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Antjie Krog: from a poetics of dissidence to nation-building and beyond.

In 2000 a very disgruntled Afrikaans poet, Daniel Hugo, reported on the internet journal LitNet how he had found himself at the receiving end of Antjie Krog's fury after a radio interview with her on her book of poetry Kleur Kom Nooit Alleen Nie (2000). After the interview, Krog called Hugo a poephol [arsehole] in reaction to his persistent questions about her liberal use of English words in her Afrikaans poetry. She accused him of endorsing the standard variant of Afrikaans which, according to her, was forced on South Africans by the previous regime. She said that her own use of English words in her writing had the purpose of undermining standard Afrikaans and the hegemony it represented.

This incident demonstrates two familiar aspects of Krog's profile as a writer and public figure, particularly within the Afrikaans speaking community. In her poetry Krog is motivated by a poetics of dissidence, even when it concerns the minutiae of stylistic choices in poetry but more often when gender and racial politics are in the scope of her critique. Her dissidence is often the result of a consistent outrage at the wrongs present in Afrikaner society. This outrage is dramatised, quite famously, in her poem "Nightmare of A Samuel born Krog" which first appeared in Otters in Bronslaai in 1981. Here Krog directs her dissident rage against the Afrikaans literary tradition represented by the books that "swell with indignation" in response to her sharp poet's tongue that "jumps around tail upright acrimonious". She concludes the poem with the often-quoted line: "I write because I am furious" (Krog 2000:49). First, there is the unmistakable bodily response of fury and outrage, and then comes the more carefully elaborated poetics of dissidence aimed primarily at the patriarchal repression which has tainted Afrikaner power ever since Krog, as a seventeen year old school girl, caught the attention of the media with her controversial poem "My Mooi Land".

In this issue of Current Writing, Anthea Garman explores Krog's relationship with the media in her article entitled "Antjie Krog and the Accumulation of 'Media Meta-Capital'". HP van Coller and BJ Odendaal write about Krog's ability to position herself in the South African literary system as a writer of works in both Afrikaans and English. With the publication in 1998 of her first book in English, Country of My Skull, it became apparent that, as an heir to the influential Sestiger movement, Krog's writing--which up to that point had been focused on sociopolitical problems preoccupying the Afrikaner community--had acquired a new dimension. As Mary West (in collaboration of Helize van Vuuren) demonstrates in her article on whiteness in Krog's books of prose, writing for a broader readership made her more acutely aware of her position as a white writer in a South Africa that was feeling its way into a new democratic dispensation. Krog shifted her position as a dissident Afrikaner writer towards a more ambitious interrogation of nation-building in South Africa after apartheid. In this issue Judith Lutge Coullie writes about Krog's strategic remembering and forgetting in her attempt in Country of My Skull to become part of the momentum of nationbuilding as facilitated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Furthermore, as Kim Rostan points out in her article, Country of My Skull is an intricately crafted literary work which self-consciously considers the "ethics of infidelity": the fictional description of marital betrayal in the text becomes the symbolic means by which Krog is able to commit herself to the ethical demands of writing about the testimonies delivered at the TRC. In her article "We Who Belong to this Landscape: Antjie Krog and the Politics of Space" Annel Pieterse concludes that both Country of My Skull and A Change of Tongue become sites where the reader may encounter the other as ultimately constitutive of the collectivity that is South African society.

In A Change of Tongue (2003) Antjie Krog seems to move towards a consolidation of her poetics of dissidence and attempts to imagine a South Africa where race may eventually disappear as the most important feature of identity. As Louise Viljoen indicates in her contribution to this issue of Current Writing, Krog moves beyond her thorough questioning of patriarchy in her earlier work when she turns to examine her relationship with her literary mothers, particularly her own mother, Dot Serfontein, in A Change of Tongue. As is also apparent in Body Bereft (2006), Krog seems to be ready to explore new terrain but also to return to the body as the source of the creative rage that inspired her earlier poetry. In A Change of Tongue Krog writes about the effects of a stroke and in Body Bereft the vulnerability of the aging body is the focal point of Krog's return to the female body, the favoured starting point of Krog's interrogation of identity. In "On My Behalf", one of the "eight menopausal sonnets" in Body Bereft, Krog (2006:19) writes:
 i no longer need to put anybody's marginalised
 perspective on the table or imagine
 myself into the skin of another

 because the first forays of death have arrived
 and the body slips like sand through
 the fingers. apathy neutralises the senses

 as survival deploys its brutal forces. one gets cut
 off from others and becomes more and more
 familiar with the complete inward-turning of death--

The bodily experience of approaching old age takes precedence, as dreams of nation-building and the aspirations of the white writer to belong to a predominantly black South Africa seem to fade. But at times the female body can still produce the inspirational rage that could be found in an earlier poem such as "Nightmare of A Samuel born Krog". In "Sonnet of the Hot Flushes" (Krog 2006:17) the aging body is still an indomitable force:
 burning like a warrior you rise--a figurehead of
 fire--you grab death like a runt and plough its nose
 right through your fleeced and drybaked cunt

Another important aspect of Antjie Krog's work as a writer who is intent on making a contribution to the broader South African literary scene is her work as a translator. In this issue of Current Writing Frances Vosloo argues that Krog's profile as a translator is informed by her position as a canonised poet in South Africa and a prominent writer internationally. Michael Wessels focuses on a more controversial aspect of Krog's translation work in his article about the debate that was sparked by Stephen Watson's allegations of plagiarism in Krog's use of the Bleek and Lloyd translations of /Xam texts in the stars say 'tsau' (2004). In his article about the stars say 'tsau', Dan Wylie is interested in the motivation of writers such as Laurens van der Post, Eugene Marais, Stephen Watson and Antjie Krog in reproducing the /Xam testimonies collected by Bleek and Lloyd.

I would like to thank my co-editor, Judith Lutge Coullie, for her hard work. Together, we also owe thanks to Margaret Daymond for her meticulous second-editing. Finally, all the authors who contributed to this issue deserve our gratitude for their willingness to respond patiently to our sometimes endless requests for elaborations and corrections to their work.


Hugo, Daniel. 2000. "In Gesprek met Antjie Krog". In: LitNet [7 August 2007]

Krog, Antjie. 2000. Down to My Last Skin. Poems. Johannesburg: Random House.

--2004. the stars say 'tsau'. Cape Town: Kwela.

--2006. Body Bereft. Cape Town (Roggebaai): Umuzi.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Introduction
Author:Visagie, Andries
Publication:Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Previous Article:Women in the Proverbs.
Next Article:Antjie Krog and the accumulation of 'media meta-capital'.

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