There is blood in our silence, and in our silence the milk and honey, assertion and defiance of language lives and breathes. In our projections from the past, of our cultural background and history, and so, we are transformed by the social and political evolution of the lonely and simple, the mood of innocent and innocence lost and frighteningly dysfunctional country that we live in. I touch on the Mockingbird book for a number of reasons. Why would it inspire a South African poet living in an oblique African narrative, writing in the context of a divided self with emotional vigour. Meditative scenes and the climate of narcissistic visions of the dominant patriarchal landscape, the consumerist environment that we live in now.
Nelle Harper Lee, was she a pioneer stylistically, a visionary writer ahead of her time, or, a one hit wonder who just disappeared from public life never to be seen of or heard from again until her death? What exactly did Harper Lee fall victim too? The voices of her characters inside her head, her craftmanship, the assault of the popularity and critical success of the Mockingbird book. Were all calling to her, speaking in tongues of stigma change and brutal racial discrimination, the inner self, the system of the nuclear family, alienation, self-imposed isolation in a small-town setting? It deals with paranoia (so she was both eminent author, and feminist thinker) as an epidemic, to the freezing response of the strangeness of personal grief.
The nostalgic sentiment of childhood barricaded under the gaze of progress, dissemination of information, and the policies of racial conflict, racial hatred that is still an act of terror at the heart, the root cause of our neurotic behaviour all over the world. Audience and censure interplay in the novel. Any kind of discrimination is a fork in the road, the other side of silence. This other voice of racism perpetuates the struggle of divide and conquer, separate but equal. Hate is night. Gazing into the past. It is very much an absent waking from reconciling falling to the land of the European, being classified as Non-European. Race relations is an emergency continued on the universal horizon.
It is still setting the maladjusted stage in this modern age, in this society. The book also talks about causal issues of objectification, the anxious fear and ‘montage of heck’ subjugation that exists in the paradigm of a small-town community, the racist gender bias leaning towards the traitorous, fearful figure of Boo Radley who rejects the community, and is rejected in turn, giving up a life contributing positively to society. My response to this is to be a parting realist.
The same fears in this book are the fears that I have. The happiness in this book cancelled out the discrimination in my own life. That is why I read female writers so voraciously. The comedian, the exploratory-novelist who dissect the issue of post-coloniality in their literary pursuit, the experimental-novelist, the children’s writer, contemporary female poets, but when it comes to male writers, I only stick my neck out for Updike, Hemingway and Salinger.
Those are the books I grew up with in adolescence. The Music School, A Moveable Feast, and Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t know any brown novelists. Any poets who were of mixed- race descent. There is recognition of Harper Lee’s sign towards God. The sign is a sigh. She is statue-like. The Harper Lee when the Mockingbird book was finished had the finesse of a bird, of a swan. Her features destroyed like blue sky by rain when she disappeared from view. Hidden, shielded from the publicity machine by her editor. Her sabotage by the roughs of this world. Both men. Mainly women. She plays this game. This game she knows so well. The anxiety and discrimination of anxiety. The undertaker is menopause. Eyes cast down. In the name of extinction, the dodo’s modus operandi, out about her pain, she tells herself to write everything down. She must. She must. In the name of the night watchman (for she is the night watchman), she must. She simply must. And yet light appears. And yet light appears. I am slowly going insane this time because what it comes down to for me is living in a brown South Africa. Not so much elegantly so. Growth via belonging are elegantly slow in those fields. Being a poet in a brown South Africa. Being a novelist in a brown South Africa. Wanting to be a pioneer on the same basic grounds that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were for those times. Politics is politics is politics. People are people. It comes from our childhood. If we grow up to be racist, now, whose fault is that really? Are we too defined by the class regime?
Something distilled now appears to transcend the established automata of To Kill A Mockingbird. All I see is darkness all around me. Now all I hear are the voices from the dark past. I tell myself that they are angels. But sometimes the things they say and tell me are hellish territory and I know then. That I am bound by oath and oar to boat and rope. The hangman’s noose. And everything is a political movement in the book. The father is a lawyer who loses the case of a lifetime, while his children grow up in this autobiographical account of racism in the Midwest. Lest we forget. Time is longer than rope. The gospel truth is that what Harper Lee wrote about then, it is a universal story.The flexibility of stigma and the spinning wheel of discrimination have shaped South African history for the longest time. It is a different kind of war. What in childhood shapes you,it evolves you into adult life.It is both mandate and contract. Other lives have other languages. Racism is central to the story, a muse, ‘the’ muse, a symbol of what has been lost and possessed, the dual images of both. It is a brilliantly sacred account of a complicated transforming wound for these times that we are living in. The light echoes. It is the end of another day. Tomorrow we wake up and the line of disparity continues. We live in denial, denial, denial, as if discrimination and the social system of race, and class, and struggle, and liberation is a falsehood. Believers are like the leafing owl and the flaming bowl of the moon. I just want something simple to believe in, that’s all.
Our norms and values make us who we are as a country, as a society, divide us too as a country, as a society. The religious say it is our duty to pray, and the politicians want our vote. The newspapers print what they think is the gospel truth. It is important what our novelists write, think. It is significant. What a poet’s response is, is this. As advocacy body, outreach, confessional analysis. The poet is fulltime activist. They can write in rhyme, in verse, or, meter.Words count for something, is what Nelle Harper Lee presupposed in the Mockingbird book. Regardless if it was before my time. I listen and I listen and I pay attention because I too want to put my best pioneering effort forward. There is freedom in creative expression.
As writers, novelists, you don’t write for the establishment. You don’t write to make a name for yourself, for glory, for name and fame and to put away money in the bank for your retirement, or, to secure financial security for yourself and your family. You write to impact and change the world around you for the betterment of humanity. You want your voice to create a force for good. Far away, I think of Harper Lee making notes as she made breakfast, or, sitting at her typewriter punching out a manuscript, changing the ribbon as I did when I was a teenager. She never married. Never had children. Never wrote more than two books. I have written ten, and I’m still going. Churning out poetry, novels, short stories, essays, plays.
My motivation will always be just to transform one life, one sociological perspective, one crisis of identity, one vision comparatively at a time, one strategy,one history. One reality.
Therein lay Harper Lee’s profound brilliance. Her triumph was her appeal to reason. To challenge the status quo of every nonconformist thinker.