Brenda Cooper was for many years the Director of the Centre for African Studies and a Professor in the English department at the University of Cape Town, where she is an Emeritus Professor. She lives in Cape Town and runs an academic writing studio called Burnish ( She has published widely on African fiction in English, postcolonial literary theory and African Studies. Most recently she has completed cross-genre book that is a mixture of life writing, Diasporic African art and literary studies. It is entitled Floating in an Anti-bubble from South Africa to Salford: A book about art, language, Diaspora and personhood, Africa World Press, forthcoming. She has also co-edited a book with Rob Morrell, entitled Africa-Centred Knowledges: Crossing Fields and Worlds, James Currey, 2014. She is currently researching a book entitled But is it academic? Playing with form in scholarly writing.

Sightings of a Fox

Anecdotal and Academic Knowledge

This paper challenges us to rethink the commonly held belief that the anecdote is in opposition to the academic. It is written in a style that is appropriate to its interrogation of dominant forms of academic writing. It proposes that the knowledge that may be gleaned from the metonymic of happenstance, rhyme, experience and anecdote, may add to our archive of meaning in interesting ways. And as anecdotes change how we write this meaning, they also affect knowledge-making and the nature of theory itself. ‘Affect’. A pun. Anecdote is as playful as theory is serious. Their combustion could shatter glass.

The paper is centred around three anecdotes about different occasions on which the author encountered a fox. The first two encounters entwined with reading, in one case a short story by Jackie Kay and in the other the species-meeting book by Donna Haraway. The third lent uncanny interpretations to a Zulu opera performance and was the catalyst for the paper. That opera stage, these books, those encounters, their different times and places, are connected by the happenstance of the author’s idiosyncratic experiences. They segue through her and ignite odd connections between life, play, fiction, politics and theory. They enable the weirdness of lapdogs and laptops to meet as a species in the world of Haraway, whose love of technology and of her dog, Cayenne, enable her to re-order the world and to challenge us to re-think our categories.

Hunting Factishes and Snarks: The Politics of the Poetics of Nonsense

For three decades I wrote about African and African diasporic writers of fiction from my base at the University of Cape Town. Now I have overturned my routine and am living in Greater Manchester and writing my life story. I find I cannot write it without summoning a language which will enable me to entwine my emotional and intellectual investment in African writing of the past years with my attempts to make sense of my own past, as a white South African, as a woman and as a lapsed Jew, who finds myself groping after Yiddish words at key moments. I am finding that this entanglement with the lives of African and diasporic writers and artists, with their mixed wares of Africa and Europe, with the lives of women, whose battles echo mine, points me in the direction of where to look for this new language.

My compass, then, is writers and artists, some white, most black, diasporic women, who are living in London or New York, but whose parents—one or both—were born in Africa. The project is enabled by leaving South Africa temporarily and being distanced from its intensities. To this ambitious end of writing about fiction, art and life, from my own vantage point, I have used the many languages of analysis, memoir, poetry and the visual in conversation with each other. What results is a series of vignettes, a pastiche, which opposes the concept of a straight road or a unified person. Pastiche, so beloved of postmoderns, is a conglomerate of periods, styles, stories and permutations. But when it is harnessed to opposing received wisdoms and violating power, then it becomes a potent poetics of resistance.