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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.
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_____. 1944. Die Soeklig. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik.
_____. 1948. Mure van die Hart. Johannesburg: Afrikaanse Pers Boekhandel
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.
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.
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.