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Arja and Taryn

Young Voices won't be silenced

Taryn Hill speaks to Arja Salafranca about Memory

To read Arja Salafranca's Young Voices contribution, "My memory: the past in six movements", click here.

  1. How do you feel about your work being dissected, especially in light of your sentiments regarding diaries that are intended for an audience?

    I'm not quite sure I understand your question, but will try to answer anyway. I feel that when anyone's work is dissected, misunderstandings tend to creep in. We all have different responses to any piece of work, and we bring our own ideas and understanding to the reading of a piece of writing. So I'm sure I'm going to be surprised at readers' responses. They will see things that I never intended; but this is also an interesting process in itself, a process that allows me to view my writing through a different prism. You learn from reading other people's responses, whether good or bad.

  2. You mention that there is something self-defeating about keeping a diary unless it is written with the intention of publication. What are your views on the value of personal and spiritual growth versus material ambition?

    That's a tough one. We all need to eat and have a roof over our heads, so that forces us, as writers, to go out into the world and work. And since it's so hard - if not nearly impossible - to make a living as a writer in the world today, we all have to find jobs that will achieve these goals - roof, food, as well as car, holidays and so on. So we all have material ambition, some are just more ambitious than others. But I also think that our generation (the 20 and 30 somethings) are also so much more aware that we need to save for old age, buy property, invest etc, so that we don't reach retirement age and find ourselves still slaving away. So we are more focused on earning money, good money, as well as enjoying the good things in life. Unfortunately, this also takes time and energy away from personal and spiritual growth, of which writing is a large part. It's a great pity that our writing has to be squashed in somehow, somewhere, that we can't devote our working hours to our creative lives. But most of us don't have a choice in this.

  3. How do you feel about the idea that in a diary you may actually be "editing" the writing for your future self and not for others?

    In my diaries I've always felt that I might be editing it for future readers. It began sometime in my teens. I try to be as honest as possible in my diaries, I try not to write something because it will make me sound good or virtuous, but now and again I do catch myself "editing". And when I do, I force myself to write what I really felt or thought.

    But in any case, it's impossible to write for future readers. Who knows where we'll be in 20, 30, 50 years? A century ago it was okay to be racist and to express racist views in your writing. Today, of course, it's not okay. Who knows what might happen in the future? I may talk of loving to eat meat in the year 2004, but maybe in the future people will look back in horror that we ate meat from animals reared in unspeakable conditions. They may regard as being immoral and awful for eating meat bred from animals that were reared only to be slaughtered. They may be right, of course. But today, although a lot of us feel twinges of discomfort at the pain and suffering of farm animals, we don't actually stop eating meat, or buy only organic meat, for instance. So you can't write for the future; you're likely to get it wrong.

    As for writing for my future self, no I don't do that. I can't really imagine my future selves, or how I'm going to react to a certain piece of writing, although I do sometimes try. But the future's unknown and I don't try to anticipate it.

  4. Do you believe in the ability to actually precisely record history, personal or otherwise, in absolute truth, or do you believe that truth is relative and that at a single moment there are an infinite number of ways of perceiving a situation?

    Truth is relative. I dealt with this in question 1, talking about people's different responses to a piece of writing. There is no absolute truth, because we all perceive it differently. That's why there are so many conflicts and wars in the world. There are always two or three or more ways of perceiving a situation. It all depends on you, what your background is, what you have been through, have experienced and so on.

  5. Do you think that a diarist has a certain advantage when it comes to not making the same mistakes over and over again in life? Do you think that the process of personal growth occurs at a faster rate when one has the advantage of such intense self-analysis?

    Well, this diarist has not enjoyed that advantage!! I make the same mistakes over and over again, and I write about them over and over again! But sometimes I do learn from my mistakes - whether from writing about them, or just because if I don't I must be bloody minded!

    I'm not sure if personal growth occurs faster because you keep a diary. Perhaps it does. Analysing yourself in black and white, so to speak, certainly helps to clarify your problems, your mistakes, your repeat patterns - it's all there, right in front of you. But I think it also depends on the type of person you are: you may be a prolific diarist who has a blind spot when it comes to your own failings and behaviours.

    Also, there are other people who don't write, but who are intensely self-aware, but choose to explore their behaviours and psyche through other ways - therapy, for instance.

    I do feel that writers are intense people, however, although this is a bit of a generalisation. They tend to be intense and often self-aware and perhaps that's why they are drawn to writing, to analysing behaviour, whether of themselves or of others through writing fiction.

  6. How do you perceive the value of a diary with regard to the awareness of internal and external patterns, enabling the diarist to focus his or her energy more constructively in the present as opposed to a life that is lost entirely in the present and without a broader perspective?

    I think that's the reason I do keep a diary: to make sure that my past is not "lost"; and to enable me to gain a broader perspective on the present and where I am in it. I love keeping a diary and I wish more people would. I can't imagine not noting down my weeks, thoughts about the people in my life, what's happening in the world. But I also realise that that's my need, it's not everyone's. Some people try to keep diaries and get bored by the whole process. I don't, but that's me. And some people feel perfectly happy not trying to capture the past while living in the present. In a way they have more freedom than the obsessive diarist. Besides, self-awareness can be obtained in other ways, as I said, therapy being one. You can still get a broader perspective on life by other means. Writing or diary-keeping isn't the only way, although it helps to keep memories a little fresher, for me at least.

  7. I don't know. I don't know her. I don't know anybody. I know only of you and you and you.
    In the keeping of a diary, do you feel that upon looking back there is also a sense of knowing OF oneself as opposed to knowing oneself?

    I think that's often the case. You read an entry from the past and sometimes it's just like reading a stranger's piece rather than your own. I find I'm often surprised by entries from my diaries: I not only forget that such and such a thing happened, but also forget that I felt a particular way. You change a lot, although you also stay the same in other ways. That's one thing I have learned from keeping diaries.

    Then there's that argument that you never really know yourself, but I'm not sure how much water that holds. The more you live the more you discover about yourself. I know that I don't like taking physical risks, for instance. You won't find me willingly bungee-jumping or going white-water rafting. That's not me, I know it. And it's not something that's likely to change either. So in that sense I know myself. But then I've never had a child, so I don't know myself in that way. I have no idea of what I would be like as a mother, or as a wife, for instance.

  8. You were thirty now, unbearably ancient to that younger self ...
    Does the younger self seem ancient to the thirty-year-old too?

    No, it doesn't seem ancient, because I remember so vividly what it was like to be ten or 15 or whatever. Perhaps I have a good memory; perhaps keeping diaries has ensured that the memories are somehow "etched" in my mind. The younger selves seem sweet, and I often feel sorry for them. It's so much nicer being an adult, earning your own money, driving, deciding where you want to live or go on holiday. So I feel that I'd like to swoop down and tell the younger selves to hang on, adulthood is great, and almost worth going through childhood for!

  9. How do you see South Africa evolving creatively within the next 10 years?

    I think it's going to boom. Tourism is going to take off even more successfully than it has; it's going to bring money into the country. I think there's going to be a lot of development, property-wise, as well as in developing tourism, heritage sites and so on.

    But at the same time, the Aids pandemic is going to continue and we're going to lose a lot of adults to Aids, which is going to leave a lot of Aids orphans. That tragedy has already begun.

    In terms of society I think the "Africanisation" of this country is going to continue. We're a mecca for the rest of the continent and that will continue. We're going to see more African influences in our fashion, music, dance etc. Some people won't like that and will feel uncomfortable with it. I have a friend who was talking of emigrating, and this increasing Africanisation was one reason. She just doesn't feel comfortable here. She feels more comfortable in a place like Europe, or England or North America, for instance. You can't judge her for that, though. She's white, and although she didn't support apartheid she admits some complicity because she didn't actively fight it. But here she is, part of the "African renaissance", and she feels uncomfortable.

    And then we have the "free-borns" (those born after 1994) and they are the real inheritors of a changed South Africa. They're free of the baggage the rest of us are carrying around. They don't even notice different skin tones! When they're all grown-ups I think we'll see real progress.

  10. Why did you choose to take part in the Young Voices Online Writers' Conference and how do you feel being a part of this project?

    I'm very pleased to be part of the conference. I took part in it because I wanted to have my say, contribute in terms of my writing and thoughts. An online conference also reaches a wider range of people than a real-life conference. The topics introduced by the organisers sound fascinating and I'm looking forward to reading other people's contributions too.

  11. Have you noticed any changes, positive or negative, in the writing trends of young South African writers?

    Yes, I have noticed that young South Africans are steering clear of writing about politics and political dogma. They feel free to explore human emotions - the real stuff of literature - in their writing. They don't feel like they have to have a good black and a bad white in every story. They, we, are free to explore any topic that occurs, without having to condemn the political situation of the country they are living in. And that is wonderful. Too many older South African writers were strait-jacketed by the fact that they had to condemn apartheid. I'm not saying that apartheid should not have been condemned, but a lot of writers had to write the political tales instead of writing a love story, for instance, or a story of a mother-daughter relationship. That's why so many people at school, and today, are still against reading local literature. They want to escape when they read, or learn something new. They don't want lectures, or guilt trips. That's also why I think the crop of South African women writers who are producing novels - Patricia Schonstein, Pamela Jooste, Jenny Hobbs, Katy Bauer, Diane Awerbuck, to name a few - are so successful. They write about people's lives without the need to bring in the "political situation". This is precisely the type of writing we need to produce if we're going to get people to read our work. We need to write from our own interests, instead of from a political need. That's what writers do in free countries. They write about what interests them, they don't write out of a political agenda.

LitNet: 29 October 2004

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