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Afrikaans Literature Might Find its Greatest Moments of Worldliness in its Dislocation – Leon de Kock

Bad SexBad Sex author and renowned academic Leon de Kock recently grappled with the question, “Is Afrikaans literature a World Literature?” in a conversation with his wife Jeanne-Marie Jackson who is a US academic and researcher.

Using David Danrosch’s definition of world literature – “[A]ll literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in their original language.” – De Kock and Jackson had a rich conversation in which they look at contemporary Afrikaans writers such as André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Antjie Krog, Etienne van Heerden and Marlene van Niekerk and their impact on literature at large.

A fascinating conversation ensued, which concluded with the following idea: “Afrikaans literature, as you point out above, might find its greatest moments of worldliness not in its being seamlessly synchronised with a greater planetary consciousness, but in its very dislocation, its global isolation, just as the subtitle of your new book (South African Literature’s Russian Soul: Narrative Forms of Global Isolation) puts it.”

Read the article:

We are two scholars of South African literature – one senior, one junior – who came to the field by very different paths. Leon is a professor, but also a writer (of a novel and three volumes of poetry); a well-known translator of contemporary Afrikaans fiction into English; and a frequent literary commentator in Cape Town and Johannesburg. He grew up and made his career in South Africa at a time when Afrikaans was the country’s de facto official language. Jeanne-Marie learned Afrikaans, at first, from the much more baffling location of New Haven, Connecticut. After “discovering” the language through its literature as a graduate student, she went on to write her first book on Russia, South Africa and provincial literary cultures, and is now an assistant professor of world literature at Johns Hopkins. The two of us are also married, living between Baltimore and southern Africa, and are often intrigued by what the other brings, quite literally, to the table. Whereas Leon has decades of deep local knowledge from which he then derives a bigger picture, Jeanne-Marie began with a broad theoretical framework in comparative literature and worked in the other direction.

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