Discourse, echo, revisit, stilus. The different sections and pieces drawn together in the two volumes of this issue coalesce around the notion of novum, a procedural taking stock as a way of re-situating the journal within the digital landscape. It is an assessment of productive ways of moving forward, partly predicated on the need to break out of the overreliance on traditional printed journal output and attune to the effects and impact of knowledge production and knowledge flow on social media, in e-zines, in the ephemerality of popup literature events, flash-classes, blogs, rhizomatic reposting: An era which, increasingly, experiences literary engagement as a series of ephemeral digital moments.
This knowledge flow also resonates with the scope and volume of theory now available to the scholar – and literary scholarship in Afrikaans has in the 30 years since the launch of Stilet, suffered an embarrassment of riches: Asphalt Afrofuturism, critical dystopics, post-humanism, mediated gender performativities, embodied materiality, performative citizenships, displacement and un-homing, ontic migrancy, and techno-relationality were all brought into relation with the ever-more expansive output of literary work in Afrikaans. Irrespective of some misfires (a somewhat de-queer-ed and therefore a-political queer theory; still-to-be-critical whiteness studies; stymied deployment of Deleuze & Guattari; a qualified hesitance around acknowledging the difference between ‘decolonial’ and ‘postcolonial’), theorising in Afrikaans – and with application to Afrikaans texts – is on the up, with the trusted ubiquity of Pascale Casanova, metamodernism and transnationalism making these concepts sure-fire contenders to be this decade’s liminality, hybridity, and grensoorskryding.
While the reliance on theories and models that attempt to surpass fixed notions of identity and past forms may speak to the times, they simultaneously hint at deeper identitarian partisanships and diffidence developing in the various subjectivities that constitute the term ‘Afrikaans’ post-1994, as well as to a renegotiation of the role of extra-national entities, such as subsidy-offering institutions and organisations from the Netherlands and Belgium.
The goal with a novum issue is, however, not necessarily to chart new routes in scholarship on Afrikaans literature, but rather to cultivate a sense of how those routes exhibit the potential to produce bifurcations and lines of flight, how these routes are deploying in various ways and orientations. For there is also an affective connotation to novum: How does the digital landscape expand and contract the ways in which we orientate ourselves toward the study of literature and literary theory? How do the apparatus of these orientations (the review, for example) situate themselves around flows of knowledge? Which points of resonating-with (to the past’s deep archive; in the move to the digital sphere; along with transnational theorising) are productive? How do these allow for exiting the, at times, relative insularity of the Afrikaans literary system?
It needs to be said that the cartography of renewal in scholarship on Afrikaans literature is a rhythmic commitment – a perennial snapshot exercise, it seems, that can be attempted as a collective surmising (as in 2014, with Poolshoogte) or individually, that show how, perchance, every generation of scholars are fated to repeat their own onto-rhythms of renewal and introspection.
Work of emerging academics reflects this, and a number of articles in this issue attest to the need to resituate themselves within the existing system of Afrikaans literature (with an honesty that acknowledges both its limitations and its potential), transnationally, as well as within larger theoretical frameworks on a global stage. In this issue, examples of such renegotiation include how Stefan van Zyl finds traces of Hennie Aucamp in a queer gerontological review of Loftus Marais, how the cross-pollinating potential of queerness’ destabilising force is brought to bear on entrenched whiteness in David Barnard’s contribution on the same text, and in Shawna-Leze Meiring’s reconceptualisation of canonisation practices and eurochronologies.
While it may be that each generation of scholars since 1994 has had to re-understand the limitations and slippage between the terms ‘Afrikaans’ and ‘South African’, for this specific generation the imperative to do so seems all the more incisive. At this moment in Stilet’s publication history – 30 years after its first issue – we’d like to consider ways of facilitating this.
II Three decades
The first issue of Stilet was published in 1989 and the desire to establish an open and inclusive discussional space is clearly present in the inaugural volume’s intent. In the first editorial, issue editor EC Britz writes:
“Stilet probeer almal bereik wat hulle met die Afrikaanse letterkunde besig hou. Die redaksie was gevolglik verheug om bydraes te ontvang wat ŉ verskeidenheid ideologiese oogpunte vertenwoordig, wat gevestigde, maar ook jong ondersoekers betrek en wat sowel die poësie die prosa as die drama aan die orde stel. Die bespreking van ŉ populêre soort teks (Moerbeibos) en die twee artikels oor die representasie van die vrou in die Afrikaanse poësie was ook op die “oop gesprek” waarna ons streef.” (Britz, 1989:121)
While subsequent eras in Stilet’s publication history manifest counter to Britz’s somewhat utopic assessment of the inclusive nature of scholarship on Afrikaans literature, the wish for an ‘open discussion’ alluded to here appears genuine. Even as it mainly concerns equity between genres and structures, reference to the inclusion of themes and representations deemed non-traditional reminds us that no publication arises in a political vacuum. Indeed, 1989 also marks the stirrings of change in South Africa: it was the year the Harare Declaration was signed, severe infighting in the NP caucus led to the deposition of PW Botha and the calling of the last race-based parliamentary elections, and a nation-wide defiance campaign of protests created a critical mass of pressure that forced the newly-elected De Klerk administration to unban the ANC one year later.
These are implicitly echoed in Britz’s reminder that “[d]ie Afrikaanse letterkunde weerspieël al lank nie meer ŉ eksklusiewe Afrikanerwêreld nie” (1989:121). Certainly, considerations on the role, function and identity of Afrikaans literature characterises the first five years of Stilet, leading up to the pivotal moment of 1994. Echoing the fairly reticent, but hopeful, mood of renegotiation playing out across the country, these early issues of Stilet centre around themes of re-evaluation (“herbevraagtekening, herbesinning en herwaardering”, issue 3.2, 1991:119; “[d]ie herlees van die bekende”, issue 4.2, 1992:99) as well as inter-systemic functionality (“[d]ie Afrikaanse literatuur in verbinding met ander literature”, issue 4.1, 1992:91).
Thereafter, issues appearing immediately prior to the first democratic elections in 1994 offer an instructive view on the pragmatics of re-orientation: see, for example, PJ Conradie’s meditation on the exclusivity of Afrikaans (“Afrikaans: ŉ eiland reik uit”, issue 5.1, 1993:1-10), Gunther Pakendorf’s attempt to situate Afrikaans within the framework of Deleuze and Guattari’s minor literature (“Kafka, en die saak vir ŉ “klein letterkunde””, issue 5.1, 1993:99-106), and the ‘UWK uitgawe’ (issue 6.1 of March 1994 issue, with Ampie Coetzee as issue editor and contributions by, amongst others, Coetzee, Vernon February, Hein Willemse, and Vasu Reddy).
In this way, Stilet’s early archive dovetails with a changing socio-cultural and political dispensation and with the instantiation of democratic rule in South Africa. Because of this parallel temporality, there is something hopeful in asking questions about the journal’s value, relevance, scope, limits, and problematics in 2019. Seeing novum as a moment of hopeful revisitation allows for a re-evaluation of what Stilet has done, not only what it has meant, over the last 30 years. This is especially necessary as the archive, through the dual processes of e-archiving and digitalisation, is now becoming part of the online digital landscape.
To address this sense of novum – as not necessarily an innovative way of seeing, but rather, as per Darko Suvin, as a way of re-relating to that which is already known – we invite reflections (in the form of research-based work, opinion pieces, or more creative responses) on the affective, archival and material histories of Stilet, and of the ways in which we – the siren-call of the collective noun, notwithstanding – have utilised the journal to effect specific orientations towards the Afrikaans literary system. While this does not form part of an official call for a themed issue, and is more a general call for reflection on the role of Stilet since 1989, we believe it is important to address such questions of past relevance in terms of larger systemic, and future-orientated, issues: What, for example, is the continuing role of the humanities journal within a decolonial space? How does academic work published in Afrikaans actualise issues of inclusion and exclusion? To what extent does an awareness of the historical moment affect how we read articles from Stilet’s deep archive?
III Navigating a digital landscape of reposts, reboots, retweets
The years since 1989 have brought socio-political change, and has simultaneously seen largescale technological innovation. To differentiate within this digital landscape, literary publications, feeling the printed media economic crunch, often start resembling glossy inflight magazines. Other platforms cleverly re-discover the cultural cache of a well-placed literary reference (see Ambassadeur’s Sewe Dae by die Silbersteins Gucci shoot). Curated online platforms thrive.
In the extreme politico-individualisation of digital existence, where preferences are curated and atomised, opinions are as valued as facts, bloggers are now authors, curating content is king. On the flipside, the (popular) rise and (critical) fall of sites such as medium.com is proof that a critical readership will only follow you so far into idiosyncrasy. (Or that firewalls kill.)
What will be the next fad? Are we all just waiting for a literary Quibi? Inevitably, the atomisation of literature consumption coupled with cheaper printing and online advertising models has necessitated the publishing industry to likewise respond: Authors discovered podcasting; more diffuse models (including publishers cottoning on to crowdfunding and crowdsourcing potential) abound, leading to questions around the impact of cost-cutting (for example, the replaying Saga of the Missing Proofreader); and you can’t turn for the number of hastily-assembled themed anthologies being published, often with titles that include bait-like terms-of-the-now – like ‘queer’ – where using the term in and of itself already actualises cultural capital. Everyone’s a poet (and everyone’s published online, too)
Poets, authors and playwrights have discovered the intense pleasure of self-promotion, aided by the hagiography-enabling cost of ready-made websites, the curatorial potential of book-launches and book festival appearances, and cross-over sets at dusty music festivals. Curating moments of digital resonance has become as important as producing a text people want to read. The proliferation of ‘imprints of’ has further blurred distinctions between publishing proper and vanity publication, in an industry where “needed a stronger editorial hand” has become an ubiquitous, and almost obligatory, refrain in book reviews. Compounding this, the digital turn towards the immersive has impacted other apparatus on the boundary between publishing and the pop-academic, seen in the emerging prominence of e-podia such as the Johannesburg Review of Books or africaisacountry.com. Responding digitally to these changes has become indispensable, and a definite sense of urgency exists around how to do so productively. (It says something about the times when even NALN has a Facebook presence.)
We’ve initiated an outline for a 5-volume approach to embrace the immersive turn to the digital, mining it for potential, and working with – not against – its limitations. These discussions are echoed in dedicated, highlighted sections on calls for contributions, and a separate stilet.resonate section. (For more on our editorial approach for issues 30-34, please see Novum editorial note, part 2.) (Re)situated in the topography of such innovation, we are thinking constructively about the continuing value of the print-based literary journal. What, for example, are the systemic or structural benefits of printing, in addition to having a flashy website and a social media page dedicated to our journal? How does the latter help to highlight the work of emerging academics? What happens to the journal’s digital footprint when the means is created for rhizomatic reposting, for easier sharing in the academic ethereal (where cross-pollination between your academia.edu hub and IG profile now boosts your footprint)? How are CfP distributed in this landscape? For
the academic reader of Stilet, who already has to navigate metaliteracy and avoid semi-predatory publishing traps, how does the digital infrastructure of the journal allow for self-advertising whilst maintaining the rigour of the academic process? 2019 is the closest we’ve been to in decades to a point where innovative format complements thematic innovation and the journal’s infrastructure needs to innovate alongside this.
IV Rethinking the review
The moment of novum signals how many of the changes we are implementing are already part of the geometry of Stilet’s past methodology. One approach that is new, however, is the introduction of the stilet.echo and stilet.revisit sections, through which we’d like to address a number of structural questions as to the value, role and function of the review more generally.
The way the review industry is set up – with one or two reviews immediately after a text is published, and very little thereafter in the way of revisitation – does not necessarily lead to sustained and sustainable conversations around a text. One or two authorial voices speak for the text, and crystallise a modulated response/reception. Some of the only opportunity for assessment of initial reviews occur during award season, even when the overall evaluative tone in commendatios and prysverslae rarely differ from that of initial reviews.
In a 2016 review-article, Neil Cochrane precisely details concerns about the current state of the Afrikaans review. Such critical and honest self-reflections are rare (also: do read Joan’s Hekwagters en oop hekke again – perhaps, sadly, more relevant now than it was in 2014), even when in much MA and PhD work, reviews are quoted with equal vigour (or disdain) as more traditional academic sources.
We’d like to go beyond the mere asking of what, really, the value is of an 800-word subjective opinion in an already over-saturated media landscape. To what extent do current reviewing practices focus on identitarian concerns, at the risk of neglecting the text as cultural product? Does a review focus on what a text does, over what it means? Structurally: what, exactly, are the delimitations (or, for that matter, the definition) of a review-article? How does a review-article differ from a review, or from a review-essay? How do review-essays work more productively in a contemporary classroom setup? (To what extent does the review-essay, with visual elements, aid here?) In terms of the larger system: What are the long-term effects well-paying prizes for ‘best review of the year’ (written in Afrikaans, on an Afrikaans text) will have on the industry?
In placing more than one response, the current issue’s stilet.echo section, on Loftus Marais’ 2019 Jan, Piet, Koos en Jakob, attempts to break out of some of these limitations of function. The eight responses take a variety of forms: some stick closer to the more traditional review formula, some consider a specific aspect manifesting in the text (cityscapes, or masculinities, or ekphrasis), while one or two are responses (on whiteness; on Afrikaans queerness) actualised by the reading of the text. Read together, these consider a spectrum of interpretative values for the text, from its potential for social transformation to its status as aesthetic product.
The following colleagues are already working on next issue’s stilet.echo section, on Azille Coetzee’s In my vel: ŉ Reis: Bettina Wyngaard, Adean van Dyk, Delia Rabie, Elizabeth van Rensburg, Liezl Dick, Bibi Slippers, and Mercy Kannemeyer. In a sense, Marais and Coetzee’s texts each elicit multi-layered, multi-angled, and cross-disciplinary responses, partly because these two texts themselves are preoccupied with how ‘Afrikaans’ intersects with several sets of identity markers and codes. In this, we see other advantages to the stilet.echo approach: It is an organic process that facilitates the introduction of polyvocality, works at representationality (also in terms of affording access to scholars not working on literary studies), ensures afwisseling and ways of exiting and entering the systemic loop so to nuance the text’s reception and encourage (and embrace) horizontal discourse.
A second new section is stilet.revisit, in which authors are invited to engage with texts published prior to 2019 (Die wêreld van die storie), and that will hopefully allow for new ways of engaging with texts already textured into the canon (Die ongelooflike onskuld van Dirkie Verwey). We welcome feedback on both the method, and on the individual pieces, of stilet.echo and stilet.revisit.
The articles in the stilet.discourse section all touch on some facet of the notion of novum detailed above, and we want to emphasise that these articles are part of a discourse: nodes in an organic and continuing process, and thus not arresting knowledge end-points in and of themselves. This is informed by the broader acknowledgement that discourse is constituted by different layers of knowledge production – social media, popular discourse, etc. – of which academic output is but one aspect.
Two articles included in this volume focus on practices and processes of canonization. Shawna-Leze Meiring conducts research into the ways in which Eurocentric models of writing literary history inform taxonomies of world literature, and has particularly effects on a smaller literature like Afrikaans. In “Eurochronologie in Afrikaanse literatuurgeskiedenis: Voorstel vir ŉ alternatiewe bestudering van tekste aan die hand van ‘fiksiewêrelde van tekste’”, Meiring sheds light on two particular shortcomings of such an approach: that a text is often read ‘against’ a certain literary context or period, at the cost of other interpretatory possibilities; and that literary texts in different literatures cannot fairly be weighed up ‘against one another’. To counter these shortcomings, she explores “fictional worlds” as a way of side-stepping eurochronology.
Against Meiring’s more critical stance toward the comparative value of literary-historical taxonomisation, Hennie van Coller emphasises the historical era in which the text was produced; in “Jan Wolkers. ŉ Nuwe Nederlandse literatuurgeskiedenis in Afrikaans as kanoniseringsinstrument” van Coller considers how Wolkers had been canonised in a number of literary-historiographical writings and how his representation of particular experiences during the Second World War is perhaps enough reason to grant Wolkers a more permanent place in the literary canon.
This is followed by two contributions that approach the literary text from a specific theoretical angle: The body, embodiment and violence is the focus of Rudolf Stehle’s article “Die groteske liggaam in die uitbeelding van geweld in Blood Meridian deur Cormac McCarthy en Buys deur Willem Anker”. Through a comparative reading of Anker and McCarthy’s work, read through Bakhtin’s notion of carnivalesque, Stehle considers the nature and affect of the representation of the grotesque body, and how the making-aesthetic of such bodies have a functional and ethical goal. In Burgert Senekal’s contribution, a word co-occurance network analysis of Joan Hambidge’s poem “Die dubbele nie” is presented. Senekal employs nine sentrality indicators and a visual layout to demonstrate that the semantics of the poem are reflected in its structure – thereby indicating ways in which structural aspects of the poem unlock additional semantic-analytical possibilities.
Two pedagogical-directed contributions – which, together with Meiring’s article, had their genesis in 2018’s Unlaagering colloquium – round out the stilet.discourse section; both have learning resources in the language and literature classroom in Afrikaans as the object of study. In Earl Basson and Michael le Cordeur’s article, they explore ways in which Kaapse Afrikaans idiomatic expressions can be deployed as resource to create a more inclusive space in the Afrikaans-as-firstlanguage classroom (particularly with reference to cases where learners regard Kaapse Afrikaans as an integral part of their identity). Jako Oliver explores the possibilities provided by self-directed learning with the use of open pedadogic resources with regards to the teaching of literature in Afrikaans. Olivier emphasises the importance of learners being placed central to the pedagogical context if self-directed learning is to be supported and promoted, while aspects such as active learning, co-operative learning, motivation, metacognition, problem solution and the continued
growth of open learning resources are taken into account.
These three articles are included in this issue as they activate the sense of productive renewal acting as impetus of the Unlaagering series of events, and act as a reminder that much of the energy directing literary study ultimately affects the teaching of Afrikaans in classrooms. In a similar fashion, in “Om deur die grense van genre te lees: ŉ Besinning oor die Gotiek en ŉ (Suid-) Afrikaanse gruwelgenre”, Mariëtte van Graan convincingly indicates that the pedagogy of a literary text through the lens of a specific theory of genre can have a diminishing effect on students as well as lecturers’ interpretation of a given text. Looking at the Gothic genre’s many literary branches, and a range of interesting textual applications, she explores the usefulness of such genre categorization.
Franci Greyling demonstrates that place-specific digital literature – multifaceted, relational, dynamic and performative in nature – offers readerly experiences that necessitates approaching existing reception frameworks differently. In “‘Ek loop hier in die labirint’. Digitale kinderverse in ŉ botaniese tuin: performatiwiteit en relasionaliteit”, Greyling sees performativity as one such framework, through which the interwoven interaction of digital literature installations can better be understood, and four modes of performativity – to wit spacial, spatial, textual and emobied performativity – are brought to bear on childrens’ verse in the Byderhand installation in the NWU Botanical Gardens.
Stilet’s stilus section has, over the years, taken both popular and cerebral approaches to the creative act, and attempted to open up collaborative space between authors, poets and academics. In an era of unconventionality, where bite-sized stories and micronarratives, transgenre as well as site-specific and multi-modal digital narratives thrive, we want to continue recognising the value of creating space for creative work that does not fit neatly within conventional boundaries, or straddles boundaries between genres or generic convention and expectations. The Novum issue gleefully plays host to Joan Hambidge’s first foray into the academic-digital cyberserial. Episode 1 of Hambidge’s Begeerte plays out across nations and text types, with a tone that ranges from the elegiac to the self-parodic, with an intense awareness of how a text is engaged with in the digital sphere. In addition, the serialised form – with a number of episodes spread over consecutive issues – relays something of the ever-deferred nature of desire itself.
This manner in which form is utilised to challenge conventional reading(s) is also evident in Alfred Schaffer’s “een opvallend kenmerk van de huid is de kleur. dankzij huidskleuren kan de mens zich in verschillende klimaten handhaven. [werktitel]”, in which the axiomatic, the hyperlink, and the intermezzo alternate to searing cumulative effect. A previous, shorter version of Schaffer’s piece was published in nY#34 in 2017, and the updated version here reflects some of the poet’s affective experiences in the years since. The piece, and Schaffer’s poetic work in general, is striking not only in the way it seems to command the reader’s attention over 300-odd lines, but also in the provocative honesty with which it charts the contours of raciality in contemporary South Africa. Likewise, such provocative honesty is evident in the work of Alwyn Roux, who contributes two pieces to the issue: a remarkable, olfactory-centric translation of Australian poet Les Murray’s “Two Dogs”; and “Om die gode te verleer”, an associative riff on Robert Hass’s “After the winds”. The latter sees the poet tracking lived experience onto subjective-political spatiality in innovative and granular ways (with Hass’ Berkeley street becoming Roux’s Brooklyn Mall) in what very much feels like a sketch for a portrait of a generation.
Rounding out the stilet.stilus section are five visual pieces from Eben Venter’s February 2019 Translate Yourself exhibition. Even though each piece is accompanied by a quote from the author’s most recent novel, Green as the sky is blue, the five visuals included here actualise specific affective resonances with the larger Venter oeuvre (the Divine cameo in Foxtrot van die vleiseters; Lucky Marais; the desecration of the family graveyard in Horrelpoot). For subsequent issues, we invite creative work that similarly responds to questions around the functionality of form, structure, genre, and look forward to submissions that riff on the potential of the creative act in the digital sphere.
VII On actively attempting a more inclusive conversation
Situating ourselves within – and affectively positioning ourselves towards – the history and potential of 30 years of Stilet, in its dovetailing with the ascendancy of SA democracy and within the immersive turn to the digital sphere, is something that we can’t do by ourselves. For this to work, we need to bring collaborators on board.
Nominations to the stilet.digital editorial working collective (previously: Stilet editorial board) were received from across the disciplinary spectrum, and the following seven colleagues were appointed to a three-year term: Adéle Nel (NWU), Bibi Burger (UP), Chantelle Gray van Heerden (UNISA), Jean Meiring, Martina Vitackova, Quentin Williams (UWK), and Siseko H Kumalo (UP). In addition to the editorial collective, the following colleagues are working on upcoming issues of stilet.digital, as guest editors: Tildie Smit (UFS), Janien Linde (NWU), Danai Mupotsa (Wits), Rickus Ströh (NWU), Neil van Heerden (UNISA), Jonathan Amid. The return to rotating guest-editorships (some from outside the tertiary landscape, and some from outside SA) harks back to an effective part of Stilet’s methodology in the past, and we look forward to seeing how it allows for renewed discussion.
With an eye on transnational discussions, stilet.digital will also actively be soliciting articles and review pieces in English and Dutch. Back in 2001, the first all-English issue of Stilet (issue 13.2) brought together papers presented during a seminar on Afrikaans literature at the 2000 ICLA proceedings in Pretoria. In an introductory piece to that issue, the imitable Jerzy Koch is quoted: “Afrikaans is too important to be left solely in the care of the Afrikaners”.
Soliciting contributions published in English and Dutch is a productive opening up to the broader transnational conversation, a speaking-along-with. Opening up the discussion in this way will further facilitate admission to global discussions – the benefit of which the work Rita Barnard, Mark Sanders, Andrew van der Vlies, Carli Coetzee, Jeanne-Marie Jackson, and others, are doing on Afrikaans literature, without being situated with the system, attests to. As part of our commitment to this, stilet.digital will, over the course of the next five volumes, publish translated versions of seminal articles from our archive that originally appeared in Afrikaans. The first two, Marius Crous’s Nelson Mandela: Krog se “heelmaker van mense” en Soyinka se “spectator of our Brave New World” (from issue 10.2, September 1998) and Pieter Conradie’s Estetiek eiendomsbeperk: die politiek van die liggaam (from issue 6.1, March 1994), both on the work of Antjie Krog, will appear in our upcoming Krog issue. This will be complemented by making an English version of each issue’s editorial note available on stilet.digital.
Embracing the productive potential of a wider, transnational, and more comprehensive audience for stilet.digital does not equate to a dilution of loyalty to the existing body of work in Afrikaans on Afrikaans literature, nor does welcoming a more diverse set of discussants (gespreksgenote) amount to a capitulation to an empty politics of pragmatism. Instead, we see such an embrace as enabling a more comprehensive conversation, within a productive sense of futurity. In short, a more inclusive conversation is not only a necessary and more comprehensive conversation, but also a better one.
Come join the discussion.
Thys and Wemar