Now that my thesis is finally submitted, let me tell you a bit more about it.
When I started my interest in Afrikaans poetry, I quickly realized that the things I learned about traditional trauma poetry did not always seem to do this kind of poetry justice. Those theories were often based on Holocaust literature, which is just a completely different subject. For example, it is very strong on psychoanalysis, which is quite Eurocentric. Differences in culture and thus not really taken into account.
In my thesis, I analysed six poems from three authors: Adam Small, Breyten Breytenbach and Ronelda Kamfer. In these analyses, I looked at which approaches of the trauma in these poems proved most productive. For these three authors, different subjects turned out to be important, but they all seemed to benefit from an approach that was less traditional and more context sensitive.
Adam Small’s poetry is known for its many repetitions and its Christian themes. I looked at his poems “Vryheid” and “What abou’ de lô”, and found out there’s a lot of community building going on in these poems. Even though they are about trauma, Small is not presenting victims to us but strong people who finds ways of dealing with what happened to them. In “Vryheid” he explicitely addresses the non-white community as a whole and apartheid as a test of God, which they will endure together. In “What abou’ de lô”, Small’s simplistic style makes it easy to identify with and even though the main characters of the poem eventually die because of apartheid, they always keep their own agency.
Whereas Small wants to build a community, Breytenbach wants to deconstruct it. He is the only white author in this corpus of three and he completely destroys the concept of whiteness. Breytenbach was an anti-apartheid activist who spent seven years in prison for his fight against the regime and he is… not subtle about what he thinks of the white Afrikaners and their ideas of white supremacy. So not only does he deconstruct the hell out of what racists think whiteness means, he also poses a wonderful alternative to whiteness by building his own identity in a very fluid, globalized way, highly inspired by Zen Buddhism. Where trauma normally shows to destroy one’s identity, Breytenbach says to his oppressors: you cannot destroy my identity, because you have the wrong idea of what it is.
Ronelda S. Kamfer is the third author I discussed for my thesis. Young, female, she is part of a new generation of Afrikaans poets. Her poetry is written and published after the abolishment of apartheid, which makes it so very interesting as it shows how apartheid is still a big influence on the South African society. What she does to deal with this trauma, is trying to reclaim her identity. Just as the other poets, Kamfer writes in Afrikaans, a language that is often associated with the apartheid government but of which the majority of the speakers are non-white. This is why Kamfer wants to reclaim Afrikaans, not only the language but parts of the culture that are associated with it as well, like certain foods and music.
So for all three authors, identity is an important subject, whether they build it, deconstruct it, or reclaim it. As the theme of identity is not mentioned much in traditional trauma theory, and as the meaning of identity can differ greatly between different cultures, a postcolonial, context sensitive approach when discussing trauma literature can be highly productive.