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22 August 2018
Prof Coetzee is retelling old stories in a new book
"Failing to Learn Doomed to repeat" was one of the bookworks on display.

The title of Prof Jan K Coetzee’s latest book, Books & Bones & Other Things, says it all. The book looks into the many aspects that have built our society by presenting in a new way the stories contained in old books collected over the years. 

Prof Coetzee is a Senior Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State (UFS). Books & Bones & Other Things was launched on 14 August 2018 and coincided with an exhibition of various “bookworks”   art installations by Prof Coetzee that feature old books, sculptures, artefacts, and fossils.
 
Book resulting from research programme 
   

“This is a book on books so the library is the perfect venue to launch a book on old texts as documents of life,” said Prof Coetzee.

For the past seven years he has been directing a Master’s and PhD programme in Sociology called The Narrative Study of Lives. His project, Documents of Life, from which this book came, focuses on a collection of old texts the oldest of which dates back to 1605.

“We live in storytelling societies and for as long as we can remember we have been telling stories. Over time the ability to produce books was born. Any collection of books can tell you a lot about your own life and the society you live in."

“I cannot read the stories of many of these old books because their narratives are closed. I have to re-narrate the books, change the narrative convention and present them in a way that makes sense to me. By combining the books with art and artefacts I want the books to tell their ancient stories in new ways.”

Book launches and intellectual discussions

At the book launch, Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research said: “What we have achieved with this launch and exhibition is unbelievable. We always try to create an intellectual space in the library.

“A book such as this is the pinnacle of an academic career. It is multidisciplinary and it looks at the world in a different way. That is what scholarship is about.”

A painting by Robert Hodgins was also handed over to the Johannes Stegmann Gallery, home of the corporate collection of the UFS, at the event. 

News Archive

In her inaugural lecture, Prof Helene Strauss explores symbols that reflect our history
2014-02-18

 

Prof Helene Strauss
The burning tyre – image of promise and disappointment
Photo: Stephen Collett

Prof Helene Strauss did not disappoint in her highly-anticipated inaugural lecture “The Spectacles of Promise and Disappointment: Political Emotion and Quotidian Aesthetics in Post-transitional South Africa”. She posed some very challenging ideas on the promises and disappointments that arouse from apartheid. Prof Strauss pointed to the fact that “… a promise must promise to be kept; that is, not to remain spiritual or abstract, but to produce events, new effective forms of action, practice, organisation, and so forth.”

She underscored the message of her lecture by making use of the image of a burning tyre – a symbol commonly associated with apartheid. This act of ‘necklacing’ is closely connected to the violence and protests of that era. Prof Strauss used this image to represent an array of social concerns: global mass protest, modernity and mobility, waste economies and waste management, environmental destruction, as well as poverty and resistance in varied formats.

Some of South Africa’s greatest artists have used the burning tyre in their work, particularlyBerni Searle and Zanele Muhloi. Not only does it trigger the shadow of the damaging past, but “more recently, it has come to figure also in the spectacles of promise and disappointment that have marked the country’s transitional and post-transitional periods,” Prof Strauss remarked.

Prof Strauss focuses her research on these symbolisms in our history because of “the questions that they raise about the emotional cultures produced in the aftermath of apartheid and for the unique contribution that they make to current debates on political and aesthetic activism.”Her passion for this subject comes from the “affective or emotional legacies of various forms of structural inequality, an interest that owes a sizeable debt to postcolonial, queer and feminist critical theory and creative work of the past hundred or so years.”

Prof Strauss accepted a position at the University of the Free Sate in 2011 and currently works in the Department of English. She is part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholars Programme and holds a PhD from the University of Western Ontario. Previously, she held the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada, where she resided for 11 years.

Among the guests were Prof Jonathan Jansen, Profs Botes and Witthuhn, lecturers in the Department of English, members of the Faculty of the Humanities, students and some of Prof Strauss’ colleagues from Canada.

 

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