Books

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
Amazon

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.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image