30(1) echo: Kegan Gaspar

Honest mundanity in Loftus Marais’s Jan, Piet Koos en Jakob (2019)

Kegan Gaspar

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“wees bewus van al die name” reads the opening line from “Name” in Loftus Marais’s Jan, Piet Koos en Jakob (2019). The line captures the primary occupation of Marais’s collection: names, naming and, through this focus on names, identity. Specifically, Marais is preoccupied with Afrikaans-Afrikaner-affective names in this work; each poem provides Marais’s reflections on Afrikaner identity in South Africa’s current context. Drawn together, the poems create an intricate mosaic of what it means to white, male, queer and Afrikaans in contemporary South Africa.

Afrikaner culture, for those of us who look in from the outside, at least, is rampant with heteronormative, hyper-masculine performances of gender that have, for a long time, characterised non-Afrikaners’ understanding of this culture. Marais’s collection serves as a bridge from the ruin of Afrikaner former ‘glory’ and helps it inch towards a new location, one that is more aware of a certain queerness that has, arguably, underpinned Afrikaans society. In queerphobic societal constructions, queers are often forced to follow a heterosexual master script, though queerness itself has always needed to exist in order to uphold the binary power of the heterosexual.

Afrikaner culture is often linked to highly patriarchal men who perform their masculinity according to strict and biblically warped stereotypes, but Jan, Piet Koos en Jakob endeavours to make evident the fact that Afrikaans men have always enjoyed one another. Marais’s collection does not allow the silence and omittance that befalls queer bodies in his community to hold. The poetic landscape invites one into queer moments that reflect on sexual Afrikaans-Afrikaner male-on-male intimacy, such as “Jakob Engelstoeier”, while at the same time providing insight into how the Afrikaans-Afrikaner community fit into the South African post-modern landscape: poems such as “By Lara se doop”, which features the line “en my ouma / is banger vir julius malema / as wat sy ooit vir satan kan wees”, illustrates a community’s irrational fear for black-led governance and the mundane religio-racism that underpins such fear.

Many of the poems fixate on Afrikaans-Afrikaner male names, drawing them together into what almost then becomes a catalogue. The names which Marais makes use of to populate his catalogue-collection often announce the spectre of heteronormative Afrikaans masculinity. (The use of the word ‘spectre’ is more than intentional: Marais’s poetry offer snapshots of Afrikaans masculinity that is not fearful of intimacy between men.) “Verlief/“Petrus”” is a tender snapshot indicating the comfort that an Afrikaans-Afrikaner man can find in another such man’s love. And yet the collection is also critical of Afrikaans men who sleep with men while trying to remain as close to the heteronormative as possible. These are specifically brought into relation with a landscape of modern-day Johannesburg: “Johannesburg” provides a representation of the city as a place that “kan wel vertrou word” with its “penis / enlargements- én abortion-selnommers” found on posters scattered across the city – the city’s extravagances painted as mundane.

In many ways, Jan, Piet Koos en Jakob provides passage into the mundanity of Afrikaans male queerness. What was once transgressive, has now, in the urban centres of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, become everyday. By allowing us into the mundanity of this world, Marais creates a representation of Afrikaans-Afrikaner culture that is honest about its queers, asking us to re-examine multiple queer and white modes of Afrikaans being. Placed beside one another, Piet Langpoot, Janus, Jan Balie, and Ware Jakob give the impression of the creation of a tapestry of Afrikaans queer voices that, each in their own way, highlight and focus on issues pertaining to the modern Afrikaans-Afrikaner condition.

This mundanity is placed within a sometimes too-easily-referenced historical context. “Wit man”, for example, begins with the poignant line “die einaars kan nie / name soos chachista of towaijo uitspreek nie / noem hul slawe januarie of fortuin” which deftly illustrates the mundanity – the everyday-ness – of named/naming racism that is intimately interlocked with the history of the Afrikaans language. The poem goes on to reference the speaker’s mother winning a competition (something that is mundane, banal) before conjuring the shooting of Verwoerd, or referencing the speaker’s uncle who was once an athlete and is now an abusive alcoholic. In these ways of reference, the poem places the violent history of white Afrikaans-Afrikaner history and juxtaposes it besides an arguably broken representation of a post-modern Afrikaans-Afrikaner present, illustrating a modern senses of being in the everyday that is irreconcilably haunted by the spectres of national violence.

This is, perhaps, what the collection allows for: a cataloguing of Afrikaans-Afrikaner masculinity that, when seen through the queer lens’s intimate knowledge of the effects on the psyche of everyday violence, speaks to lasting – everyday – effects of the colonial past on Afrikaans and on the Afrikaner community.

 

a stilet.echo response by Kegan Gaspar for 30(1&2) Novum