Towards a distinctive Afrikaans ecocriticism: Analysing the poem series "werf" ("yard") in the poetry volume Mede-wete (2014) by Antjie Krog

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The first part of this article focuses on the state of mainstream literary ecocritical discourse, and how international perspectives differ. Several questions are posed: Where is South Africa on the ecocritical radar? As part of this Global South, how far have we come in establishing a South African or African ecocriticism? How does our local ecocriticism compare with international ecocriticism in terms of literary theory formation and international discourses? Most importantly: What would an Afrikaans ecocriticism look like?

I argue that place is central to how an Afrikaans ecocriticism is seen or conceptualised; that place, place attachment and place commitment are inextricably linked to an ecocritical perspective on Afrikaans literature, and that they underlie socio-political thinking. Furthermore, I propose an Afrikaans ecocriticism that has a multifocal perspective as its point of departure: It is an ecocriticism which does not only focus on an essentialist Western ecocriticism that includes ecofeminism, place-centredness and the agency of place, or on a postcolonial thinking which focuses largely on man and is therefore inherently anthropocentric. It is a postcolonial ecocritical Afrikaans framework with a broad view of place and environment and the non-human and non-living, looking at a larger context of place connection and displacement, which allows for a blending of Western perspectives and postcolonial ecocritical perspectives. Given the state of international ecocriticism and the greater emphasis on border crossing and inclusion, it is critically important that the voice of such a distinctive ecocriticism should be heard internationally, and that it should be articulated by people from and in this South African geographical landscape.

The article essentially considers Afrikaans ecocriticism, which is one of the systems within the larger South African and African ecocritical systems. On closer study of a South African English ecocriticism, connections and agreement would probably be found, but also significant differences, which make regarding the two systems as equal or equivalent, debatable. Ecocritical research into the smaller, yet still important systems of the other national languages may possibly carry collectively powerful weight due to the fact that they are representative of a much larger number of people in this place than may be the case with the English and Afrikaans systems. The scope or focus of this article is, however, on Afrikaans ecocriticism.

It must be made clear from the outset that although an article like this would be expected not only to look at the “where” and “what” of an Afrikaans ecocriticism, but also to take a look at existing research, this is not the focus of the article. This article stands on the shoulders of existing research, but aims to point out in particular the distinctive nature of Afrikaans ecocriticism through its central commitment to a distinctive geographical location.

Since the nature of ecocriticism is inherently transnational, multicultural, transdisciplinary and multifaceted, it confirms precisely that within an Afrikaans ecocriticism we cannot necessarily detach ourselves from international trends. The most critical statement of our time is Tally’s statement that spatial studies are inevitable in any contemporary study of literature (Tally 2013:4). In an era of globalisation, literary space studies are certainly not accidental – globalisation, multi- and transnationalism, the growing interest in literature of the Global South and other forms of cultural border crossing confirm the role that place and place transition play. The central position that place has in these studies indicates that place now more than ever before must be seen in the same way as markers such as race and gender.

A South African ecocriticism will inevitably have to account for the relationship that people of this country have with the place where they live, and continue to investigate how the place has been used and abused in the past as a tool of power and politics. It should look at how people are currently living and dealing with place and the transgressions of the present, where we as people of this country are heading in our relationship with this piece of earth on which we live, how we live on it and how we share and protect it. Postcolonial investigations over the past two or three decades have done much to address our awareness of injustices of the past. An ecocritical approach will assist to broaden the strong connection between identity and place, and serve to enrich the postcolonial investigations into South African literature.

Postcolonial ecocriticism should be seen as more than just a greening or expansion of postcolonialism. In addition to the obvious contradictions between anthropocentric and ecocentric perspectives, the point of contact between postcolonialism and environmental studies is precisely the paradoxical fact that the landscape was influenced by man and that colonialism was always about land and influenced by people and country. Deliberate displacement of people over years, one of the core actions of colonialism, did not occur in isolation. Similarly, the placement and displacement of plant and animal species from the Global South to the North and throughout the European imperial empire took place – a large-scale global diaspora of humans, plants and animals, and of non-living natural resources such as gold, diamonds, coal and oil, which, according to Huggan and Tiffin (2015:6), makes cultural and environmental restitution almost impossible. Postcolonial ecocriticism has the role of advocacy to fulfil, both in relationship to the real world and in the fictional spaces that are created in which reflection is done on how the real world can be transformed.

During the past few years new role players, among others Susan Meyer, Susan Smith, Andries Visagie, Franci Greyling, Erika Lemmer and Louise Viljoen, have entered ecocritical research. The specific topics include place and place specificity, urban ecocriticism, animal studies, new materialism, object-oriented ontology, geocriticism, ecocriticism and philosophy, African ecocriticism, ecology and identity, nature and identity, postcolonial ecocriticism, dystopian ecology, and new animism. From the above topics of ecocritical inquiry it appears that we mostly include the same overarching trends as our international counterparts. The question can be asked whether there are any differences between an Afrikaans and a Western ecocriticism. I argue here that an Afrikaans ecocriticism predominantly situates place as central, and secondly, that we are predominantly dealing with a postcolonial ecocriticism. A comprehensive definition of an Afrikaans ecocriticism will entail a necessary blending of existing ecocritical attitudes or even ecocriticisms, mainly mainstream ecocriticism and postcolonial ecocriticism. The uniqueness is therefore not located in the theoretical framework as such, but in the research material, and in the material, social and geographical specificities and place-bonds.

A definition of a specific Afrikaans postcolonial ecocriticism might be: a) It is an eco-centred ecocriticism of place as a material and geographical space of agency in which there is a unique and interactive connection between man and the non-human and non-living in this space; b): in coherence and interaction with the above, a postcolonial ecocriticism of place as personal space, as origin and identity, taking into account the politically charged context of place, the history of place and man; and c) the manner in which these two aspects are expressed in cultural products such as literary texts, specifically Afrikaans texts on the South African geographical landscape.

In the second part of the article I use the above ecocritical points of departure as a methodology on the basis of which a series of poems, “werf” (“yard”) from the volume Mede-wete (2014) by Antjie Krog is investigated and demonstrates how a possible Afrikaans ecocriticism can be applied. The interaction and connection of Antjie Krog as a writer and poet with space and place are remarkable. Her long-standing discourse with the landscape and specific places is present throughout her oeuvre. As one of the most prominent poets and writers in Afrikaans literature, Krog is nationally and internationally viewed with respect, not only as a writer and poet, but also as a public figure who comments on the South African language and society in multiple ways. What makes Krog exceptional as a writer is her transcendence of a single angle or focus. Her texts call for a transdisciplinary approach, and with each new text that appears she increasingly challenges the boundaries of literary theory and an unambiguous view. From the vast array of theoretical frameworks already used in the past to look at Krog’s work, the transdisciplinary framework of postcolonial ecocriticism is particularly apt to engage with Krog’s most recent volume of poetry, Mede-wete (literally “co-knowledge”) (2014).

The multi-voiced nature of the series of poems succeeds in making all the voices of the people who live on the “site” resonate; the earth itself also adds its voice. Guilt and injustice, love, longing, displacement, alienation, but also hope are expressed in an intertwining of relationships between what is on and what is of the earth.

In conclusion, to take a look at the Afrikaans postcolonial ecocriticism does not mean to make a binary distinction between ecocriticism on the one hand and postcolonialism on the other hand. I advocate for a comprehensive, inclusive perspective of an ecocriticism that creates space for all connections.

Ecocriticism as a literary theory of place is the one theory that enables us to read this interconnectivity of all things. The matrix as found in Krog’s poetry is the matrix of the universe – of all living and non-living and human and non-human things, the relationships of these things to one another and the “mede-wete” that whatever we think and do on this place at the southern tip of Africa is intertwined with all things and all people.

Keywords: Afrikaans ecocriticism; ecocriticism; Antjie Krog; postcolonial ecocriticism


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Op weg na ’n eiesoortige Afrikaanse ekokritiek: ’n Ontleding van die gedigreeks "werf" in die bundel Mede-wete (2014) van Antjie Krog

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