Reading Event: Ondjaki

Ondjaki, Transparent City

BookShelf Cafe eBar, October 23 2018:

As with the last “reading” I went to at the eBar (with Michael Adams), this wasn’t really a reading but more an interview, with Ondjaki’s English translator (Stephen Henighan) asking the questions. As with the Adams event, I think this was a better format. In part because it would have been weird hearing an author reading a translation of his own work, but also because interviews are more interesting than readings anyway. I’ve said it before but every time I go to one of these things I’m reminded of how poor most readings are. They only work in the very few cases where the author is a truly talented stage performer as well.

I don’t know how good a reader Ondjaki is, but he was great in conversation. He had some good anecdotes to tell and charm to burn. I even found out a bit about Angola, which admittedly wasn’t hard since I knew absolutely nothing about Angola before this aside from where it is on a map. I didn’t even know Luanda (the setting of Transparent City) was the capital.

There was a question from the floor about the title that I wish there had been follow-up with. I was wondering if Ondjaki meant something like “invisible” when he uses the word “transparent.” The point (or one of the points) he makes in the book is that people are transparent because they’re poor, so are they like the invisible underclass Paul Fussell wrote about, or the invisibility of Ellison’s Invisible Man? That’s the impression I get, but at the same time the main character’s transparency also makes him highly noticeable, someone to gawk at. So maybe something different was meant.

A good show, and well-attended for this neck of the woods. I wish we could have more like it.


The beat goes on

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching adaptations of Poe’s classic tale “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Animation seems to work best with Poe, and keeping things short. Anyway, here’s what the story looked like in 1941, 1953, 1991, and 2006. I thought the 1953 and 2006 versions were the best.

The nuclear family bunker

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some horror movies dealing with families who have locked themselves away from mortal threats in a post-catastrophe future America. Horror reflects broader cultural anxieties, so I guess there’s something in these tales of families in a bunker — It Comes by Night and A Quiet Place — that people relate to. (I’d also include 10 Cloverfield Lane in the discussion, but there the “family” is a demonic parody construct.) Basically these films take cocooning (a word invented by Faith Popcorn in 1981, I was surprised to find out) to its furthest extreme. The bunker-cocoon insulates the family from threats real or imagined, which have come to define the entire external world.

Of course bunkers are nothing new, as fallout shelters became popular in America as early as the 1950s. What’s going on now feels different though, less afraid of things to come than what’s outside our doors right now. I wonder if there’s any connection to our use of the Internet and the way we consume media generally, where we increasingly inhabit silos of news that we feel comfortable with while being distrustful of everything else (that is, the reality beating on the door). Whatever else is going on, it seems paranoid to me.


Beware, I bear more grudges than lonely high court judges. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court this past weekend caps one of the strangest performances of political theatre I’ve seen in some time.

I say this without taking sides on the main issue at the hearings. Let us assume that Kavanaugh was guilty of all the crimes and other forms of misbehaviour he was accused of: that he was an angry drunk while a student and had a history of sexually assaulting women. What then followed was still bizarre from a strategic standpoint.

In the first place, the Democrats must have known that there would be no way they could prove such charges. The main complaint was of an event that took place some 35 years previously, with no corroborating witnesses or evidence. This was always going to be a case of “he-said, she-said,” and no matter how credible the complainant (and she was) or how big a train wreck Kavanaugh turned out to be (and he was), we weren’t going to be left with any clearer idea of what really happened.

Added to this was the fact that the nomination was a lock. The Democrats had no way of stopping Kavanaugh’s appointment. This, in turn, made the Republicans’ “victory lap” at the vote for confirmation baffling. It seems a strange thing to pat oneself on the back over.

In short, none of the wall-to-wall cable coverage seemed to be very much concerned with Christine Blasey Ford’s complaint, which was left in the air. Nor did it seem to be about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, which was a foregone conclusion even after his manic and disingenuous performance. Instead it was all about turning out the vote. Both sides were jockeying for position, trying to co-opt a spirit of outrage. Winning!

TV movies

Actor down, in need of assistance.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching movies based on (semi-)popular television shows. In most cases the idea was to cash in by hitching a ride on an established brand. What surprised me, given that these were all projects with some money behind them, was the awfulness of the writing. I’m not sure any of these movies has a coherent plot, and despite being action-comedies they don’t even have any good jokes. Try to avoid:

The A-Team (2010)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Baywatch (2017)
CHIPS (2017)

Bedtime reading

I recently came across the word “oscitant” while reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used before and I pulled a complete blank on what it meant. (When I looked it up I found it described by the OED as rare and obsolete, which made me feel better.)

Its meaning is drowsy or dull, deriving from the Latin for “gape.” So literally it means yawning from drowsiness. According to several dictionaries it also means negligent, in the sense of being asleep at the wheel. You read and learn.