Simon van Schalkwyk is a lecturer in English Studies in the School for Literature Language and Media at the University of the Witwatersrand. His research interests include modern and contemporary literature and poetry, with a particular focus on the American mid-century, transnational modernism and modernities, and contemporary South African literature. He is currently preparing a monograph on Robert Lowell’s project of poetic translation (or “imitation”) within the context of Cold War containment culture. Simon also acts as the academic editor for the Johannesburg Review of Books, an independent literary review based in South Africa that publishes reviews, essays, poetry, photographs, and short fiction from South Africa, Africa, and beyond.
Simon van Schalkwyk
The specter of modernism has haunted South African culture for quite some time. In Katharine Kilalea’s recent novel, O.K. Mr. Field (2018), it takes the form of “the House for the Study of Water,” a replica of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, transplanted from its original setting in Poissy, France, to the coastal cliffs of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula. After an accident that leaves him unable to continue his career as a concert pianist, Field purchases the Villa from Hannah Kallenbach, the widow of Jan Kallenbach who, in the imaginary world of Kilalea’s novel, was a disciple of Le Corbusier (Kilalea Field, 4-5). It is worth noting, however, that the name “Kallenbach” suggestively recalls one of the leading figures of South African architectural modernism: Hermann Kallenbach, described by Loren Kruger as “friend of Ghandi and heir of German modernism.” Modernism, in other words, is the motor that drives the novelistic machinery of Kilalea’s O. K. Mr. Field.