Madness at the launch of a book about … madness

Mishka Hoosen launched her debut novel, Call it a Difficult Night, at the Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre in eThekwini on Tuesday night. The programme was part of the Time of the Writer Festival’s evening sessions (the first segment of which was themed The Madness of History) and was moderated by artist and writer Tracey Rose.

From the get-go, Rose, who admitted to having hardly read Call it a Difficult Night, sought to frame the discussion around Hoosen’s anthropological studies and how these may have informed her approach to writing the book, which is billed as “a story about madness”.

She kicked off the discussion by asking a variation on the most hackneyed of questions: How much of the book was autobiographical?

This seemed to establish a tension between the two that was sustained for the duration of their discussion, irking some in the audience who felt Rose was being too nebulous, perhaps as a way of masking being underprepared.

“I’m not imaginative enough to write full-on fantasy,” Hoosen said in response to Rose’s opening question.

Divine madness
Hoosen crushed Rose’s theory about human beings living in vibrational prisons, trapped between a palaeontological world-view of proving our evolution and a crazy madness that we can barely talk about.

Rose had prefaced this theory with a detailed description of a performance piece she did in Germany, whipping an orchestra singing a German translation of Peter Tosh’s Downpressor Man into submission, while screaming: “Change the fucking frequency.”

“Western civilisation thinks in binaries; there’s the scientific and then you have divine madness. They built that limit on thinking,” replied Hoosen.

At this point there was self-consciousness from Rose, heightened by the unease of some in the audience. This was a book launch, after all, and here was Rose trashing protocol.

Perhaps as a way of mitigating this, fellow writer Panashe Chigumadzi launched into reading a brief passage from Hoosen’s book, following this up with questions of her own.

Decolonising the programme
Later on, author Ashwin Desai (whose most recent work is The South African Gandhi) joined the discussion, but not before a preamble about needing to define what is meant by “decolonising the book”.

Desai said he was unsure what that meant in practical terms, stating that perhaps he was of an older generation that understood revolutionary theory differently. “Intellectual processes cannot be given away to the madnesses of the moment,” he said.

Desai seemingly took it on himself to discuss his own book, as was evidenced by long stretches in which he spoke of his and co-author Goolam Vahed’s persecution by a section of the Indian community for the book’s stance on Mohandas Gandhi as a racist who saw black people as inferior to Indians.

Gandhi’s perceptions of black people’s subservience are nothing new, so perhaps Desai was being a tad melodramatic in this instance.

While the book launch fell apart structurally and the ensuing discussion was equally formless, I couldn’t help but observe a strange beauty in the meandering, indulgent and at times egocentric riffings sparked by Rose’s intentional irreverence.

It’s one thing to be formalist and only joke about the programme being decolonised, but it’s quite another to be blind to the disruptive power of the human instinct to wing it.

The writer’s accommodation and travel costs were covered by the Centre for Creative Arts.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

Related stories

Review: A masterful look at five decades of African development

‘Know The Beginning Well’ is an insightful peek into the life of KY Amoako and the fascinating work he has done on the continent

Review: ‘Afterland’ — a novel that foreshadows the Covid-19 pandemic

For the past five years, Lauren Beukes has been working on a book set in the aftermath of a global epidemic. Its release couldn’t have been more timely

Inside the circle: A review of Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Saidiya Hartmanilluminates the perspectives of young Black women through a vividly cinematic narrative where we are positioned to view the world through their eyes.

Achieving the litmus test of social relevance

The HSS Awards honours scholarly works based on their social relevance and contribution to the humanities and social sciences

Austere beauty of Chatsworth

The short stories, in precise detail, down to Durban Indian English, capture the township

Best not to rely on fickle donors

If art organisations and governments do not realise their worth, they will forever be at the mercy of some donor funders

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Joe Biden’s debate guests run the only Zimbabwean restaurant in...

A Zimbabwean restaurant feeding people in need formed an unlikely addition to Joe Biden’s election campaign

The high road is in harm reduction

While the restriction of movement curtailed the health services for people who use drugs in some parts of the world, it propelled other countries into finding innovative ways to continue services, a new report reveals

Khaya Sithole: Tsakani Maluleke’s example – and challenge

Shattering the glass ceiling is not enough, the new auditor general must make ‘live’ audits the norm here in SA

State’s wage freeze sparks apoplexy

Public sector unions have cried foul over the government’s plan to freeze wages for three years and have vowed to fight back.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday