Writer Imraan Coovadia Subject of Graduate’s Research
For Mr Alan Muller getting his Masters in Arts degree cum laude was a logical step in crafting a career in the world of words, books, and knowledge.
‘My masters topic was initially pitched to me by my supervisor, Professor Lindy Stiebel,’ said Muller. ‘While I had heard of Imraan Coovadia, I had not read any of his novels. As I began to read them and do some preliminary research, I realised I enjoyed his writing and discovered there was very little scholarly research done on his work.
‘The combination of pleasure I got from reading his novels and the gap in the academic “market” prompted me to pursue the topic.’
Muller’s study examines how Coovadia is able to look simultaneously both directly at and beyond the South African cultural milieu in his novels, creating work punctuated by cosmopolitan places and people while retaining local specificity.
Using selected theories of space, place, and identity, Muller suggests that the novels under discussion reflect an era of globalisation, interconnectedness, and hybridity through the construction of cosmopolitan literary cities and the hybrid identities which inhabit them.
He argues that his works can be tentatively labelled as post-transitional texts that strive to craft connections rather than to construct self-isolating communities and characters seen in South African texts such as Richard Rive’s Buckingham Palace, District Six (1986), Aziz Hassim’s The Lotus People (2003), and Phyllis Naidoo’s Footprints in Grey Street (2002).
Speaking about the highlights of his research, Muller said he was able to present at two conferences: the first annual Postcolonial Narrations postgraduate forum at the University of Göttingen in October 2013 and the ALA Conference hosted by Wits University in April 2014.
‘Meeting Imraan Coovadia last year was the most memorable moment during my research. He took the time to answer my questions via email on a number of occasions and agreed to an interview at his home in Cape Town as I was beginning to wrap up my dissertation. Being able to ask burning questions about his novels and about his writing process was enlightening.
‘It is often easy to think of novelists as being removed from normal society and living exclusively in the world of ideas and imagination. Meeting Imraan has been an eye-opener and reminded me that they are normal people who may, at times, also have trouble writing.’
Muller feels that while the sciences make life possible and more comfortable, the arts make life worth living and interesting. ‘I see my research as one of many voices in conversation concerning the contemporary South African cultural landscape. Therefore, I hope that it will help to contribute to a growing body of work on our country’s endlessly interesting and shifting cultural milieu.’
He is grateful to his family, friends, his supervisor and his partner, Liliana, for providing support and assistance during his studies. ‘While a career in the arts is seldom a thing that parents encourage their children to pursue, both my mother and father have seen the value therein. I am also immensely grateful to them for showing an interest in my work.
‘I would also like to thank all those who have read my work either in part or as a whole. Without your eyes and constructive feedback, this project would not have been as rounded and complete as I believe it to be.’
He advised students to choose supervisors wisely and ensure they developed a good relationship with them.
Muller is currently doing preliminary research for a PhD through UKZN and plans to continue on an academic path.
He is currently collaborating with Olivier Moreillon of the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Danyela Demir of the University of Augsburg in Germany on a volume of interviews with contemporary South African authors.