Nadine Gordimer (1988) The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and
Places. London: Jonathan Cape.
J.M. Coetzee (1988) White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South
Africa. New Haven, Connecticut & London: Yale University Press.
IT IS A REMARKABLE FACT, when you think about it, that South African literature has developed almost entirely without the existence of any strong local criticism. The review essay in the academic and the literary journals, sometimes written with verve and even extreme elegance, the kind of which the novelist Dan Jacobson has been the undisputed master, has represented almost the sole intervention of a critical consciousness in our literary activities.
For white writers with their easy access to university education, to wellstocked public libraries and an easily definable literary culture, this has not mattered much. For black writers, often poor and cut off from many of these supportive cultural institutions, the absence of any informed local criticism has been wholly disastrous. As Nadine Gordimer notes in one of the essays in The Essential Gesture, back in the early 1960s Ezekiel Mphahlele and I made an attempt to inaugurate such a criticism from the distance of European exile, but the books were quickly banned from the country. Thereafter the black cultural debate was confined, in the words of Nadine Gordimer, "to conferences of exiles and exiles' publications and at home to a clandestine affair
*Third World Quarterly 11.1 (1989): 157–60.