Of Selflessness and Commiseration: Nelson Mandela’s 'Conversations With Myself'

Publicity photo (photographer unknown)

Conversations With Myself is a collage of important moments that provide an intensely realistic portrayal of an amazing man.

Conversations with Myself

Publisher: Picador
Length: 480 Pages
Author: Nelson Mandela
Price: $13.49
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-09

In view of his recent health problems, I was drawn once again to the wonder that is the story of Nelson Mandela’s life, but instead of reading his autobiography I decided on a new release that is perhaps even more personal. Consciously titled Conversations With Myself, is a book made solely of Mandela’s letters and recordings. Reading it feels a bit like spying on someone’s private diary, full of moments that differ on importance but end up providing a truthful portrait of a man who refuses to be viewed as a legend.

There are excerpts about his imprisonment and his tenacity in fighting for his cause, but it is his struggle to be viewed as a simple human being that is the most striking aspect of the work; the humility he demonstrates in face of his achievements is nothing if not commendable. The book includes a foreword by Barack Obama, in which the President writes that Mandela’s willingness to admit and own up to his faults is what makes him such an example: “(…) Nelson Mandela reminds us that he has not been a perfect man. Like all of us, he has his flaws. But it is precisely these imperfections that should inspire each and everyone of us.” The difference between humans and saints is that saints don’t give up – not that they, being human, never sin.

Mandela was raised between two worlds. His education was English, but his culture was African. This dual disposition, which the book demonstrates well, was what allowed him to fight to preserve his own ethnicity through democratic, western standards: “Western civilization did not completely erase my African origin (…) I still respect the elders in our community and I enjoy talking with them about the old times, when we had our own government and lived in freedom,” he wrote when he was already in prison. This ability to live between two realities made him an observer of human behavior, taught him to analyze the differences in expectations and experience.

Remarkably, Mandela never stopped trusting people; in fact, trust is something he considers to be one of his greatest virtues, even if others see it as his greatest weakness or downfall. The texts show that he could have left prison much sooner than he actually did, and that his refusal to all offers was due to steel determination to settle for nothing less than what he believed was right for his people. He could not have done it without faith, but most of all he could not have done it without trust in his fellow human beings.

Mandela writes that we all know we cannot control everything around us, but that we forget we can control the way we react to them. The logic is simple, and yet it speaks a lot about the man. He claims mistakes are inherent to all political action, but that with time and willingness to critically assess one’s work, one can acquire the experience and vision to avoid common errors and make correct decisions, even amidst the pressing rush of troubled events.

If he was an 'in-betweener', if you will, he was also ahead of his time in many aspects. His position in regards to women, for example, is heartening. He praises women's intelligence and deems necessary their public involvement in social and political issues. It is this awareness of others beyond himself, and society in general, that never ceases to inspire.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.