Essays on South African Literature
In the years of anti-apartheid struggle, the immediate political conflict was pre-eminent in the minds of many poets but extended to broader concerns about race, writing and colonialism, such as the debate about the imbongi (African praise singer) as the true antecedent of the contemporary African poet. After the end of apartheid new challenges came to the South African book publishing industry and, thus, to South African writers, as they tried to make sense of the past and draw tentative lines into the future. The works of J. M. Coetzee, Njabulo Ndebele, Kelwyn Sole, Sandile Dikeni, Vincent Swart, Heather Robertson, Patrick Cullinan, Seitlhamo Motsapi, W. P. B. Botha and more are read against this changing social and political landscape.
“Where we stride above the fading, insistent mutter of the dead”: Kelwyn Sole’s Projections in the Past Tense
The dead haunt the living, and memory is an arena of conflict between forgetting, which is not passive, but an active operation directed against the past, and the trace of that which we remember, the return of something bloody, obscene and filthy under the disguise of beauty.1 Poetry is not a harmless game, and it is not about rearranging sounds or letters in such a way that they are found to be pleasing to the ear or the eye, poetry is the past in the present. Those who believe that the aesthetic shape is what makes a poem, also believe that margarine tastes better if presented in a yellow wrapper or that the yellow colour added to it makes it butter, or perhaps that real butter only comes from England with the stamp of approval of the Royal Family.
The marginalisation of poetry in particular and literature in general during the nineteenth century has created a school of poetry in South Africa which seems to believe that polishing and embellishing the form is the only activity left for poets and that artists need to write an art for art’s sake, destined only for other artists. Since people no longer listen to poetry anyway, they seem to argue, why should we say anything at all? Beyond perhaps their version of melancholy – to which they are perfectly entitled – as well as their Eurocentric and rather touching and helpless insistence on “standards” which are not much more up to...
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