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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.
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.
At the end of the 1960s and in the beginning of the 1970s the South African poet Breyten Breytenbach had poetry and drawings published in the leading literary magazine Raster. The editor in charge at the time, H.C. ten Berge, gave the experimental writer and socially engaged Sestiger (the literary modernizing movement in South Africa in the sixties) pride of place in the line-ups of the Dutch modernist periodical. In the seventies, Ten Berge contributed to Vingermaan (1980), a collection of poems by Dutch writers (Lucebert, Kopland, Kouwenaar, Schierbeek) in support of the anti-apartheid activist. From 1975 Breytenbach was imprisoned in South Africa for political reasons. He served seven years of a nine year sentence. At that time, in the eighties, the Netherlands organized a cultural and economical boycott against the racist regime in Pretoria. Later on, Ten Berge presented his own poems dedicated to Breytenbach in his book of poetry Nieuwe gedichten (1981) and in the collection Materia prima: Gedichten 1963-1993 (1993). Before and during the imprisonment of Breytenbach Ten Berge played an important role in the introduction of the writer in the Low Countries. From a cultural-sociological point of view Breytenbach’s presence in the Dutch language area can be described, in the terminology of Francoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih and later on used by Louise Viljoen, as a transnational lateral movement in his writing career. This paper deals with the cultural transmission of an important political and experimental author in the literary system of Afrikaans and English in South Africa into the Dutch system. From a bibliographical viewpoint this paper affords special attention to the publication of Breytenbach’s volume of poetry in Skryt: Om ’n sinkende skip blou te verf ( 1976), Vingermaan (1980) and Nieuwe gedichten ( 1987). Ten Berge played an important role in the introduction of Breytenbach to the Low Countries in the way he presented the author’s political and aesthetic ideas to a Dutch-speaking audience.
This article discusses the Dutch poet Remco Campert’s involvement in the anti-apartheid movement in Holland by focusing on his magazine Gedicht (1974-1976) and his poem dedicated to the imprisoned South African writer Breyten Breytenbach. Campert’s international engagement is part of the actions undertaken by the Breytenbach-committee and other Dutch initiatives which tried to maintain public interest for the case of Breyten-bach’s imprisonment.
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.
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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