Breyten Breytenbach visits UP campus
Breyten Breytenbach, the renowned Afrikaans poet and artist, visited the University of Pretoria on 5 March 2010 at the invitation of Prof Willie Burger, head of the Department of Afrikaans. He did not deliver a formal lecture, but answered questions and spoke on various topics in conversation with Prof Burger.
On 4 March, Prof Burger also spoke to Breyten at the Boekehuis in Johannesburg. The occasion was the launch of his new essay anthology, Notes from the middle world, which was originally only released in the USA, but is now also being distributed in South Africa.
In the conversation on campus, a wide range of topics was covered: from the poet’s views of identity, his experience of aging and the impact on his poetry, and his use and understanding of metaphors, to his views on the relationship between aesthetics and ethics (the extent to which art can serve as a mediator for social and political engagement and actions). Breyten strongly criticised the downscaling of Afrikaans: it is nonsensical to punish a language for the thoughtless acts of a group of people in the past.
The poet expressed his concern at what he described as the dominant ideology of materialism, which stands in sharp contrast to the idealistic quest for a utopia that characterised his own generation. He nevertheless answered a question from one of the young people in the audience on a message to the youth of today positively, saying that the wonders of new technology and the special skills of young people should serve to meet the challenges and diversity of the country in a creative manner.
The audience was fascinated and indicated their appreciation by a long and hearty round of applause; an indication of their high regard for one of the major artists South Africa has produced. Lecturers and students were inspired by a particularly stimulating intellectual exercise.