SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.60 issue2Louw set free: A riff on a seam author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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


JOHL, Ronél. Author bibliographies, big-data networks and the position of writers such as NP van Wyk Louw in the literary canon. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.2, pp.534-556. ISSN 2224-7912.

The Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns ("South African Academy of Arts and Science") initiated a project to commemorate, through a series of publications in their honour, writers who have won the Hertzog Prize, considered the most prestigious Afrikaans literary prize. A dedicated bibliography of the writings of each author and responses to his or her oeuvre form an integral part of each publication. It is easy to see the potential value for the literary research community of a collected set of resources about important Afrikaans authors. A pivotal question, however, is whether printed author bibliographies can still be justified in an era of electronic databases and search engines, especially since those databases are constantly updated and expanded, while printed bibliographies are usually outdated the moment that they appear on the shelves. Moreover, if there is such justification, the question then becomes how to compile and structure the bibliographic references best to serve the needs of users. This essay takes as its point of departure one of the bibliographies in the Hertzog Prize winner series, namely the one compiled for the publication Breyten Breytenbach: Woordenaar woordnar ("Breyten Breytenbach: Worder, word jester") on the celebrated Afrikaans poet, essayist, dramatist and public figure Breyten Breytenbach. The editor of the publication, Francis Galloway, an authority on Breytenbach, and co-author Alwyn Roux compiled this bibliography. A survey of the bibliography consolidates its position as an example of a showcase bibliography, which, by means of variously structured categories and subcategories, serves to highlight the achievements and influence of the author at national and sometimes international level. From this starting point, the essay, along various lines, argues for the need and uses of specialised printed author bibliographies in the field of literary research and criticism. Research in the field of critical study of literary canon formation informs the first line of argument. The essay proposes that well-constructed dedicated author bibliographies should be able to provide more information at a glance than just the classic differentiation between primary and secondary sources, between the creative and reflective output of the author and the academic responses to the oeuvre. With regard to the primary resources, author bibliographies, in addition to distinguishing genres of creative output, may include information about subsequent editions, translations, collections and anthologies, and about texts of reflective prose and poetics by the author. Secondary resources, in turn, may be refined to reflect categories for research publications and publications aimed at literary education. In the first subcategory belong books and monographs, literary histories that devote attention to the oeuvre, master's and doctoral studies, essay reviews and articles in academic journals covering various aspects of the literary output, published conference proceedings and lecture series about the author's output. In the second subcategory belong curricula, published study guides and general anthologies intended for students. Furthermore, it is possible in showcase type bibliographies to provide information about the public profile, general literary appeal and cultural influence of the author by likewise differentiating between primary and secondary sources. In this case, primary resources would categorise references to articles, essays, news reports, letters, public addresses and public performances of the creative output in addition to intertextual responses by authors in the field and other creatives, through adaptation, reworking, et cetera, of the author's output. The second category would include references to media reviews as well as general media responses, reports, interviews, polemics and other mentions in the press and on the Internet. From the foregoing, and from available literature on literary networking, follows the second line of argument, which proposes that well-constructed Afrikaans author bibliographies may yield reliable clean data sets upon which literary researchers in the rapidly transforming digital humanities increasingly rely. At present, researchers in the field of necessity mostly still have to compile their own databases and data sets in order to chart complex relationships among specific stakeholders in the literary canon and to answer targeted questions about them. Literary critics working within the framework of literary networks (literary canons), for their part, increasingly require the statistics obtained from big-data analyses to substantiate their value claims about specific writers in the canon. However, the essay argues that, especially in the case of authors such as NP van Wyk Louw and others whose careers partially or fully predate the advent of connected electronic library systems and databases, non-specialised electronic databases are inadequate and of themselves do not exemplify usable data sets unless they have been cleaned up properly. Specifically, findings presented in the essay caution against accepting statistics yielded by mentions counters in general databases at face value, and indiscriminately using these to substantiate value claims. More generally, the findings presented caution against the use of limited data sets to draw generalised conclusions about the stature and position of authors in the literary canon. It is argued that comprehensive author bibliographies can obviate reliance on limited data sets. The third line of argument presented in this essay initially follows the discourse that developed in the influential NP van Wyk Louw commemorative lecture series around the reappraisal of the stature and legacy of Van Wyk Louw in the years preceding and following the centenary, in 2006, of his birth. The main objective of this enquiry was to attain an understanding of the strategies that literary critics at the time employed when offering correctives to the sometimes harsh criticism levelled at the author since the 1990s. What has emerged from this enquiry is evidence of a developing sense among leading Afrikaans literary critics of the complexity of the dynamics of stature and position in the literary canon, the sheer number of factors involved in an appraisal, and the role of time scale. In view of what has been said above, the argument presented here draws on two key matters that have emerged. They are, firstly, the understanding that the appraisal of stature requires a longitudinal view of the legacy of an author, measured along a complex array of achievements, and, secondly, acceptance of the idea of a stable core for an author's stature, which consists of the accumulated evidence about the academic involvement with his or her legacy over the long term. Such a stable core is an aspect of legacy that seems unaffected by the fluctuations of public appeal and influences, and may be established more readily from curated showcase author bibliographies. In conclusion, based on this idea of a stable core with regard to stature, the essay presents a provisional glimpse of the stature and influence of some key authors in the Afrikaans literary canon from a longitudinal perspective on various types of academic response to their oeuvres and the mentions they have received in the public media. It ventures the view that, when taking into account a greater number of factors over a longer period, Van Wyk Louw, fifty years after his death, still occupies a central position in the Afrikaans literary canon - even in the face of still compromised data sets. However, properly constructed research with cleaned-up data sets would be required to verify the relative positions of important authors in the canon.

Keywords : (authors, Position In The) Literary Canon; Appraisal And Reappraisal; Ranking; Stature; Posture; Intertextuality; Networks And Network Analyses; Search Engines; Information Sources; Citations And Mentions; Big Data; Author Bibliographies; Electronic Databases; Quantifiable Information; Data Sets.

        · abstract in Afrikaans     · text in Afrikaans     · Afrikaans ( pdf )


Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License