MLA2018: (Post)Colonalities and Netherlandic Literature

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    Ulrich Tiedau

    (Post)Colonalities and Netherlandic Literature
    MLA 2018, New York City, January 2018

    A session organized by the MLA Dutch Forum
    Chair: Johannes Burgers (Queensborough Community College, NY)

    Sarah Adams (Ghent), Slavery on Scene: The Representation of Slavery on the Dutch Stage (1775-1825)

    This paper is drawn from my project Slavery on Scene, the first study to examine the representation of slavery in Dutch theater in an age of significant ideological change (1775-1825). Similar to today’s television, late 18th-century theater serves as an excellent gauge of the debates around and attitudes toward pro- and anti-slavery thought. Using the body as a universal language, theater was able to bridge both the spatial and emotional gap between Europe and its colonies. This paper will focus on two radical anti-slavery plays: Van Hogendorp’s Kraspoekol, or slavery (1800) on the East Indies and Kratter’s Stedman (1805) on slavery in Suriname. I aim to consider how these plays voiced and visualized slavery, and to gain insight into the ways in which the performance of slavery promoted abolitionist discourses. Furthermore, I will compare these plays with (international) abolitionist texts that circulated in the Netherlands at the time.

    Ted Laros (Open Universiteit), Dutch Literature, Afrikaans Literature, and the “World Republic of Letters”: The Literary Theoretical Position-Taking of André Brink in the 1974 Cape Trial of Kennis van die Aand (Looking on Darkness)

    It is quite evident that there are strong historical ties between the Netherlands and South Africa. The same goes for Dutch and Afrikaans literature: the two have a long history together, both institutionally and literary theoretically. This paper investigates how strong the relationship between Dutch and Afrikaans literature was in the mid-1970s, at a moment in which apartheid was at its height and the literary movement of the Sestigers [Writers of the 1960s] had come to dominate the Afrikaans literary scene. It will do so by analyzing a long, carefully drafted literary theoretical testimony that André Brink, one of the leading Sestigers, adduced in the 1974 Cape trial of his novel Kennis van die Aand (translated by himself as Looking on Darkness), a novel that had been banned earlier that year by the apartheid censors.  Although Brink’s testimony of course had decisive juridico-strategic goals, it also revealed much about the relationship between Dutch and Afrikaans literature in the 1970s. Indeed, Brink’s testimony  teaches us a lot about the literary theoretical orientation of the Sestigers and of the position that Dutch literature took in the “World Republic of Letters”—that is, in the “World Republic of Letters “ as seen from a  South African perspective.

    Francesca Terrenato (Rome), ‘Here comes Jannie’: Contemporary Afrikaans Poets on the Dutch Colonization of the Cape

    History provides one of the most fertile silences to be revisited by South African writers: not because no voices have traversed it before, but because the dominant discourse of white historiography (as well as temptations to replace it by a new dominant discourse of black historiography) has inevitably silenced, for so long, so many other possibilities (Brink 1998: 22).

    This statement about South African literature at large is particularly relevant for Afrikaans writing: a large number of novels in Afrik  aans from the last decades confirms this preoccupation with rewriting history and giving voice to the silent. If the recent history of the country obviously offers plenty of material for reconsidering historical roles and discourses, it is worth underlining that the remote past significantly surfaces in narratives dealing with apartheid and its aftermath. Departing from textual hints offered by some Afrikaans women poets, this paper aims at outlining ways in which poetical discourse uses historical and pseudo-historical elements, not only to contest one-sided narratives of the past, such as those produced by Afrikaner ideology, but also to come to terms with unfulfilled promises in post-apartheid South Africa.

    In recent Afrikaans poetry historical figures and facts dating back to the Dutch settlement and to the Great Trek recur in connection with  long-term developments leading to apartheid, «begun at the beginning of colonialism with the first prisoner, Autshumao, at the time of Jan van Riebeeck in the second half of the seventeenth century», according to Ampie Coetzee (Coetzee 1996: 60). Antjie Krog, an established poet, often looks back to her controversial white ancestors in her work. Sometimes focusing on the eccentric glance of women (as she did with historical figures such as Susanna Smit), sometimes ironically standing in the shoes of early colonizers (as in her poem on the ‘discovery’ of Table Mountain), she interrogates historical facts and texts, making them relevant for the present.  The same can be said of the work of young poet Ronelda Kamfer, one of the few ‘coloured’ authors writing in Afrikaans. In her collection grond/Santekraam (2011) the contrast between Van Riebeeck, the Dutch East India Company Commander at the Cape, and Autshumao, the Chief of the native Goringhaikonas, is expressed in street slang as if referring to current events.  The use of parody “to restore history and memory in the face of the distortions of the history of forgetting” (Hutcheon 1988: 129), one of the aspects of postmodern historiographic metafiction identified by Linda Hutcheon, definitely seems relevant in approaching these poems.

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