IN 2002, in the journal Research in African Literatures, an unauthorised transcript of a recorded interview between Zoë Wicomb and Hein Willemse, Afrikaans academic and writer, was published (Willemse 2002:144-152). The head note to the transcript reads:
This conversation with Zoë Wicomb … took place on the eve of the South African launch of her first novel, David's Story (Feminist Press/ Kwela) on 31 March 2001 in the Rosebank Hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Zoë Wicomb did not know this conversation was being recorded, and did not know it would be published; the fact that the interview is in fact transcribed and published places the readers of it (us) in an unusual position – as eavesdroppers, to a conversation about the location of reading.
In this interview, Willemse and Wicomb discuss the book, and also discuss the meanings of ‘local’. At moments in the interview, Willemse seems to imply that Wicomb is not ‘local’ enough, writes from the outside, and is merely an eavesdropper to South African accents and lives. Recording this conversation, the conversation in which he suggests Wicomb is not local enough, and then publishing it without her prior knowledge and permission, he makes Wicomb herself into an eavesdropper, not only (as he argues) to South African lives, but even to her own words.
The transcript of the conversation touches on topics such as the location of the author and the location of the imagined reader. There are moments of discord and discomfort in the conversation, typically to do with the lack of correspondence – or at least an implicit accusation of a lack of correspondence – between the locations of author and reader. The fact that the transcript of the conversation is unauthorised does not concern me here on the level of the ethics of these kinds of recordings.
This chapter takes the idea of the eavesdropper, the reader who is not inside enough, to develop further what a South African accented reading practice could be, and where it could be generated. In this version it is the reader who does not read the text in South African accented ways who is the eavesdropper. This argument is tested at the end of the chapter with a perverse reading of the work of JM Coetzee, now, arguably, read as the most metropolitan of South African writers.