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Die poësie van Olga Kirsch: Tuiskoms in vreemdelingskap / The Poetry of Olga Kirsch: Homecoming in Exile

Abstract

In writing my article on the poetry of Olga Kirsch I proceed from each poet’s consciousness of the relationship of tension between his humanity and the art he practises. In the case of Olga Kirsch this inner discord was rendered in her humanity. As second recognised Afrikaans woman poet, after Elisabeth Eybers, she was Jewish by birth and English-speaking, although by her own claim Afrikaans, through her environment and school, was stronger than the English of her parental home.

In Olga Kirsch’s debut volume Die soeklig (1944) she professes the youthful heart’s restless longing for romantic love in poems still far too trapped in clichéd language. I linger extensively at these so that the great breakthrough of her talent in her second volume, Mure van die hart (1948), can be clearly evident. In strong, stripped-down poems she expresses the Zionistic longing of the Jew in the diaspora for the lost homeland, intensified by the Jewish suffering in the Second World War, with specific reference to the Holocaust in “Die wandelende Jood” and “Koms van die Messias.”

After Kirsch’s emigration to Israel in 1948 a silence of twenty-four years followed which was unexpectedly interrupted with the 1972 publication of a thin volume, Negentien gedigte, which impressed especially with “Vyf sonette aan my vader,” which I discuss in detail. In 1975 she visited her native land again and the direct contact with Afrikaans and with the country acted as stimulus for her volume Geil gebied of 1976. The “geil gebied” (fertile area) is a metaphor for the rich subsoil of the poem and for the poem itself. In my discussion of Negentien gedigte and Geil gebied I concentrate on her inner dividedness as being inherently part of her human nature, enhanced by the knowledge that she remained irrevocably attached to her native land and to her Jewish homeland. I point out that the only way she can be healed of this dividedness is by writing her another self in her poems in which she arrives home in both countries, the omnipresence of God and the presence of the beloved husband. Lastly I indicate Olga Kirsch’s enduring place in the Afrikaans tradition of poetry through her procreative influence on other poets or by the way they relate to her poetry.

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Jan Greshoff se ‘aanval’ op Olga Kirsch as een van die hoofredes vir haar emigrasie: ’n Psigoanalitiese beskouing / Jan Greshoff’s ‘Attack’ on Olga Kirsch as One of the Main Causes of Her Emigration: A Psychoanalytical Point of View

Abstract

The poet Olga Kirsch left South Africa permanently for Israel in 1948. It is evident from her poetry that her Zionism, opposition to the racism of the National Party and a failed love played a role in her decision. This article focuses on another reason - a public attack by the Dutch critic Jan Greshoff in an Afrikaans literary magazine in 1946. Using concepts from psychoanalytical theories around borderline and narcissistic personalities, as well as the effect of emigration, Kirsch’s actions are examined as a reaction to narcissistic wounding. Investigating Greshoff’s criticism gives insights into the poet’s actions and explains the hiatus before she started publishing again in Afrikaans from 1971. It is stated that the poet is not considered to be a narcissist as her oeuvre is a testimony to her empathy with others, but the healthy narcissism needed in building one’s self-esteem underwent a severe blow when Kirsch lost the man she loved and was humiliated so devastatingly by the great Dutch critic.

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The Men in the Life and Work of Olga Kirsch

Abstract

Olga Kirsch’s life and work was dominated by three men: her father Schmuel M. Kirsch, her youth lover Ellis, and her husband Joseph Gillis. Their presence can be felt throughout her oeuvre, both in her published Afrikaans and in her unpublished English poetry culminating in a collection of seventy-seven poems written in the months that followed the death of her husband. Through these poems the reader is introduced to a passionate side of Kirsch’s personality that was rarely seen by those who knew her in the normal course of her life. These three relationships resulted in some of Kirsch’s most beautiful poetry, of which her “Vyf sonnette vir my vader” is probably the best known.

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’n Nuwe lewe: Olga Kirsch se studentegedig “Resurrexit” / A New Life: Olga Kirsch’s Student Poem “Resurrexit”

Abstract

The poem “Resurrexit” published by Olga Kirsch in 1945 in the student paper WU´s VIEWS has been all but forgotten. It is, however, a beautiful and an important poem with a pantheistic character. It commemorates the death of the young Jewish flight navigator lieutenant Alec Medalie, whose fighter plane was shot down by German antiaircraft fire near the Yugoslavian coast in 1944. Psychoanalysis opens the poem up to a reading which turns the typical male symbolic order’s death and men’s chaos caused by war into the young man’s rebirth as a new form of being. This happens through the maternal earth’s uterine sea. The fallen is absorbed by the sea and after a period taken up into the clouds to return to the mother and the earth, albeit in a new form. The concept of the chora plays a part in this resurrection which offers consolation to all who are subject to the inevitable uncertainty of the human condition and those who stay behind after a sudden death.

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Olga Kirsch: ’n Vreemde boom op hierdie aarde / Olga Kirsch: A Strange Tree on This Earth

Abstract

The article traces the lasting alienation of Olga Kirsch (1927-1994), a Jewish-born South African poet, as represented in her seven volumes of Afrikaans poetry published between 1944 and 1983. Growing up in a devoutly Christian, Afrikaans-speaking rural community, she found herself an outsider. The conditions at home brought little comfort, while the awareness of the racial discrimination which permeated society further contributed to her isolation. Seeking for a heimat, she emigrated to Israel at the age of 24. Reading her poetry, it becomes clear that here, too, she remained a stranger, continuing to write and publish in Afrikaans.

Open access
Olga Kirsch se posisie in die Afrikaanse literêre sisteem (1900-1978) / Olga Kirsch’s Position in the Afrikaans Literary System (1900-1978)

Abstract

Centrality and marginality are important concepts in polysystem theory, and also in network theory. This article examines Olga Kirsch’s position in the Afrikaans literary system by taking into account data spanning from 1900 to 1978. Overall centrality is discussed from the perspective of network theory and related to polysystem theory, and the concept is also applied to the literary system through the use of the Fruchterman and Reingold (1991) force-directed layout algorithm. It is indicated that Kirsch is positioned on the edge of the core or in the semicore, mainly because there are not so many people from the core who had paid attention to her works, but also because she, according to this data set, did not write on the works of others. It is also indicated which important critics, literary scholars and literary historians paid attention to her works, which contributes to her not being positioned on the periphery.

Open access
A Poet for All Seasons

Abstract

This is a translation of a general introduction to an anthology of poetry by Olga Kirsch. Major themes and motifs of her work are outlined, as well as a short biography of the authoress is presented. The selection from the poems of Olga Kirsch was published to celebrate her 70th birthday on 23rd of September 1994 as Nou spreek ek weer bekendes aan: ’n Keur 1944-1983 [Now I’m Again Addressing Familiar Ones: A Selection 1944-1983]. For the purposes of the translation the ending of the original introduction has been altered.

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Chronology of the Klip River Affair of 1847

Abstract

The aim of the present article is the reconstruction of the chronology of the klip River affair of 1847. Reading primary sources and literature for the natal history in the 1840s I realized that the chronology of the klip River affair is incomplete and incorrect, a d that this affects the analyses of this affair and the whole situation of natal colony at that time. Therefore the decision to reconstruct the chronology of this affair as much as possible and put it straight, in hope that it will be helpful for further studies of kwaZulunatal history during 1840s and 1850s.

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Het beeld van Midden- en Oost-Europa in Nederlandse literaire non-fictie

Abstract

Over the last 20 years, literary nonfiction has become increasingly popular among the Dutch reading public. Thanks to increasing sales, translations and literary awards the genre achieved a strong position in Dutch literature. This article analyzes the image of Central and Eastern European countries in Dutch literary nonfiction of the last ten years (2004-14). It searches for characteristics of an orientalist and balkanist discourse and the presence of the imagological centre-periphery model in the works of Geert Mak, Jelle Brandt Corstius, Olaf Koens, Joop Verstraten and Jan Brokken. Contemporary Dutch literary nonfiction contains a euro-orientalist discourse. Characteristics such as underdevelopment, hedonism, obscurity and authenticity are projected on Central and Eastern Europe, which is put in the periphery of Western Europe.

Open access