PROFESSOR John Higgins made it two in a row for UCT when he received the 2002 Bill Venter/Altron Literary Award for the humanities recently, following on the success of Professor Vivian Bickford-Smith in 2000 with his Ethnic Pride and Racial Prejudice in Victorian Cape Town.
The award of R45 000 is made by the South African Universities Vice-Chancellor's Association (SAUVCA) to the author of the best scholarly book published over the past four years by a staff member of a South African university or technikon in a designated category. The categories alternate annually between the natural sciences and the human sciences.
Higgins won this year's prize for Raymond Williams: Literature, Marxism and Cultural Materialism, published by Routledge in 1999, in which he provided an introduction to and argued for the continued relevance of the famed literary critic's work.
The book also earned Higgins the UCT Book Award in 2000, and has garnered enthusiastic praise from luminaries such as Columbia University's Professor Edward Said, Oxford's Professor Terry Eagleton and UCT's Emeritus Professor JM Coetzee.
Williams, who lectured Higgins at Cambridge, is known for developing a system of literary critique known as Cultural Materialism, an extension and critique of the "dogmatic Marxism" he was taught as a student in the late 1940s, explained the UCT scholar. "It's interesting that although Williams is identified by many as a Marxist, he certainly wasn't a dogmatic Marxist in any orthodox sense of the term. Indeed, a great deal of his writing was directed towards querying and extending received ideas of what Marxism was."
As the Venter award is usually made to works with a South African focus, Higgins was very surprised – pleasantly so – that his book was selected as this year's winner. "That's what most pleases me about winning the prize.
"It's the sense that this national prize need no longer be nationalistic and can be given to any general work in the humanities which has achieved significant international recognition."
Recognition is always appreciated, perhaps especially in the humanities at the current moment and when taking into account the labour that goes into each and every work, Higgins added.
According to an unofficial calculation Higgins did recently, for every 1 000 words of deep-research writing, something like 40 hours of research time is required, and this is a conservative estimate.
"Deep research requires a huge effort, because you have to read virtually everything written on a subject; think about it and digest it; not to mention the fact that each sentence is likely to require 15 or 20 revisions. It's a terribly demanding, exhausting, and isolating business."