Something Out There
Written by Nadine Gordimer in 1984, Something Out There is a collection of 9 short stories and one novella. Most of the short stories are set in Africa, but one is a letter response of Hermann Kafka, to his son's letter. Gordimer is a good author, and this is a nice sampling.
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Set in depression-era America, Steinbeck's novel deals with some of the same things as Something Out There. Both mention people having their homes bulldozed in an effort to get them to leave, both feature disposable workers who are often mistreated and in each, there is definately a struggle between the classes, between the haves and the have-nots. When some people are considered less worthwhile than others, and there is not enough money to go around, certain things are true no matter where the setting is.
About Nadine Gordimer
father: Jewish jewler from Latvia
mother: British descent
Education: at a convent school, along with a year at Witwaterstrand University
Nadine began to write at the age of nine. Her mother belived Nadine had a weak heart and kept her home often.
1949 first Short story collection, Face to Face was published. 1991: Nadine wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Quotes from Nadine Gordimer:
"For a long time I used to get The Observer and then The Independent, and then it just got too much. In recent years, once The Weekly Mail started printing pages from The Guardian, I thought that will do" (Lazar).
"I think we all fall into some kind of uniform" (Lazar). (commenting how people tend to define themselves by the clothes they wear)
"Some people can never change. They may be wonderful in a certain situation and totally impotent in another" (Bazin).
"Power is something of which I am convinced there is no innocence this side of the womb."
"You can't change a regime on the basis of compassion. There's got to be something harder" (Lazar).
"To me, it's progress. It's not specacular, but it's progress" (Lazar). (a response to the conditions in South Africa.)
"The winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature challenged those who were crtiical of her portrayal of black characters and said a writer has to be able to imagine themselves in the shoes of both genders and all races and ages. 'I don't think you can all anyone a writer at all if they don't have this ability, ' she said. 'We writers must claim some sort of mysterious sixth sense. I don't think it should be considered arrogant or elitist. It's just part of our job'" (Thomasson).
About Something Out There
Short Story titles:
The Four Conspirators
Writing and politics
says she is not a political person; yet her writings document, decade
"The irony that
links Gordimer and her fellow novelists is that each experiences his native
land as a place of exile" (Greenstein). There is always a tricky
relationship between the writer and their nation. It involves the question
of politics and writing, and if the two should be mixed, amongst other
things. But the problematic relationship has a history: "The nation
either co-opts its greatest writers (Shakespeare, Goethe, Camoens, Tagore)
or else seeks to destroy them (Ovid's exile, Soyinka's exile). Both fates
are problematic. The hush of reverence is inappropriate for literature;
great writing makes a great noise in the mind, the heart. There are those
who believe that persecution is good for writers. This is false"
(Rushdie). Writers always end up writing about their surroundings, their
environment. They write what they see, and when that writer is in a politically
charged nation, things get tricky. To the writer, their environment is
simply the way things are, and they record them as such. To this, the
writer may add what they think the world ought to be like, or how it may
someday be, but underneath the prose is always the undertow of their circumstances.
When writers practice their craft in a nation in turmoil, people will
usually read the book and see it as supporting or denying the various
ideologies of the factions in charge. Everything written is compared in
political terms, and writers are set up as examples of the voice of the
struggle. Some times this is unwanted, unsought after on the part of the
writer. What happens to a book once it is out of the writer's hands, and
into the world, is something the writer cannot control ("The word,
uncag'd, never returns" Horace, 1 B.C.). But there are those writers
who take the position gladly, and willingly claim their place as official
spokesperson. "Beware the writer who sets himself or herself up as
the voice of a nation" (Rushdie)."Nationalism corrupts writers,
too" (Rushdie). Nadine Gordimer's work may be adopted by some, but
despite her political interests, she does not claim to speak for anyone
but herself. The writer/ nation relationship becomes increasingly troublesome,
the more turbulent and uneasy the nation is.
Feminism and the State
Colonialism has a large effect on the relationship between women and the state. Gordimer points out about one of her characters: "This is, I think, a typically colonial attitude-that the white woman has a man who looks after her. In the classic colonial situation she wouldn't even have worked" (Bazin). A colonial system is one where everyone has their place, and are expected to stay there. It is also largely patriarchal. When any system sees one person as lesser than another, problems arise. "For too long represented as national symbols rather than citizens, women have an ambiguous relationship to nationality" (Gardiner). Gordimer was often criticized for dismissing feminism in its early days. Now, a few decades later, she notes that "It's interesting. I can't see any vestiges now of that trivial feminism that I was talking about so disparagingly in the early times " (Lazar). The feminism she scoffed at so long ago was unlike the current brand. (If there is such a monster ) The battle modern feminism fights is usually with the media: the most problematic issue is how women are portrayed. "But, you know, that is the women's magazine culture: to be a beauty queen is the ultimate ambition. It's rather interesting that women have to be consciously feminist in order to reject the whole beauty queen thing" (Lazar). So does the media's portrayal of women try to perpetrate a patriarchal society? Does the state still have a place for everyone, a section in society that they are supposed to stay in? It may not be that drastic, or so conspiratorial, but it's definitely something to think about.
Nadine Gordimer has often had to field the question of prejudice. "For me, being Jewish is like being black: you simply are. To want to deny it is disgusting. It's a denial of humanity. There's no shame in being black, and there's no shame in being Jewish. But I'm not religious, I haven't led a religious upbringing, and whether I'm an unbeliever in terms of Jehovah or Jesus Christ to me is the same thing" (Lazar). She also notes that understanding racism is a universal thing: if you are a human being, you should be able to comprehend the horrors of it, whether or not you've experienced it firsthand or not. "I would hate to think that you have to be Jewish in order to understand racism, just as I would hate to think you have to be black to understand it. It should be something absolutely repugnant and quite impossible for anybody who is a real human being" (Lazar). One observation that speaks volumes on the subject is about Gordimer's time spent in the United States. "While she was living in the United States and lecturing at Harvard in the mid-nineties, Gordimer notes, her life was far more racially segregated than it had been in South Africa, and she ponders the curious separatism into which American blacks and whites- including black and white intellectuals- have retreated" (Linfeld).
The art of writing
This section provides quotes by Nadine Gordimer, and from critics, dealing with writing as a craft.
"Novelists don't give answers; they ask questions" (Bazin).
"All of these things come from my own experience, from inside. Now, late in my life, obviously I can read anything, and it's too late for things to influence me. I don't need influencing anymore" (Bazin).
"The creative act is not pure. History evidences it. Sociology extracts it. The writer loses Eden,writes to be read and comes to realize that he is answerable." (Gordimer)
"I never really take detailed notes. I would, as you saw, struggle with names, because names are very important to me. Changing people's names, crossing them in and out, and so on" (Bazin).
"Their art makes a middle-class form, the novel, hold working -class vernacular dear, prizing eloquence the classics omit or patronize" (Dizard).
"They fashion art so as to change whole nations" (Dizard).
"One of the lessons indelibly taught by the twentieth century is that art will not save us from our worst selves" (Greenstein).
"Gordimer's anger is palpable: readers who seek the originals of characters in life or in the personae of the writer's psyche are misguided or worse" (Greenstein).
" characters are forged in the writer's imagination out of raw materials that come from no single source" (Greenstein).
"As inspired "liar," the writer tells the deepest truths" (Greenstein).
"She chose to differentiate herself, to seek a home in her native land, to stay the course, and to write without disguise or indirection about what she could see from her particular vantage point" (Greenstein).
"For Gordimer, fiction must always be an excavation of the truth, never an advertisment for onself" (Linfeld).
" fiction is a game with all the powers and rights of serious application" (Winner).
"Story is gross anatomy. Yet just as essential as story is our need for story to be something more: something that conveys our complexity and dignity as human agents" (Winner).
*Nadine Gordimer: Crimes of Conscience. Section about Gordimer, novel "Crimes of Conscience", Questions for Reflection and Works cited. http://krypton.hpc.sdsmt.edu/online-courses/is/hum375/gordimer.html
***Nadine Gordimer. This link is so darn throrough... if you want to know more about anything pertaining to Africa, Apartheid or Nadine Gordimer, this is the place to go! http://www.thecore.nus.edu/landow/post/as/gordimer/gordimerov.html
**New York Times Archives. A page full of links to and descriptions of articles by and about Nadine Gordimer. http://www.newyorktimes.org/books/98/02/01/home/gordimer.html
**Funk and Wagnell's Gordimer selection. This is the encyclopedia's section on Nadine. A short bio, links to South Africa... good for a short overview. http://www.fwkc.com/encyclopedia/low/articles/g/g010001408f.html
***South African Literature and Interpretation by San Francisco University High School. A good resource for those looking to broaden their South African Literature horizens. A nice section on Nadine Gordimer's "July People." http://www.sfuhs.org/HTMLold/students/African/africanhome.html
*Nobel Prize winners' Nadine Gordimer section. A short bio, list of works. http://nobel.sdsc.edu/literature/laureates/1991/gordimer-bio.html
**The United Nations Development Program's Policy Development and Advocacy Section on Nadine Gordimer. A long name for such a short site, ne? Check out the lists of her books, awards and honors. http://www.undp.org.za/docs/misc/gordimerbio.html
**University of Melbourne's Africa Under Apartheid research study guide. Sure, this page is for a class assignment,but it also has lots of excellent resource ideas, in literature, movies, etc. Want to know more about the topic of Apartheid? this page could definitely help you out. http://www.history.unimelb.edu.au/coursematerials/sth_africa/essay-guide.html
*Brockport Writer's forum. This site has information on ordering a video of Nadine Gordimer discussing her works and Apartheid. Looks like an excellent teaching resource. The link doesn't have anything else, but a description of the movie and links to buy it. http://www.acs.brockport.edu/~srubin/gordimer.htm
***University of Texas Law e-texts. This has an interesting essay about Gordimer's life and work. Definitely worth reading. http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/lpop/e-text/lsf/gannon15.htm
***Nadine Gordimer Selected Stories Study guide. Tips on the lingo and questions to ponder. http://www.wsu.edu:8000/~brians/anglophone/gordimer.html
***Postcolonial studies at Emory. Nothing on Nadine Gordimer in specific; but if you want to know more about post-colonialism, this is a good place to go. http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Bahri/Intro.html
**University of Florida's Section on Nadine Gordimer. Also has short sections on many other famous African authors. A good place to go if you want thumbnail-bios of African authors. http://web.uflib.ufl.edu/cm/africana/gordimer.htm
Times. This site is a short article about Gordimer's reading to celebrate
her 75th birthday. Lots of nice quotes by gordimer about writing. http://www.nandotimes.com/newsroom/ntn/world/112198/world4
***Chaos and order in Nadine Gordimer's works. A nice essay; a good read if you're interested in chaos theory and Gordimer's writing. http://members.tripod.com/~ElizBrunner/Scholar/GordimerOne.htm
"Letter from his Father" could easily be taught as a companion to the letter that Franz Kafka wrote to his father. It could also be easily used in studying Kafka's life, or in studying letters as a fictional writing form. There are lots of things you could do with this.
Any of the stories (except from "Letter From his Father") could be used to supplement a unit on South Africa. "A City for the Dead, A City for the Living" could be a good discussion text, considering the ending. The simple question of why the wife does what she does could easily be chewed over in class.
Nadine Gordimer wrote several articles about apartheid and such. (See the New York Times Archive Link in the Links section.) It would be interesting to use one of her articles and compare it to or use it as a companion with her short stories.
The united nations site in the links section above has a list of movies involving Gordimer's texts. These can be used as a supplement, compare contrast with the texts...
Nadine Gordimer is quite an activist. Her stories could be used as part of a study of the writer as a social voice, study other authors whose works furthered social causes.
Bazin, Nancy Topping. "An interview with Nadine Gordimer." Contemporary Literature v36n4 (Winter 1995): 570-587
Dizard, Robin "Book Reviews-Betrayals of the Body Politic by Andres Vogel Ettin / Protest and Possibility in the Writing of Tillie Olsen by Amra Faulkner / Toni Morrison's World of Fiction by Karen Carmean / The Voices of Toni Morrison by Barbara Hill Rigney." Signs: Journal of Women in Cultrue and Society v20n2 (Winter 1995): 444-447
Gardiner, Judith Kegan "From the Margins of Empire: Chrisitna Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer" Studies in the Novel no. 3 (Fall 2000) p. 402-405
Greenstein, Susan "Apologia pro vita sua? Nadine Gordimer's Writing and Being." Research in African Literatures v28n2 (Summer 1997) 145-153
Lazar, Karen "'A feeling of realistic optimism': An interview with Nadine Gordimer." Salmagundi n113 (Winter 1997) 150-165
Linfeld, Susie "Why, the beloved country" Nation no20 (Dec 13, 1999): 26-35
Rushdie, Salman "Notes on Writing and the Nation." Harper's v29n1768 (Sept 1997); 22-24
Thomasson, Emma "Nobelist Nadine Gordimer awaits new era in South African Literature." Africa news online, Nov. 28, 1998 (http://www.nandotimes.com)
Winner, Anthony "Authenticity, authority and application: Buzzati, Kundera, Gordimer." Kenyon Review v20n3/4 (Summer 1998): 94-120
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Last Updated: 4/01