This article investigates Antjie Krog’s role as cultural mediator of South Africa and Afrikaans in the Low Countries. The concept of a cultural mediator is prominent in translation studies, and also in the context of literary translation, where the focus has fallen on the role that a variety of “actors” (such as writers, translators, publishers, editors, agents, booksellers, reviewers, journalists, etc.) play in mediating between languages and cultures. The methodological choice in this article is for a relatively broad understanding of a cultural mediator as a person who is active across linguistic, artistic and geographical boundaries and who is involved in complex multi-directional processes in order to mediate between languages and cultures. According to this view cultural mediators often occupy strategic positions in large networks: they can be active on the levels of production, circulation, transformation or reception, can use different languages to achieve different aims and play a variety of roles that often overlap. They are often the carriers of a double cultural identity and feel a responsibility with regard to a specific culture and literature.
The investigation into Krog’s role as cultural mediator is explored further with reference to the concept of posture, first described by Alain Viala in his article “Eléments de sociopoétique” (2016) as the “(general) way of being (of a) writer” and worked out further by Jérôme Meizoz in “Modern posterities of posture: Jean-Jacques Rousseau” (2010). Meizoz writes that the term posture refers to the public image of a writer (similar to the persona or mask worn by actors on a stage) that marks his or her place in the literary field. It is the result of an interactive process created by the writer in conjunction with journalists, critics, publishers, biographers, etc. A writer’s posture is determined by his/her non-verbal behaviour (public appearances, the discourse of literary awards, biographical notes, interviews, responses to reviews, clothes, hairstyle, gestures, even accessories) and discourse (the textual self-image presented by the enunciator). The article also makes use of the work done by Liesbeth Korthals Altes (2010) who adds to Meizoz’s concept of posture by also unpacking the concepts author, voice and ethos. She uses the terms non-discursive ethos and discursive ethos to replace Meizoz’s non-verbal behaviour and discourse.
Proceeding from the concepts cultural mediator and posture, the article gives a chronological overview of Krog’s role as a cultural mediator between South Africa and the Low Countries. Her trajectory as a writer is divided into three distinct phases, tied to her literary texts (that which Meizoz refers to as discourse and Korthals Altes as discursive ethos) as well as her publication history, the reception of her texts in South Africa and the Low Countries, her self-presentation in public appearances and interviews, her image in the media and her response to receiving awards (Meizoz’s non-verbal behaviour, Korthals Altes’s non-discursive ethos). Three provisos apply: (1) It is taken into account that the events which determine Krog’s posture play out at different times and under different circumstances in South Africa and the Low Countries. (2) Viala’s warning that one should take into account that the concept of posture is a relatively modest literary tool is heeded. (3) The concepts author, posture and ethos are placed against the background of the complex relationship between the autobiographical facts of Krog’s life and its sophisticated fictionalisation and textualisation to create literary artefacts with a singularity of their own.
The bulk of the article is made up of three sections in which the three phases of Krog’s career as a writer are discussed with reference to the concepts of cultural mediation and posture. The first phase is the one in which Krog assumes the posture of a dissident and transgressive writer (1970–1995). This section focuses firstly on the events surrounding the publication of her first volume of poetry, Dogter van Jefta, in 1970, during which both she and her work were politicised and sensationalised. It then goes on to discuss the extent to which the gender focus and political content of Krog’s volumes Otters in bronslaai (1981), Jerusalemgangers (1985), Lady Anne (1989) and Gedigte 1989–1995 (1995) gave rise to her posture as a dissident and transgressive writer who consistently opposed both gender and racial discrimination in South Africa. The first section also discusses her first writer’s visit to the Netherlands in 1992 to perform at Poetry International in Rotterdam, a visit during which she was profiled as both a poet and political activist. It is argued that the gradual easing of the cultural boycott which the Netherlands had instituted against South African artists in the 1980s played a role in her acceptance as a cultural mediator in the Low Countries.
The following section focuses on the second phase in Krog’s career and the accompanying writerly posture, namely that of the complicit writer, public intellectual and performer in the period 1995–2000. This phase signalled an important shift in Krog’s writing in the sense that she started publishing in a new genre, best described as autobiographical fiction, and in English. Her Relaas van ’n moord (1995) centred on her involvement in a murder case in Kroonstad, whereas the internationally renowned Country of my skull (1998) dealt with her work as a journalist reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is the phase during which she increasingly explored her own complicity in the apartheid system as an Afrikaner, became heard as a public intellectual (as noted in Anthea Garman’s research on Krog) and gained prominence as an opinion maker and performer at literary events in the Low Countries. The article discusses the role of the Flemish writer Herman de Coninck in mediating the publication of Krog’s articles on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the journal Nieuw Wereldtijdschrift in 1996, even before the publication of Country of my skull. The article notes that her poetry was translated into Dutch in the anthology Om te kan asemhaal (1999) even before her internationally famous Country of my skull was translated as De kleur van je hart (2000). Attention is also given to the successes she achieved as performer of her own poetry at literary events, pointing towards the most important non-discursive features of her posture and the impact it made.
This is followed by a discussion of the third phase in Krog’s writerly career and posture, namely that of the interconnected writer, public intellectual and performer in the period 2000–2018. The article details the way in which the emphasis shifted from the posture of complicit writer to that of the interconnected writer, with reference to Garman’s view that the embodiment of pain and empathy became an important part of a public intellectual’s effectiveness in this period. This section also discusses the way in which Krog’s publications and their translations into Dutch as well as her public performances, lectures, interviews, reviews, anthologies of her work and literary awards demonstrated her increasing importance as a public intellectual in the Low Countries. An interesting feature in this phase is Krog’s comments that the Netherlands should also be held accountable for the power imbalances and inequality in South Africa by virtue of their colonial history in South Africa (“These are also your townships,” she told a Dutch journalist in 2006). She also emphasised that the global North could benefit from the indigenous knowledges and philosophies of Africa. The final moment discussed in this section is her speech on accepting the Gouden Ganzenveer award in Amsterdam, where she commented on the similarities between Dutch and Afrikaans (both under threat, the speakers of both complicit in past injustices, both confronted with issues around the peaceful and prosperous co-existence of peoples) and argued for a rapprochement between the two languages that would emphasise diversity rather than a conservative desire for purity.
The article concludes that Krog’s success as a cultural mediator between South Africa and the Low Countries can be attributed to a variety of factors: the fact that she arrived in the Low Countries at the time that the cultural boycott against South African writers and artists was about to be lifted, that her image as dissident, complicit and interconnected writer resonated with Dutch-speaking audiences, that her views on gender and race were provocative enough to attract media attention, that her work exuded an extraordinary power of conviction, that she was an exceptional performer of her own work and – last but not least – that the similarities and historical connection between Afrikaans and Dutch still spoke to audiences in the Low Countries.
Keywords: cultural mediator; discursive ethos; Antjie Krog; non-discursive ethos; posture