on August 31 1970. Michie held a press conference in his Mont Albert home, saying Portnoy’s Complaint was a masterpiece and should be available to read in Australia. Neither he nor Penguin were afraid of the prosecutions: “We are prepared to take the matter to the High Court.”
The next morning, as the trucks bearing copies began to arrive, bookstores everywhere were rushed. At one Melbourne bookstore, the assistant manager was knocked down and trampled by a crowd eager to buy the book and support Penguin. “It was a stampede,” he said later. A bookstore manager in Sydney was amazed when the 500 copies his store took sold out in two-and-a-half hours.
All too soon, it was sold out. And with politicians making loud promises of retribution, the police descended.
Bookstores were raided. Unsold copies were seized. Court summons were delivered to Penguin, to Michie, and to booksellers the whole country over. A long list of court trials over the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint and its sale were in the offing.
A stellar line-up
So the trial that opened on the grey morning of October 19 1970, in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, was only the first in what promised to be a long battle.
Neither Michie nor his colleagues were daunted. They had prepared a defence based around literary merit and the good that might come from reading the book. They had retained expert lawyers and marshalled the cream of Australia’s literary and academic elite to come to their aid.
Patrick White would appear as a witness for the defence. So too would academic John McLaren, The Age newspaper editor Graham Perkin, the critic A.A. Phillips, the historian Manning Clark, the poet Vincent Buckley, and many more. They were unconcerned by Flanagan’s furious denunciations, by his shudders of disgust, and by his caustic indictments of Penguin and its leaders.
They were confident in their cause. As one telegram to Michie said:
ALL BEST WISHES FOR A RESOUNDING VICTORY FOR LITERATURE AND LIBERTY.
This is an edited extract from Trials of Portnoy by Patrick Mullins, published by Scribe.