Entanglements of the English and Afrikaans literary systems : reading epitexts on the works of Marlene van Niekerk

Fourie, Reinhardt (2020-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates the entanglements of the Afrikaans and the South African English literary systems. Sarah Nuttall’s notion of “entanglement” (2009) is utilised as an analytical metaphor within a combined framework that draws on the polysystems theory of Itamar Even-Zohar (1990) and the concept of the cultural field of Pierre Bourdieu (1993). The primary sites of analysis are the series of “epitexts” (Gérard Genette, 1997) surrounding the work of author, poet and playwright, Marlene van Niekerk. These epitexts take the form of popular and critical reviews of her work, interviews with and opinion pieces or essays by the author, as well as scholarly research that has been published on her work (including academic articles and essays, book chapters, and theses and dissertations). Van Niekerk made her literary debut in 1977, and her most recent work was published in 2019. As such, her literary work spans a period of remarkable political, social and cultural change, includes three literary genres, and stretches across the literary systems of both Afrikaans and English. This offers an epitextual archive that is well suited, in scope and depth, to a comparative systemic approach. Following an overview of the theory employed, the positions of Van Niekerk in the respective Afrikaans literary system and the South African English literary system are discussed. Within this frame, the author is considered as both an author writing in Afrikaans and an author translated into English, with a concomitant focus on her related position in the larger system of a “national” South African literature, in addition to the circulation of her work in the bigger, transnational Anglo-American literary system and the system of world literature. The predominant discourses within the popular and scholarly reception of Van Niekerk’s work – and how these have influence her positioning in the different literary systems – are charted and interrogated, after which they are compared and discussed in order to understand the reciprocal influences, overlaps and imbrications – i.e. entanglements – that can be observed between the literary systems in question. Utilising Van Niekerk’s oeuvre as analytical lens, this study observes the nature of the interconnectedness between two of South Africa’s literary systems, and what this means for understanding the country’s dynamic literary landscape as it developed into and exists in the present. Finally, this study offers a view as to the possibilities of comparative literary studies in South Africa.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie studie word ondersoek ingestel na die “entanglement,” oftewel verstrengeling, van die Afrikaanstalige en Suid-Afrikaanse Engelstalige literêre sisteme. Sarah Nuttall se begrip “entanglement,” oftewel verstrengeling, (2009) dien as analitiese metafoor binne ’n raamwerk wat put uit die polisisteemteorie van Itamar Even-Zohar (1990) en Pierre Bourdieu (1993) se nosie van die kultuurveld. Die vernaamste fokus van die analise is die reeks “epitexts,” oftewel epitekste (Gérard Genette, 1997), rondom die werk van prosaïs, digter en dramaturg Marlene van Niekerk. Hierdie epitekste sluit in kritiese resensies en resensies uit die hoofstroompers, onderhoude met en meningstukke of essays deur die outeur, asook navorsing oor haar werk (insluitende akademiese artikels en essays, hoofstukke uit boeke, en proefskrifte en verhandelinge). Van Niekerk debuteer in 1977 met haar eerste literêre werk en haar mees onlangse teks verskyn in 2019. As sodanig strek die omvang van haar literêre werk oor ’n tydperk van merkwaardige politieke, sosiale en kulturele verandering, terwyl dit ook drie literêre genres omvat en deel uitmaak van die literêre sisteme van sowel Afrikaans as Engels. Dit bied dus ’n omvattende en diepgaande epiteksargief wat besonder geskik is vir ’n vergelykende sistemiese benadering. ’n Oorsig van tersaaklike teorie word gevolg deur ’n bespreking van Van Niekerk binne die onderskeidelike Afrikaanstalige en Engelstalige literêre sisteme. Binne hierdie opset word die outeur beskou as sowel outeur wat skryf in Afrikaans as outeur wat in Engels vertaal is, terwyl daar ook gekonsentreer word op haar verwante stand in die groter sisteem van ’n “nasionale” Suid-Afrikaanse literatuur, benewens die omloop van haar werk in die uitgebreide, transnasionale Anglo-Amerikaanse literêre sisteem en die sisteem van wêreldletterkunde. Die oorheersende diskoerse binne die bestek van die populêre en die wetenskaplike resepsie van Van Niekerk se werk – en die wyses waarop dit haar stand in die verskillende literêre sisteme beïnvloed – word gekarteer en oorweeg, waarna hulle vergelyk en bespreek word ten einde ’n beter begrip te vorm van die invloede, oorslae en oorvleuelende patrone – m.a.w. die verstrengelinge – tussen die betrokke literêre sisteme. Deur gebruik te maak van Van Niekerk se oeuvre as analitiese lens neem hierdie studie die onderlinge verbindings tussen twee van Suid-Afrika se literêre sisteme waar, en word daar tot gevolgtrekkings gekom betreffende die betekenis hiervan in verhouding tot die land se dinamiese literêre landskap soos dit ontwikkel het en tans daar uitsien. Uiteindelik bied hierdie ondersoek ’n uitsig op die moontlikhede van die vergelykende literatuurwetenskap in Suid-Afrika.

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