The Monday Interview Athol Fugard Essay — страница 2

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disguised. He was born in the Eastern Cape to lower-middle-class parents: his mother ran a boarding house and then a tearoom; his father was a disabled drunk balanced on crutches. “He was a jazz pianist but eventually his drinking put an end to that as well, so my mother was the breadwinner.” At times, he says, there was no food on the table and they felt like white trash. Did he live in an all-white world? “Ja. Except for one very important factor. Two black men who were the servants first in the boarding house and then subsequently in the tearoom. Those two men became surrogate fathers to me. Despite being the victims of the prejudice current in that society, they had retained their dignity, their strength, their generosity of spirit.” As he talks, Marianne, a white,

middle-aged American literature professor, nods and smiles adoringly from the next table. I ask her if she wants to join us. She does. He says his conscience was forged by his mother – together they would conspiratorially whisper about social injustice. He talks about how close he was to her, battling alongside her for the family’s survival. “You’d read letters giving excuses…” Marianne says. Fugard looks at her stony-faced. “Sorry, you’ve interrupted me.” “No, I’m sorry,” she says placidly, before continuing with the story. “So she…” Fugard cuts her off. “All right, all right. OK. Please!” He doesn’t seem like a man used to being interrupted. He finishes off the story that Marianne had started. “My mother could barely read and write her

name. When a letter had to be written, as Marianne was suggesting, to a very pressing creditor I had to write it for her.” He talks slowly, deliberately in his granite Afrikaans accent, like a man who has dominated the stage for many years – which he has, performing in his own plays. At times he spits out words like Exocets, at times he caresses them lovingly round his tongue. I ask him if there was ever a time when the politics became more important to him than the writing. “Yes. There was a very critical time when I had to seriously confront the question: is writing a valid form of action in a situation like this? I mean I had friends who were making bombs, and I really had to ask myself, and my answer finally for myself was that yes, writing is indeed a valid form of

action.” He has never been a member of any political party. His plays have always been inspired by people and stories rather than ideas. “The essential ingredient is flesh and blood. And sweat.” And guilt? “And guilt. Ja, ja,” he nods happily. “Sweating because you’re guilty. Absolutely. Sweat, blood and guilt.” Did you feel guilty for being white? “Oh yes. Yes, very much so. Yeah. The major emotion in my life. Guilt, the major emotion.” What was the source of that guilt? “A sense of personal inadequacy. I think maybe it relates to your most formative image of your father, and I had a weak father, and I loved him.” He says he loved him with such quiet desperation, as if it was the worst thing he could have done. “So it wasn’t as if I could even fashion

myself in opposition to him because I loved the man, alcoholic as he was, but gentle, kind. He wasn’t a monster. I think I also assumed like father, like son. I think a sense of personal inadequacy is still one of the most dominant aspects of my life.” Fugard is standing by a set of easels, having his photo taken, railing against the madness of the modern world – George Bush going mad in America, Israel and Palestine, Thabo Mbeki’s Aids policy, Zimbabwe. These days he lives half the time in South Africa, half the time in the US. I ask him if he thinks he has an Afrikaner soul. “Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially as I’ve got older.” What does an Afrikaner soul mean? “It is to be passionately rooted to the land. It’s almost a peasant sense of self, the earth –

being on South African soul, being under a South African sky.” What makes him a great writer is his empathy with outsiders, which comes from having always been one himself. He talks about how drink almost destroyed him. “When I was at home with my wife and daughter I would get through a bottle or two of wine a day, but if I was in production away from home, then breakfast would be two or three double whiskies with raw eggs in it. I woke up one day in New York and realised I was on the verge of losing every personal relationship that I cherished – my wife and daughter. I hadn’t met Marianne yet. I don’t think it had eroded away any of my writing, but I think it was getting very close to that.” What did your drinking do to your sense of self? “Oh, withering