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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


WOLFAARDT-GRABE, Ina. Poetic thought: mind/consciousness, feeling, conscience. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp.558-577. ISSN 2224-7912.

In a recent publication, Die ander een is ek (2013) - translatable as "I am the other", or, more literally, "The other is I" - the renowned Afrikaans poet, T.T. Cloete, is ofthe opinion that man's ability to create words and poetry constitutes an exemplary activity ofthe mind. Following Cloete, it is argued in this paper that poetry, in its conscious exploitation of words and language, actualises a way of thinking, or uniquely demonstrates an intensified activity of the mind. A scrutiny of Cloete's sustained contemplation of poetic thought should reveal the relevance of literary studies in general and ofpoetic language in particular in keeping alive man's "faculty of wonder". The point of departure of Cloete's Die ander een is ek is grounded in personal convictions, and although the book was inspired by the suffering and death of his wife, whom he acknowledges as "the poet within himself", Cloete's views are substantiated throughout the study with reference to the meaning of philosophers, psychologists, or neurologists; the work of poets and other artists; or the lives of exemplary people such as Helen Keller. In this manner, the belief that man's creativity results in transcendence - that is, becoming "an other" by overcoming bodily limitations such as illness or old age - goes beyond personal experience or conviction only and attains a more universal attestation. To complement Cloete's views on poetic thought, reference is also made to a younger Afrikaans poet, Marlene van Niekerk. The detailed analysis of ekphrasis, the translation of image into word, in Marlene Dumas's "The painter" (depicting a young child besmudged with paint), would appear to substantiate Cloete's characterisation of ekphrasis as an instance of "multiple transcendence". At the same time, extracts of poems from her most recent anthology convincingly show how Cloete's definition of poetry as "unusual experience and non-routine language" ("ongeroetineerde ervaring en ongeroetineerde taal") is concretised in poems depicting both personal experience (poems on the beloved or the frailty of an aged father) and political criticism (poverty, crime or (inter) national corruption). The gist of the argument in this paper, that poetic thought (consciousness, feeling, conscience) constitutes an intensified activity of the mind, is therefore substantiatedfrom divergent points of view in Afrikaans poetry. Cloete explores the phenomenon of how disabled, crippled or frail bodies are apparently capable oftranscending able and healthy bodies in productivity - an inverse order of bodily strength and creativity. In this regard, Helen Keller remains the ultimate example of a disabled body (blind, deaf and mute) nevertheless being able to share her thoughts and feelings by means of "the language of her hands" - the only "language" available to her, according to Cloete. Artistic activity, both the act of creation by a poet, or the act of reception by a reader similarly results in transcendence. Cloete is, however, not only concerned with mind, as a distinguishing feature of man as "first primate", but also fascinated by the "miracle" of the body. In this regard every possible aspect of the body is scrutinised. Having first explored the miracle of old, sick or crippled bodies still being able to produce poetry or music, thus demonstrating man's ability to transcend bodily limitations, he argues that the body itself nevertheless is essential in enabling man to engage in activities such as writing poetry. In an, as yet, unpublished poem he stresses that every part of his body played an essential part in the creation of the poem - from his brain, his intestines, to his hand and fingers. It is hoped that poetry's unique contribution to the continuing debate about the necessity, or otherwise,of a sustained focus on the humanities and social studies (as opposed to the natural sciences, economics or technology) in tertiary education will become evident through a reading of both the theoretical probing and the poetic practice elaborately scrutinised in Cloete's remarkable book Die ander een is ek ("I am the other").

Keywords : poetic thought; consciousness; feeling; conscience; transcendence; mind and body.

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