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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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VILJOEN, Hein. Creolisation and healing in van Wyk Louw's Nuwe verse (New poems) and Tristia. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.2, pp.302-321. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article is an attempt to read Van Wyk Louw's views on culture and cultural interaction in a postcolonial context of creolisation, that is, in relation to European colonisation up to the 19th century and the processes of decolonisation after the 1950s. My argument has three parts. Firstly, I show, by outlining the present situation in South Africa, the need for new thinking and then argue that Édouard Glissant's views on creolisation and relationality present such an alternative healing framework of thinking. Secondly, I analyse Louw's pleas for the decolonisation of Afrikaans literature in the 1930s. In several of his essays he argues that the people ("volk") as an organic whole is the only framework in which an authentic universal humanity can be expressed. This mystical view of a people, an aesthetic nationalism, entails purity and exclusivity and does not recognise the transnational forces of colonialism that help shape a national literature. In his later essays, in contrast to his earlier rather closed view of culture, Louw articulates a much more open view of cultural interaction and circulation as part of a broader kind of open conversation. In a later (1952) essay, "Die web" ("The web"; Louw 1986b:446 ff.), he recognises four strains in the Afrikaans tradition, also emphasising its contact with Africa, but remains blind to its eastern strain. Although Louw later writes lyrically about a sense of unification between the "lucid" ("helder") West and the "magical" Africa, he does not fully grasp the creolised nature of the Afrikaans language and its literature. Yet, in the essay "Moeilike letterkunde" ("Difficult literature", dated 1958; 1986b:357-378) Louw presents a much more open and syncretic view of cultural interaction, writing that syncretism is a central facet of modern poetry. He thinks modern culture has become a chaotic mingling of shards and fragments from across the world. Louw is describing the globalisation of our time, but can see no order in this process. In the third part of my argument, I analyse cultural interaction in Louw's last two collections, namely Nuwe verse ("New poems", 1954) and Tristia (1962). Though Nuwe verse contains important fragments from other cultures, Louw seems to be sidestepping the negative effects of colonialism. The same goes for Tristia, although he strongly ironises and creolises the European tradition in that collection. Based on this analysis, I conclude that such creolisation and reaching out to something different do indeed contain the potential for open, transnational ways of thinking about literatures and cultures - in line with Glissant's relational thinking that can cross the abysses of difference.

Keywords : culture; syncretism; cultural interaction; volk; a people; creolisation; Nuwe verse (1954); Tristia (1962).

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