June 26, 2017

Stephanus Muller: Orientalizing Europe, Europeanizing Africa: The Fantastical Lives and Tales of Jan Gysbert Hugo (The Marquis) (Louis de) (Vere) Bosman di Ravelli, also known as Gian Bonzar

Filed under: music,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 1:53 pm

“Oh Ravelli,” she whispered, “you have taken me to Heaven – I shall never consider anything beautiful after this – how wonderful it is to be with you – one lives through so many lives.”

Countess Carmencita Monteleon of Spain

Before he was being invented by others, or started imagining himself in autobiographical texts, he was creating new names for himself. Born Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman on 24 February1882, the first of these names was the Italianate Vere di Ravelli, a name made up for the concert stage. Combining the name he had read in a book with a shortened form of the Spanish for ‘Gysbert’ – ‘Gilvere’, he was using the stage name in 1902 during his second concert tour of the cities of Berlin, Magdeburg, Paris, Strasbourg and Cologne.
A letter to Johannes J. Smith of 15 November 1912, includes two Sapphic reconstructions by ‘Gian Bonzar’ for translation into Afrikaans and possible publication. The letter, signed by Bosman with his invented stage name, ‘Vere di Ravelli’, goes on to state:

I do not write under my own name, in fact I am distinctly averse to anyone knowing that I write at all. You will respect my nom de plume, I know, simply because I should like it to be so. I am not anxious that my name should even be mentioned in the matter. It may seem very silly to you – all this – but please forgive me – it is my little madness.

It is fair to assume, therefore, that by 1912 Jannie (as he was called by his parents) Bosman had become ‘Vere di Ravelli’, necessitating the adoption of yet another transformed appellation. The name ‘Gian Bonzar’ is clearly derived from Jan Boonzaaier (his mother’s maiden name), and this letter to Smith is the only instance found by the present author where its use is suggested. However, on the cover of an undated manuscript of Bosman’s translation from Arabic into English of The Travels of Ibn Jubayr (2 volumes) in the Nasionale Afrikaanse Letterkundige Museum en Navorsingsentrum (NALN) in Bloemfontein, the author’s name appears as ‘The Marquis Louis de Vere de Ravelley’, with ‘The Marquis’ subsequently scratched out. Another undated typescript, this time a translation from Arabic into English of The Diwan of Al-Hansa is appellated ‘By Louis de Vere’. Also in Bloemfontein, a typed manuscript of eighty-eight poems, some of them also appearing in the collection In an Italian Mirror (and thus presumably predating them), is by the author ‘Louis de Vere’. Nine years after his letter to Smith, the name ‘Vere di Ravelli’ appears on the cover of In an Italian Mirror. The ‘little madness’ of hiding the stage name (standing in for the real name) behind various nom de plumes, had abated somewhat.

Creating and then parading different names for oneself is one thing; providing these names with historical alibi’s and characterizations another, more fantastical pursuit. Although the changing preference of names outlined above doesn’t suggest matching different autobiographical accounts, the ambiguity of identity created by this strangely fascinating Frenchification and Italianization of a Boer name is somehow carried over into Bosman’s autobiographical narratives. Until recently, it was believed that these were restricted to a series of articles written by him and published in the journal Vita Musica in 1963 until 1964 (entitled ‘Music’s Exile – the autobiography of Vere Bosman di Ravelli’) and the book Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, an autobiographical fantasy published in South Africa by Tafelberg in 1964. However, during many years of trawling in South African archives for mostly other material, and of speaking with colleagues, friends and students, the present author has discovered two unknown, or forgotten, unpublished and, in both cases, seemingly incomplete autobiographies. A forgotten facsimile of a holograph text containing a partly unknown autobiographical narrative was found in the Africana section of the Merensky Library at the University of Pretoria. This document of 343 pages, which will be called the Merensky manuscript, refers to the book Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, and it is therefore safe to assume that it postdates the completion of the Saint Theodore manuscript, and was written somewhere between 1962/63 and Bosman’s death on 20 May 1967 in the Strand near Cape Town. There are striking resemblances between the content and structure of the Merensky manuscript and the four articles comprising the series ‘Music’s Exile’. However, the article series (and the journal Vita Musica) was discontinued after four installments, and the Merensky manuscript contains much that is unknown, and in some cases more detailed and personal descriptions of historical events and people mentioned in the article series.
The second ‘unkown’ autobiographical text became known to the present author through one of those misterious ‘coincidences’ that sees material converging, as though attracted by a magnetic forcefield, on a researcher becoming immersed in a subject. A chain of unlikely conversations and personal connections led to the ‘discovery’ of yet another autobiography, of which the existence in a private collection in Pretoria has hitherto been unknown to scholars. The holograph marked ‘Outobiografie B 1-19’ [Autobiography B 1-19] consists of nineteen exercise books totalling 560 unnumbered pages and will be called the Loots manuscript, after its owner Jozua Loots (see Figure 1) who generously provided the present author with access to his materials. The Loots manuscript is for most of its narrative more detailed than the Merensky manuscript, but unlike the latter it stops short of Bosman’s first public performances in 1902. It is impossible to put a date to the Loots manuscript, and it seems reasonable to deduce from the narrative and the way in which it ends, the existence of more exercise books, presumably now lost.

Figure 1: Jozua Loots and Bosman di Ravelli, early sixties

Saint Theodore and the Crocodile differs markedly from the Merensky and Loots manuscripts. Like ‘Music’s Exile’, the latter two contain substantially more information about Bosman’s childhood and youth, his journey to Leipzig at the age of sixteen (including an extended stay en route in London in the Loots manuscript), his audition at the Leipzig Conservatoire for Carl Reinecke and Alexander Winterberger and his subsequent concert career which was launched with a tour of the Chopin E minor piano concerto in 1902 under the baton of a young Nikisch pupil, only identified by the surname Hess. Some of this detail is documented in Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, but in a much-condensed form. Whereas the Merensky and Loots manuscripts are more or less conventional chronological accounts spanning respectively the time from Bosman’s birth in 1882 until the early 1900s (Loots) and approximately his first return to South Africa in 1905 after the suicide of the mezzo-soprano Isabella Valliers (the object of his untouchable and unconsummated noble, knightly love) (Merensky), Saint Theodore and the Crocodile is a staged, synchronic account of highlights and significant people in Bosman’s life as presented in conversations with his friends: primarily Juanito (Stowe) de Monteleon and his wife Carmencita, and his young guest, Charles.
Both the Merensky and Loots manuscripts also provide more information of Bosman’s musical activities during his first extended stay in Leipzig between 1899 and 1905. Although the account is hardly systematic, one is able to reconstruct some sense of his musical background, his training in Leipzig and his early career. We read that his decision to study music was sparked by a dream vision that developed into a kind of mad obsession:

Was it a dream? I don’t know. But I woke up and found myself at a grand piano on a platform playing to an audience as far as the eye could see. And from that moment I could see nothing else … I was already well advanced in next year’s work when my madness seized me – I use this word for it was just like a wild beast seizing its prey, and I had nothing more to do with it … I now imagined myself not only a great pianist, but a great man with a definite message to my country – almost like a call, a vocation. The voice was insistent, torturing me with reproaches for my cowardice …

Bosman hears Brahms for the first time on the Union Castle Line ship the Briton (on which he departs on 1 October 1899 from Cape Town), and when the ship docks at Madeira he is informed of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. When he hears the Beethoven violin concerto played by Lady Hallé in The Queen’s Hall, he doesn’t know what a concerto or a symphony is, and during his visit to the National Gallery in London he is confronted for the first time with art in this kind of setting. His meeting with Professor Carl Reinecke in Leipzig is described in vivid detail, as is the subsequent conversation with the ‘medium-sized dark man with graying hair … deep-set warm black eyes’ and the most ‘un-German’ person who is the Liszt-pupil Alexander Winterberger. Bosman tells us how he initially has lessons with Winterberger’s assistant Dufour (twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, with Fridays reserved for theory), who studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Referring to Bosman, the professor instructs Dufour: ‘You must begin from bed-rock – nothing, absolutely nothing.’ The result is two hours of technical exercises every day. His first public performance in 1902, also recalled in Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, is described with vivid immediacy in the Merensky manuscript:

The orchestra began – something happened to me – my mind became a complete blank – what must, what can I do? Run off? O, if only the end of the world would come, or the roof fall in, or there was a fire to stop it all. I heard the orchestra coming nearer, nearer, like a creeping wild beast – just before my cue. Hess with his baton held the orchestra, looked me in the eyes, smiled, nodded – a light from Heaven descended upon me – I dashed with great vigour into the first chords – in a hall your tone sounds much bigger than in a room – when I heard this beautiful sound drifting to the farthest corner, I was inspired – the whole first movement was played with a strongly accentuated rhythm – warm applause – imagine I was the first British student playing in a Leipzig concert for a long time past – all the British and Americans clapping loudly. … I was not completely myself, calm, without a trace of nervousness or excitement. The second movement, being perhaps on the sentimental side, I was nineteen, was a fine piece of musicianship, thanks to Winterberger whom I had begged not to come – and the Rondo I romped through with evident enjoyment and that of the public showed their appreciation.

Bosman ends up doing various tours with Hess, amongst others to Poland, the Rhinelands, Paris, Vienna and Berlin. He plays both the Chopin concertos, the Beethoven Third, Fourth and Fifth piano concertos, the Grieg piano concerto, Mozart A major piano concerto (probably number 23, K. 488) and, the last addition to his Leipzig period repertoire, the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto. In addition, he lives, works and socializes in a galaxy of aristocratic patrons and famous musicians, including Louis Persinger, Albert Coates, Arthur Nikisch, Camille Saint-Saëns and Vladimir de Pachmann. The Merensky manuscript in particular is a strange book that stops with a letter informing Bosman of Isabella Vallier’s death. It is clearly no end to the book, and implies a continuation, which, if it existed, we are at present unaware of. But the void left by Bosman’s reaction is somehow typical of the manuscript as a whole. For all its colourful anecdotes and intimate glimpses, these do not add up to a vivid picture of the autobiographical subject. The anecdotes remain fragmented. The promised revelations never come. On the one hand the manuscript is positively bursting with detail; yet not a single date or reference anchors the material in historical time. Of the man behind the pseudonyms, the reader learns little.
Saint Theodor and the Crocodile is, if anything, an even stranger book. For one thing, it indulges in name-dropping on a truly epic scale. More than 100 personal names find their way into this 156-page book as acquaintances of Bosman, including artists (like Stefan Zweig, Lina Cavaliere, Emma Calvé and Rupert Brooke), countless minor aristocrats, two popes and the Kaiser. Venice is the stage for this parade of characters, and the visit of the young man Charles – ostensibly the son of a woman once love by Bosman – the excuse for a guided tour of the city and meetings with old friends and acquaintances with whom much reminiscing takes place. The conceit of the book is illustrated best by a passage near its beginning, when Bosman and his young friend admire St. Mark’s square and in which description changes without warning into metaphor:

As we stepped ashore at the Piazetta he took my arm. We walked up between the library and the Doge’s Palace. In front of St. Mark’s we stood silent. I felt a slight trembling through his body as his eyes absorbed its breathtaking beauty. All of us were silent for a few minutes. The Piazza is the great drawing room of Europe. People go there from all over the world. Soon we were surrounded by friends – those who knew me, those who had heard me play, others whose friends were my friends. Charles opened his eyes wide and said to me, ‘But, Uncle Ravelli, one meets the world here.’ Cipollato added, ‘A great world.’ And, turning to Charles, ‘I don’t mean a material world, but a spiritual world. When you hear an artist play you will understand what I mean.’

The metaphorical significance of this passage is clear enough. In this book the reader is presented with a stage filled with Bosman’s acquaintances over many years, traveling through time and space to appear telescoped within its pages against the backdrop of Venice. The autograph copy of Saint Theodore and the Crocodile survives in the Documentation Centre for Music in Stellenbosch, and so does a pre-edited typescript copy of the autograph in Bloemfontein. This unedited version portrays interesting differences with the 1964-book, not least with regard to the passage quoted above. The unedited version ends as follows:

‘But uncle Ravelli, it is not a person one meets in you, but a world.’ Cipolato added, ‘A vast world.’ And turning to Charles, ‘I don’t mean a material world, but a vast spiritual world. When you hear him play, you will understand what I mean.’ [Italics by the current author]

In this version the world described to the reader in such detail is personalized and internalized. It inheres in the performing artist and makes itself present through his playing. The unedited version makes clear that which is only implied in the corresponding passage in the book: that Bosman not only introduces the world to Charles, but that he embodies it in his playing. It makes Bosman into the medium facilitating access to the ‘vast spiritual world’ of Western art and culture through music. If, as Karl J. Weintraub has written, ‘the concept of the self is derived from models supplied by the ambient culture’, the marked absence of Bosman as living subject from his own autobiography (going back and starting with the absence of his own name) could be read as an alienation of the self from the ‘ambient culture’, or from the immediate cultural institutions among which he moves. ‘Over and over again I came up against that blank wall – a lack of tradition’, Bosman wrote in 1964. ‘What a German boy probably knew at ten or twelve, was still unknown territory to me. It was a great handicap.’ In the Loots manuscript he refers to the place of his youth as ‘that medieval world’.
It is indeed the absence of the sense of self that stands central in Bosman’s autobiographical narratives, and it is in this absence that music becomes central to facilitating identity transactions between belonging and alienation, limitations and aspirations. Bosman’s early-Romantic musical self (‘my Romantic spirit’ as he refers to it) is related to the Romantic sense of self typical of autobiography as a genre, but also to the understanding of music as a primary medium of expression of the self in the nineteenth century. If the sense of geographical and conceptual disjuncture characterizing settler identity inevitably gravitates towards a model of identity, the Romantic self constitutes such a model. In this sense the Romanticism of the post-colony is recognizable as a part of modernism, in that it recognizes the Romantic self primarily as model (rather than as creative possibility). This allows it not to be seen as a regressive tendency, but one alive with the particular possibilities characterizing the post-colonial condition.
It is exactly this difference between appreciating Bosman as historical figure and valuing his symbolic value that becomes important in the assessment of his significance for Afrikaner culture in South Africa. In an obituary broadcast by SABC radio after his death, the programme was introduced by saying that ‘with the death of the highly civilized and widely read Jan Bosman di Ravelli, we have lost an irreplaceable link with the musical world of romanticism’. The poet W.E.G. Louw’s obituary in the Afrikaans-language newspaper Die Burger (of which the influential Louw was then the arts page editor) appeared under the following banner ‘This young Boer conquered old Europe spiritually’. The South African Music Teacher reprinted an obituary from Handhaaf, which ended thus:

Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman – ahead of his own time – was, when it comes down to it, a young Boer, a man from our own soil, whose talents had to be developed and appreciated abroad, who out of necessity had to follow his career in foreign lands – but who never disowned his own soil, who did not become entirely estranged in strange countries, and made a contribution to his own people; a contribution that could be of lasting significance.

And yet, if Jan Bouws is to be believed, Gustav Preller wrote in 1936 how Bosman had been ‘pushed away’ by fellow Afrikaners. To what extent it was known that Bosman, as an anglicized Cape Afrikaner, considered himself British rather than Afrikaans for most of his life, is an intriguing question. In the Loots manuscript Bosman recounts a conversation between his father and elder brother on the eve of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War:

[My brother], a naturalised official of the Free State, was … supporting Oom Paul Kruger against the British Government. My father, moderate, born a British subject for several generations saw matters in a different light. He assured my brother he was wrong to think that in the event of war, all the Cape Colony Dutch would rise and join the Boer Republics. ‘We have our own parliament – and as for England, we know her, but you we don’t know.’

Indeed the ‘Britishness’ of this young ‘Boer pioneer’ is a consistently present though mostly silent narrative strand of this story. ‘The Transvaal and the Free State held no interest for me’ Bosman writes during the Anglo-Boer War, later remarking of his debut in Leipzig in 1902 that he aroused considerable interest because he was the first British pianist to perform there in many years. Its potential wider dissonance in an otherwise pure musico-genealogical line connecting newly established colonial Afrikaner culture to Beethoven (most clearly through Liszt and Czerny), remains largely unexplored today. Of interest, at least to the present writer, is not so much inverting the claimed oppositions imagined between fixed and antagonistic white language-power complexes in South Africa, but recuperating the Britishness of early Afrikaans patriotic identity and cultural aspirations. For patriotic Bosman certainly was, as his presence at the founding meeting of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns [South African Academy for Science and Art] in 1909 testifies.
If writers in the second half of the twentieth century were uncomfortable with this more ambiguous identity, it was because virulent anti-Britishness had progressively become a fixed point of reference of Afrikaner nationalist identity during the twentieth century, obliterating the very real British ingredient of this identity (and culture) so eminently recognizable not only in die life and career of Bosman, but also in places and names touched by ‘Englishness’ and later reclaimed by Afrikaner nationalism. Writing about the end of an old English tradition in the former Boer republic of the Orange Free State and its capitol, Bloemfontein, Karel Schoeman cites Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body and calls the 1950s and 60s ‘the last bright August before the Fall’. The way in which this English tradition was gradually erased from the identity of the city as the Afrikaners retook posession of it, echoes the de-emphasis in South African music historiography of Bosman’s Cape (read ‘English’) Afrikaans background. Schoeman writes:

When, many years later, with the end of the paper [The Friend], I was asked by the Volksblad to write a commemorative article on it, I pertinently focused attention on this [English] tradition. That exactly this sentence was omitted in publication under the pretext that the article was too long was, for me, significant: in 1985 the Afrikaans Bloemfontein, as represented by its smug daily paper, wanted no reminder of an older English tradition.

In interviews and published writings after his return in 1957 to a South Africa politically controlled by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party, Bosman also omitted earlier references to his ‘Britishness’. In ‘Music’s Exile’ he writes that the manager of the Hotel Sedan in Leipzig (named as one Müller in the Merensky manuscript) tells him: ‘the whole of Germany [is] pro-Boer and that, on account of my name, I [will] find people everywhere inclined to be kind to me’. However, the comparable passage in the Merensky manuscript also contains a retort from Bosman, omitted from the published article: ‘But I am not from the Transvaal’.
Resuscitating this ambiguity in a historical figure like Bosman unshackles other fascinating, and often interlinking, dissonances. Behind the claim made of Bosman as a pioneer of Afrikaner cultural awareness in the early twentieth century and the link thus established to European spiritual values through music, looms the discomfort with art music as an unstable signifier for Afrikaner nationalism in the twentieth century. Music introduces a tension between the desire to identify emergent Afrikaner high culture with the predominant European art of the nineteenth century, and a palpable distrust of music as an open signifier. In doing so it amplifies the already-existing ambiguous identity of Bosman’s Britishness. The musical world of Bosman is, ultimately, not the heroic world of Beethoven, but the women’s world of the early-nineteenth century salon inhabited by Chopin’s music. It was as Chopin interpreter that Bosman excelled (‘I had always an intimate feeling for Chopin, as if he belonged to me’, wites Bosman in the Loots manuscript) and the later nineteenth-century stigma of effeminacy that attached itself to the space and genres of a man whose music was even in its own time considered less universal than exotically national, also ambivalently colours especially Afrikaans reception of Bosman. In an introduction to the poetry of early Afrikaans poet Eugène Nielen Marais, one-time benefactor of Bosman, Gustav. S. Preller, contrasts what he calls the ‘powerful emotion of a man’ expressed in the Afrikaans poetry of Marais to the Chopin interpretations of the ‘sensitive [fynbesnaarde] technically masterful young piano virtuoso Bosman di Ravelli’.
An over-emphasis on Bosman’s status as a composer rather a performer could well be explained by this unease with the sensuality of sound in performance (contextualized by Chopin-reception), as opposed to the setting of Afrikaans language poetry to music. The fact that Bosman’s entire known oeuvre consists of only three such songs and two small piano works (now lost) has not prevented Dutch music historian Jan Bouws from claiming especially the songs as ‘an enormous cultural event and, together with the Second Afrikaans language movement, proof of the resurgence of the Afrikaner volk.’ The importance of Afrikaner identity is also evident in F.Z. van der Merwe’s description of the songs as striving to ‘develop a new Afrikaans musical style based on the work songs of natives’. The hyperbole of especially the Bouws citation makes sense only if the immense importance of art music culture in the formation of Afrikaner cultural identity is accepted, and if this importance is understood to be qualified by an often unarticulated imperative to contain musical expression within the desired narrative functions of Afrikaner national myth. Clearly, musical works (especially settings of Afrikaans verse) were more suited to this than sensitive Chopin interpretations.
There can be little doubt that Bosman’s linguistic abilities, literary interests and activities comprise another strand of his symbolic value as an early Afrikaner cultural icon. ‘Bosman de (sic) Ravelli had a vast knowledge of languages. He could understand and read 16 languages!’, writes Handhaaf in 1967, before assuring its readers that ‘It was significant how well he could still speak Afrikaans after his long absence [from the country].’ But as with his Boer/British national identity and his composer/performer musical identity, the meaning for his countrymen of this remarkable polyglot talent was unclear. For one thing, Bosman preferred writing copious amounts of poetry in English (the language he also preferred for correspondence). For another, his was no modernist verse or even late nineteenth century poetry as would change the Afrikaans language in the hands of writers like N.P. van Wyk Louw in the 1930s. It was early nineteenth-century English poetry: frequently sentimental and anachronistically romantic in content as well as in language and imagery. The ‘otherness’ of this language and form was, if anything, enhanced by an undeniable, though soft-pedalled homo-erotic current pulsating through the verse no less than through Bosman’s autobiographical writings. One sonnet entitled ‘Norradino’, reads thus:

As in Brancaleone’s arms I lay,
Tasting the brutal strength of southern heat,
And the cool silences my trembling feet
Had trod so often on shores of the bay,
Carved in sapphire, tipped with silver spray,
By the erring moon on its bosom; sweet
Unbidden memories of a joy complete
With you drew my warm lips from his away.

If Brancaleone were only you,
If you were Brancaleone we would
Possess in splendid perfect brotherhood
Love, friendship and passion without purlieu,
Now each of these with heat I must pursue
To still the burning instincts of my mood.

The tone and emotional register is recognizable from passages in Saint Theodore and the Crocodile: ‘His hand sought mine. “It has made me very happy to have talked to you like this. You are old enough to be my father, but in time there is no age – I feel and know that you understand all the immature longings of youth. No one has ever come so near to me as you have tonight.” ’ Of the many differences between the two extant versions of Saint Theodore and the Crocodile remarked on earlier, the most startling is perhaps the ending of the unedited version that appears in the publication as part of a ‘Prologue’. The paragraph in question reads as follows:

Love, then, is like this – ever trailing sorrow in its turbulent waters. Love is as long as life, moving like a lingering dream, with episodes of splendour and promises so rarely fulfilled, and yet its glory remains undimmed. Sometimes I have a hunger for you, not material, yet not easily appeased. It is more like a hunger for the love of God. A part of my soul seems torn away, left bleeding. Your physical presence would stop the bleeding but would not heal the wound. It will be one of the great discoveries of our age to know how to heal the wounds of love.

Placed at the end of the book (as it initially was), its ambiguity suggests the just departed Charles as the object of Bosman’s love. Placed at the beginning in the edited version, it displaces this love to Charles’s mother, with whom we read that it ‘never came to embraces or kisses between us – the social gulf was too deep’.
Yet the use of English and the sexual ambiguity of his texts are not the only potentially unruly signifiers of Bosman’s linguistic prowess. Although it was widely known in South Africa that in his later years he had translated Arabic texts into English, unlike for instance J.P.J van Rensburg’s 1963 translation of The Odyssey into Afrikaans, or the translation of Goethe’s Faust into Afrikaans three years later in 1966 by W.J. du P. Erlank (Eitemal), Bosman’s translations remained unpublished. Converting world literature into Afrikaans was a priority during the booming decades of Afrikaner self-confidence. The oriental fascinations and English-romantic sonnets of the Europeanized Bosman were clearly of less appeal to the society he had returned to in 1957 than the German, Greek and Latin that his Oxford tutor had taught him as a child in the Karoo town of Murraysburg. Europeanizing Africa was not supposed to happen via an orientalized Europe. It is the Dutch music historian of South African music, Jan Bouws, who connects the ethnic, genderized and oriental otherness of Bosman when he writes:

Half a century ago, at the beginning of the Second Afrikaans Language Movement, it looked as though he was destined to take the lead in the early Afrikaans musical life. It worked out entirely differently. In subject-specific technical knowledge he might have been far advanced in comparison to his fellow Afrikaners, but a pioneer, a leader also has to possess other qualities. In the end Bosman had no inner certainty about the future of South African music, and in his decadent desire to achieve excessive civilization [oorbeskawing] he became in essence a stranger to the young, emerging art of his own volk.

Little is known about Bosman’s life after 1912. The Dictionary of South African Biography tells us that he ‘maintained his success as a concert pianist until 1955’, the year in which he returned to South Africa. However, in an SABC interview in 1958, the then seventy-six year old Bosman stated that his last performing season, totalling sixty-two concerts, was in 1938. Although he also had a full contract for the following year, the war intervened. A South African (and thus Allied) national resident in Italy, Bosman spent three and a half years in a German concentration camp, and by his own admission was too ill to continue working after the war. Sometime in 1948 he suffered full-thickness burns to his shoulder, making it impossible for him to resume playing the piano. Bosman later said that the shock of the accident left him deaf. After having returned to South Africa in 1956, Bosman went to live with the then aleady elderly painter Maggie Laubser in her house in the Strand near Cape Town. It is not known how he and Laubser became acquinted, but it seems reasonable to deduce that this must have happened in Europe (the painter studied in various European countries between 1913 and 1924), perhaps while Laubser was working Italy in 1920-1921. A Laubser sketch of Bosman is reproduced in Vita Musica of August 1964, and the present author has found a copy of another sketch which is reproduced under Figure 2. In 1959 Bosman was awarded honorary membership of the South African Academy of Arts and Science ‘for his contribution to the development of Afrikaans musical life’. Of his playing, which was never recorded, we know nothing beyond his own vague and romanticized descriptions.

Figure 2: Sketch of Bosman di Ravelli by Maggie Laubser

Jan Gysbert Hugo (The Marquis) (Louis de) (Vere) Bosman di Ravelli, also known as Gian Bonzar, was a man of many lives, and times and places. In conclusion, however, we return to the image of Saint Theodore and the crocodile on the column in Saint Mark’s square. In the published version of his fantasy, Ravelli tells his young guest, Charles, that the story of inner transformation invented by him as the story of the crocodile and the saint, springs from personal experience. ‘I know this,’ he says ‘for I was too a crocodile once.’ Not another name then, but a mythical persona linking Venice and North Africa, the twentieth and the fourteenth centuries, reality and myth. But the denouement of the elaborate story is strange, in syntax no less than in the striking absence of narrative support for its dramatic potential. The reader cannot accept that this is what the author and story is about. The guided tour of personages, architectural wonders and art works is no stage to effect transformation of an ‘I’. And sure enough, consulting the earlier typescript version of the book, this confession, this identification of the author with the book’s title, is missing. Instead it is his young charge who is changed by his Venetian vacation, and by implication, Ravelli who has affected this transformation: ‘ … you have created a new being in me …’, says the young Charles. This, perhaps, was also the meaning intended to survive into our time; the colonizing vision of South Africa as a space to be transformed by Europe through the actuating power of culture. Jan Bosman emerges as an exemplar of the traveling virtuoso whose European success infuses the colony with European (musical) kudos from afar, becoming both message and medium to his country in the way he dreamt of so many years before as a young boy studying in Stellenbosch. But transformation is an open-ended process of uncertain outcome and direction. Thus it is the ‘transformed’ Charles that informs his mentor Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman: ‘ “I have seen the sacred light, I am no longer a crocodile” ’ We are left to ponder who changes whom when he concludes: “And I am going to call you just Ravelli in future.” ’


This article is based on a paper entitled ‘The Lives of Bosman di Ravelli: (Auto)biography, Colonial Identity and Music’ and read at the congress entitled ‘(Auto)Biography as a Musicological Discourse’, held in Belgrade from 19-22 April 2008.
Incomplete typescript copy version of Bosman di Ravelli’s autobiographical phantasy Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, Nasionale Afrikaanse Letterkundige Museum en Navorsingsentrum, (NALN), Bloemfontein, p. 181. In the rest of this article this document will be referenced as the NALN manuscript.
Rykie van Reenen. ‘Rykie van Reenen gesels met ‘n gevierde komponis – wat stilletjies na S.A. teruggekom het’, Die Burger, 18 January 1958.
Bosman di Ravelli, Outobiography (sic), Facsimile of holograph document, no date, Africana section, Merensky Library, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, p. 210. In the rest of the article this document will be referenced as the Merensky manuscript. In a review of the Cologne performance, the Kölnische Zeitung refers to Bosman as ‘Ravelli’. It is fair to assume that the stage name was adopted earlier for Bosman’s first concert tour in (also in 1902), although evidence of this could not be found in the extant documents. Bosman explains the origins of the name in SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg.
Johannes Jacobus Smith (1883-1949), the first editor of the popular Afrikaans journal Die Huisgenoot and the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal [Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language].
Letter of Vere di Ravelli to J.J. Smith, 15 November 1912, J.S. Gericke Library, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, 333.K.B.35.
The typed MS of about 115 000 words bears the stamp of John Paradise (Literary Agent), 86 Strand W.C. 2. The book consists of a Preface (pp. 1-15), the Text (462 pages), Notes (pp. 1-15) and an Index (pp. 1-38). The NALN reference numbers are M240/89/476 en M240/89/477.
The typed MS bears the stamp of John Paradise (Literary Agent), 86 Strand W.C. 2. The book consists of an Introduction (pp. 1-45) and the text. NALN reference number M24089/478.
Collection of typed poems by Louis de Vere (NALN reference number M240/89/474) on loose leaves. At the back of many of the poems is the address: Louis de Vere Esq, c/o Miss Tyrwhitt-Drake, Palazzo Pauer [?], 41 Via Romana, Florence, Italy.
Merensky manuscript, p. 53.
The author should like to thank Santie de Jongh of the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS) at the University of Stellenbosch for procuring these and other sources relating to this article. The dates of the Vita Musica articles (June/July 1963; August/September 1963; December 1963; August 1964) suggest that the Merensky manuscript may have been the original draft of the clearly much edited article versions. The last article in the series of ‘Music’s Exile’ (August 1964) states at the end ‘To be continued’. However, as far as the present writer has been able to ascertain, no further installments ensued. Jacques Philip Malan’s entry on Bosman in Die Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekensiklopedie [South African Music Encyclopaedia] (Cape Town: 1980) vol. 1, pp. 217-219, lists just these four articles in the series, also suggesting that the series was discontinued after August 1964.
One of the present writer’s postgraduate students, Carina Venter, had a conversation with a friend in Pretoria shortly before the paper on which this article is based was given in Belgrade. The conversation touched on Bosman, upon which it came to light that Jozua Loots’s father, also Jozua Loots, happened to be in possession of nineteen small exercise books containing yet another version of the Bosman autobiography, as well as several other Bosman mementos including photographs. It turned out that Jozua Loots is the twin brother of the man who had donated the bulk of the Bosman material now in the posession of NALN in Bloemfontein, Izak Loots, and is the father-in-law of fellow undergraduate music student in Pretoria in the early nineties and a personal friend of many years’ standing, Hilton Anspach (who married another fellow undergraduate music student, and Jozua’s daughter, flautist Handri Loots). Jozua Loots was kind enough not only to allow the present author access to this material, but also to give permission for electronic and hard copies of this document and the photographs to be made. These are now held in DOMUS at the University of Stellenbosch, where it can be consulted by researchers.
See the whole of Book 6, Loots manuscript.
The omission of the love affair with Isabella Vallier is the most important difference between the Vita Musica articles and the Merensky manuscript. In most instances the Merensky manuscript contains more descriptive detail and sustains a more personal tone (frequently through direct speech) than the Vita Musica articles. Exceptions are the descriptions of famous musicians heard by Bosman in Leipzig, including reports on concerts by Emil Sauer, Leopold Godowsky, Ferruccio Busoni, Ignaz Padarewski and Vladimir de Pachman. See ‘Music’s Exile’, (August 1964), pp. 7-8.
In a SABC radio interview broadcast on 1 June 1960, Bosman states that he left South Africa in 1899 and returned in 1956 when he was seventy-four years old, excluding only the ‘brief’ return to South Africa from 1905 until 1910 (SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg).
Merensky manuscript, pp. 49 and 55.
The specific date is given in ‘Music’s Exile: the autobiography of Vere Bosman di Ravelli’, Vita Musica, June/July 1963, p. 9.
Merensky manuscript, p. 82. These events are also described in SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg. See also the Loots manuscript, Book 3, unnumbered p. 20.
Merensky manuscript, p. 92.
Ibid. pp. 105-108.
Ibid., pp. 108-109.
Loots manuscript, Book 11, unnumbered p. 21. A description of how Dufour and Winterberger worked together, is found in the Loots manuscript, Book 12, unnumbered p. 6. A certain character, Field, explains: ‘Dufour is an excellent trainer – thorough, conscientious, he never fails you however much you may fail him. I know his pupils the moment they begin to play – something precise, rather old-maidenish, a little sour perhaps, but clean, correct, a shade mechanical. All that Winterberger corrects with the first lesson – they are a fine team together. When I heard Winterberger play the first time, I was then with von Bülow, I was in despair. What is the good of playing any more after that? All the technique in the world cannot make you interpret like that.’ An technical description by Bosman of Dufour’s teaching is found in the Loots manuscript, Book 14, unnumbered pp. 14-16.
Merensky manuscript, p. 123.
In the Merensky manuscript Bosman states that he was nineteen at the time of his first public performance (p. 194), which would imply that this performance happened sometime between 14 February 1901 and 24 February 1902. Elsewhere in the same manuscript, however, he says that he first started playing in public in 1902 (p. 177), a fact he confirms in a SABC radio interview broadcast after his death on 1 June 1967 (SABC Archive recording 16024, catalogue number A 67/68, Johannesburg). Thus this first performance probably happened in January or early February 1902.
Di Ravelli, Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, pp. 90-91.
Merensky manuscript, pp. 194-195.
Bosman di Ravelli, Saint Theodore and the Crocodile (Cape Town, 1964), p. 15.
NALN manuscript, p. 9.
Cited in Eakin, p. 203.
‘Music’s Exile’ (August 1964), p. 7.
Loots manuscript, Book 1, unnumbered p. 4.
See the Loots manuscript, Book 2, unnumbered p. 12.
Translated by the present author from the Afrikaans. All translations from Afrikaans in this article are by the present author. The original reads: ‘Met die afsterwe van die fyn beskaafde en wyd belese Jan Bosman di Ravelli, het ons ‘n onvervangbare skakel met die ryke, vergange musiekwêreld van die Romantiek verloor.’ The producer of the programme ‘’n Hoorbeeld oor Suid-Afrikaanse pianis Bosman di Ravelli’ was Johan Stemmet and the programme was broadcast on 1 Junie 1967 (SABC archive recording A 67/68: 16024).
W.E.G. Louw, ‘Dié boerseun het ou Europa geestelik verower’, Die Burger, 32 Mei 1967. Letters in the document collection of W.E.G. Louw in the J.S. Gericke Library at the University of Stellenbosch attest to the warm friendship that developed between Louw, his wife (the composer Rosa Nepgen) and Bosman in the decade spanning Bosman’s return to South Africa in 1957 and his death in 1967. See in this regard letters 158.K.B.30.
No author. ‘Bosman di Ravelli (1882-1967)’, The South African Music Teacher, no. 73 (December 1967), pp. 13-14, esp. p. 14.; Translated from the Afrikaans, which reads: ‘Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman – sy eie tyd vooruit – was op stuk van sake ‘n boerseun, ‘n man uit ons eie bodem, wie se talente in the buiteland tot uiting moes kom en gewaardeer sou word, wat noodgedwonge sy beroep in die vreemde moes beoefen – maar wat tog van sy eie bodem nie afgesterf het nie, wat in die vreemde nie geheel vervreem het nie, en ‘n bydrae gelewer het wat vir sy eie mense van blywende betekenis kan wees.’
Jan Bouws. Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste van vandag en gister [South African composers of today and yesteryear] (Cape Town:1957), pp. 27-29, esp. p. 29.
Loots manuscript, Book 3, unnumbered p. 4.
Merensky manuscript, p. 81.
Ibid., p. 194.
See Louis Hendrik Claassen, Die onstaansgekiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Taal, Lettere en Kuns [Founding History of the South African Academy of Language, Literature and Art], MA dissertation, Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (1977), p. 232. The present author should like to thank Prof. Gerhard Geldenhuys for alerting me to this reference. In an interview broadcast after his death in 1967, Bosman also explained how his friend Gustav Preller presented his ideas for a State Academy for music to generals Smuts and Louis Botha during this time. See in this regard SABC Archive recording 16024, catalogue number A67/68, SABC, Johannesburg. This project was never to come to fruition.
Writing in the book Westerse kultuur in Suid-Afrika [‘Western culture in South Africa’], apartheid ideologue Geoffrey Cronje states the case against the influence of British cultural identity as follows: ‘… a section of the Afrikaners identified with the carriers of the British imperial idea and became lukewarm and indifferent and even condescending with regard to Afrikaner cultural property [‘kultuurbesit’] while displaying a pro-Englishness. This cultural schizophrenia [‘gespletenheid’] – the usual fate of conquered peoples – dealt Afrikaans cultural life a telling blow, because a section of the Afrikaner volk started worshipping strange gods instead of their own culture and because inner volk division – an inevitable result of the pro-Englishness of a part of the Afrikaners – weakened the power of the volk and hindered the single-minded advancement of the Afrikaans culture; See ‘Sosiologiese faktore in die Westerse kultuur-ontwikkeling en kultuurbevordering’ [‘Sociological factors in the development and advancement of Western culture’], in: Westerse kultuur in Suid-Afrika, p. 96. The author should like to thank Carina Venter for bringing this passage to my attention.
Karel Schoeman. Die laaste Afrikaanse boek: outobiografiese aantekeninge [The last Afrikaans book: autobiographical reminiscens]. (Cape Town:2002), p. 302.
Ibid., p. 302. Translated from the Afrikaans.
See Merensky manuscript, p. 102.
‘Music’s Exile: the autobiography of Bosman Vere di Ravelli’, Vita Musica (June/July 1963), pp. 8-10, esp. p. 10. Another example of this tacit identification with the Boer forces during the war reads as follows: ‘But, of course, the Germans were so excited and pleased about the initial successes of our Republican warriors in South Africa, that I found it relatively easy to make friends’.; ‘Music’s Exile: the autobiography of Bosman Vere di Ravelli, Vita Musica (August/September 1963), pp. 6-8, esp. p. 7.
Loots manuscript, Book 1, unnumbered p. 27.
Gustav. S. Preller in: Eugène Nielen Marais. Gedigte [Poetry] (Cape Town, 1932), 2nd edition, pp. 3-4. Translated from the Afrikaans. The present author should like to thank Prof. Gerhard Geldenhuys for alerting me to this reference. It is possibly this reference alluded to by Jan Bouws when he writes that Preller found Bosman too young to understand Chopin during his South African sojourn of 1905-1910. See Jan Bouws. Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste van vandag en gister [South African composers of today and yesteryear] (Cape Town:1957), pp. 27-29, esp. p. 28.
Jan Bouws. Komponiste van Suid-Afrika [Composers of South Africa] (Stellenbosch, 1971), p. 50. Translated from the Afrikaans. The works mentioned are the three songs comprising Drie Liederen [Three Songs]. They are ‘Die Howenier’ [The gardener] (Totius), ‘Winternag’ [Winter’s night] (Eugène Marais), ‘Die veldwindjie’ [The veldt breeze] (Jan Celliers). They were published in 1908 by De Volkstem; See C.G. Henning, ‘Bosman, Jan Gysbert Hugo’, in Dictionary of South African Biography, ed. C.J. Beyers, vol 4 (Pretoria: ) pp. 38-39, esp. p. 39. Jacques Malan dates the publication of the songs in 1909 and F.Z. van der Merwe as 1908. See Malan, Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekensiklopedie [South African Music Encyclopaedia] p. 219 and F.Z. van der Merwe, Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekbibliografie 1787-1952 [South African Music Bibliography 1787-1952] (Pretoria, 1958) p. 133. Two piano works, Zulu wedding chant and Zulu funeral chant date from 1910. The present author has been unable to find copies of these works in South Africa. In SABC Archive recording 16024, catalogue number A67/68, Jan Bouws also calls these compositions Bosman’s ‘most important contributions’ to the musical life of South Africa, and connects them to the second Afrikaans language movement while annointing Bosman as the first composer of the Afrikaans art song.
F.Z. van der Merwe, Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekbibliografie 1787-1952 (Pretoria, 1958) p. 15. Van der Merwe’s description is no doubt based on Bosman’s own ‘Preface’ to the publication of his songs: ‘To forestall the probable accusation that the music of my lyrics is plagiarism, I would like to explain its origin. My ideas about what our national music should be have so often been discussed by the press that they do not necessitate elucidation here. Those who will aver that they have heard my lyrics before are perfectly right, because all South Africans, especially those living in the vicinity of Kaffir territories, have heard that music from their youth upwards. In order to study Kaffir music at its source I made several holiday excursions, especially into Zululand, where through the kindness of the Chief I had all the opportunities I would wish for. I find that the Kaffirs in their great national songs, like Wedding Song and Battle Song, have a remarkable ear for almost Bach-like harmonies – harmonies which are extraordinarily rich on account of the frequent use of even third tones. There certainly is not much change of key amongst them, but otherwise with the limited means at their command they produce marvellous results. I have tried to remain faithful to my models, except where for the sake of atmosphere I employed excessive modern construction. These few songs were not drawn from their great songs, but are simply everyday folk-songs that are very well-known. I hope that these attempts will be the corner-stones of the foundation of a great national movement in music.’
This iconic status cannot be disputed. He appears, for instance, in a limited edition book entitled Suid-Afrikaanse Heldegallery [South African Hero’s Gallery] (Cape Town, 1947) with writers, politicians, generals, sports heroes and artists; pp. 220-221. Bosman is one of only two musicians included; the other is the soprano Betsy de la Porte. Bosman’s entry describes him not as a composer, but as ‘South Africa’s greatest pianist’, and states erroneously that he died in 1938. According to Henning this mistake arose due to confusion over Bosman’s brother’s death in Munich in 1938, an occurrence that could not be verified. See C.G. Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, ed. C.J. Beyers, vol. 4 (Pretoria, Butterworth), p. 39.
Article reprinted in ‘Bosman di Ravelli (1882-1967)’, The South African Music Teacher, no. 73 (December 1967), pp. 13-14, esp. p. 13. In a later interview, Bosman would claim that he could read and write eighteen languages (SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg).
Apart from the published volume, In an Italian mirror (London: Erskine Macdonald, 1921), the Bosman collection in NALN in Bloemfontein contains eighty-eight typed poems (NALN reference number M240/89/474) on loose leaves. In the Loots manuscript Bosman writes about his early reading: Marie Corelli (pseudonym of Mary Mackay), Mrs Henry Wood, Quida (pseudonum of Marie Louise Ramé), Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and the poetry of Byron, Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare. See Loots manuscript, Book 1, unnumbered p. 23-24.
Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, p. 106.
Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, p. 8.
NALN manuscript, p. 7.
Translated from the Afrikaans. Jan Bouws. Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste van vandag en gister [South African composers of today and yesteryear] (Cape Town:1957), pp. 27-29, esp. p. 27.
Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, p. 39.
SABC Archive recording 6509, catalogue number 21/19(58), SABC, Johannesburg.
Since the early twenties of the previous century, Bosman lived near the Baboli Gardens in Florence. In the Merensy manuscript Bosman alleges that he lived there for twenty-five years (p. 185).
Ibid. The Dictionary of South African Biography sets the date as 1955, presumably to bring it in line with its own statement that Bosman performed until 1955. This date has perhaps been inferred from Bosman’s return to South Africa in 1956. See Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, p. 39.
SABC Archive recording 6509, catalogue number 21/19(58), SABC, Johannesburg.
Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, p. 39.
The copy that is reproduced here is in the possession of Alta Roux, whose mother was a cousin of Bosman. Roux got to know Bosman as a child in 1965, and recalls seeing this reproduction on Maggie Laubsher’s desk. All efforts to find the originals of the sketch reproduced here, and the one published in Vita Musica, came to naught. Dalene Marais writes in the preface to her book Maggie Laubser, her paintings, drawings and graphics (Pretoria: Perskor, 1994) – the most comprehensive catalogue on Maggie Loubser’s works to date – that the sketches are ‘well documented and can be viewed at the Art Documentation Centre of the History of Art Department at the Rand Afrikaans University’. However, the History of Art Department was shut down during the 1990s and most of their collection was transferred to the Johannesburg Art Gallery. However, the curator at the Johannesburg Art Gallery assured the present writer that the University would never transfer such valuable art works elsewhere, and knew nothing of their existence. Both the Rare Books Department and the new Arts Centre at the University were unable to help and referred enquiries elsewhere. Further enquiries to Dalene Marais and the Sasol Museum in Stellenbosch (which houses much of Laubser’s work) were unfortunately fruitless. The present writer should like to thank Hilde Roos for her help in conducting this search.
Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, p. 106.

Paul Khaliso on Lesego Rampolokeng’s blackheart

Filed under: literature,paul zisiwe,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 10:36 am

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the “f” word

Filed under: kagapoems — ABRAXAS @ 10:33 am



Filed under: kagapoems — ABRAXAS @ 10:32 am


holy man

Filed under: kagapoems — ABRAXAS @ 10:28 am


June 25, 2017

Kyodai Makes The Big Time

Filed under: 1992 - kyodai makes the big time — ABRAXAS @ 8:48 am


first published here: http://reassurance.tumblr.com/post/162087536135/kyodai-makes-the-big-time-aryan-kaganof-1992

June 22, 2017

Naked Lunch

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 1:21 pm


June 21, 2017

on silence speaking

Filed under: literature,nicola deane,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 12:55 pm

You do not go to the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to lose your personality, to be anonymous. You make yourself void. You become silence. You become more silent than the silence around you. And then something extraordinary happens: you hear silence speak. (Edmond Jabes)

Filed under: art,nicola deane — ABRAXAS @ 12:51 pm


Masixole Mlandu on the university in south africa


June 20, 2017

SMS Sugar Man – Xerxes Cook interviews Aryan Kaganof for Tank Magazine

Filed under: 2008 - sms sugar man — ABRAXAS @ 2:52 pm


first published here: https://www.tankmagazine.com/issue-37/features/critical-reception/


Please read this description of the student rebellion of 1968 with FeesMustFall in mind.


Hearing any participant or eyewitness of the rebellion of young people in Paris in May 1968 is an experience that puts our ability to judge things objectively to the test. In all the accounts I have heard there is one surprising note: the tone of the revolt, at once passionate and disinterested, as if action had been confused with representation: it was like a mutiny that turned into a Festival and a political discussion that turned into a ceremony; epic theater and at the same time public confession.

The secret of the fascination that this movement exercised on all those (including the spectators) who were present at its demonstrations lay in its attempt to unite politics, art, and eroticism. There was a fusion of private and collective passion, a continuous ebb and flow between the marvelous and the everyday, the lived act as an aesthetic representation, a conjunction of action and its celebration.
It was a true conversion: not only a change of ideas but of sensibility; more than a change of being, it was a return to being, a social and psychic revelation that for a few days broadened the limits of reality and extended the realm of the possible.

It was a return to the source, to the principle of principles: being oneself by being with everyone. It was a discovery of the power of language: my words are yours; speaking with you is speaking with myself.

It was a reappearance of everything (communion, transfiguration, the transformation of water into wine and of words into a body) that religions claim as their own though it is anterior to them and constitutes the other dimension of man, his other half and his lost kingdom – man perpetually expelled and torn away from time: in search of another time, a prohibited, inaccessible time: the present moment.
Not the eternity of religions but the incandescence of the instant: a consummation and an abolition of dates.
What is the other way to enter such a present? André Breton once spoke of the possibility of incoporating an extra-religious sense of the sacred, made up of the triangle of love, poetry, and rebellion, into modern life. This sacred cannot emerge from anything but the depths of a collective experience. Society must manifest it, incarnate it, live it, and thus live and consume itself. Revolt as the path to Illumination. Here and now: a leap to the other shore.

June 19, 2017


Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 11:46 pm


art and revolution

Filed under: art,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:08 pm

“There is no art that does not create a style and there is no style that does not eventually kill art. By injecting the idea of revolution into art, our era has created a plurality of styles and pseudostyles. This abundance turns into another abundance: that of styles that die aborning. Schools proliferate and propagate like mushrooms until their very abundance finally erases the differences between one tendency and another; movements live about as long as insects do, a few short hours; the aesthetic of novelty, surprise, and change turns into imitation, tedium, and repetition. What is left for us?”
Octavio Paz
Conjunctions and Disjunctions

June 18, 2017


Filed under: literature,philosophy — ABRAXAS @ 2:16 pm


The idea of process implies that things happen one after the other, either in the form of sudden leaps and bounds (revolution) or in the form of gradual changes (evolution). Progress is a synonym of process because it is thought that every change results sooner or later in an advance. Both modes of succession, the revolutionary and the evolutionary, correspond to a vision of history as a march toward something – we are not exactly certain where this something is, except that this where is better than the situation today, and that it lies in the future. History is envisioned as a continuous, never-ending colonization of the future.

There is something infernal about this optimistic vision of history; the philosophy of progress is really a theory of the condemnation of man, who is doomed perpetually to move forward, knowing that he will never arrive at his final destination.

This way of thinking is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and its mythical counterpart is the expulsion from Eden. In the garden of paradise, a present without a single flaw shone brightly; in the deserts of history, the only sun that guides us is the fleeting future. The subject of this continual pilgrimage is not a nation, a class, or a civilization, but an abstrac entity: humanity. As the subject of history, “humanity” lacks substance; it is never present in person: it acts by means of its representatives, this people or that, this class or that. Persepolis, Rome, or New York, the monarchy or the proletariat, in turn represent humanity at one moment or another of history as a member of the legislature represents his electors, and as an actor represents the character he is playing.

History is a theater in which a single person, humanity, becomes many: servants, masters, bourgeois, mandarins, clergymen, peasants, workers. The incoherent shouting of all these voices turns into a rational dialogue and this dialogue into a philosophical monologue. History is a discourse. But the rebellions of the twentieth century have violated both the rules of dramatic action and those of representation. We have unforeseen irruptions that disturb the linear nature of history. Both the events and the actors betray the text of the play. They write another text, or rather invent one. History becomes improvisation. This is the end of discourse and rational legibility.

Octavio Paz
Conjunctions and Disjunctions

June 15, 2017

Filed under: sex — ABRAXAS @ 7:07 pm


an interview with Tsietsi Mashinini

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 6:31 am

the president of the Soweto Students Representative Council and a central leader of the mass student protests that began in Soweto in June 1976


Question: Could you tell us what life is like in Soweto?

Answer: I don’t know in what way I can portray the picture. But Soweto is the biggest Black township in South Africa. It has about 80,000 houses, which are inhabited by more than one million people. I came from a family of twelve kids. And my parents make it fourteen. We stayed in a four room house, and the rooms are about eight by ten. Very few houses have electricity. Of those with electricity, most of them belong to the in Soweto had wages just to keep them alive, and not to have any other needs a human being has. Bourgeoisie in Soweto. It is ghetto life all the way. Very few gas stoves around. There are lots of basic needs people cannot afford, because of very low wages. In fact, when a survey was done in 1974 it was found that 60 percent of people in Soweto had wages just to keep them alive, and not to have any other needs a human being has. You don’t own any property except your furniture. The house is not yours – it belongs to the Bantu Administration Board. You are in the urban areas for the purpose of either schooling or working. If you are not doing either of the two, you are sent to the Homelands. Soweto has very few recreational facilities. It has two cinemas, about six municipal halls, and scattered playgrounds here and there. It has almost 300 schools, from grade level Sub A through matriculation. There is no university in Soweto. If you want to go to university, you go to one of the tribal universities.


Q. You mentioned bourgeois layers in Soweto. Can you explain that further?

A. They are a very small percentage. In fact they have a special township, a place for the rich, called Dube. That is where you find most of the big houses and mansions. Most of the people who stay there are doctors, lawyers, and people who have got the best jobs in town. The rest of the people are labourers and drivers. They constitute 85 percent.


Q. Could you describe the conditions in the schools and the education system for Blacks in South Africa?

A. Besides having to buy everything you need at school, you pay high school fees. There are a number of bursaries that are granted on merit, but usually they are granted to students from rich families. The classes have almost eighty pupils in them. There are two or three on a desk even at high school. At primary school level you sit down on benches in rows with no desks at all. Our schools don’t have heaters. The school simply has a classroom, a blackboard, and the Department of Bantu Education provides the chalk and writing material for the blackboard. Everything else in the classroom is provided by the pupils. After April, the Bantu Education Constitution laid down that if you have not paid the fees you should be sent out from the school. If you don’t wear the proper school uniform every day, you are liable to expulsion. Teachers cane you for whatever offence, and each school has its own regulations. The school I came from, you enter at 7 a.m and school goes out at 5:30 p.m, with two breaks in between: one at ten o’clock for twenty minutes and a lunch break between one and two o’clock. You get punished for not having shoelaces, belts, ties, and buttons. And if you are a girl and you are wearing a tunic, you get punished if your buttons do not correspond to your tunic. In South Africa, the teaching is very impersonal and indifferent. It’s only in rare cases where you find the teacher with an interest in his students or pupils. Most of the time the teacher just comes in, gives you work, and goes out.


Q. Are all the teachers Black?

A. Yes, all Black. In my school there was a white teacher. He came this year and was not well received by the students. I understand there are almost eighty white teachers in high schools all over South Africa. This is supposed to project an image overseas that Blacks and whites are living quite happily, that we even have white teachers in Black schools. I don’t know how many times that teacher nearly got beaten up at school by students because of the bitterness the Black people have.


Q. Can you describe how the recent student protests developed around the Afrikaans language?

A. We don’t have much political education in South Africa and most of the material you read out here is banned in South Africa or it is for the whites only. So you come to realise that you know very little about the outside world except when Kissinger is going to Zurich. That, they announce. The local papers concentrate on local news. Newspaper reading has never been the interest of students for a very long period, because the newspapers were white. A South African high-school student because it was there that the eruption started, at high-school level around the South African Students Organization-cannot tell you that Transkei is another aspect of oppression because of this and this. But in some way or another, the student understands and indentifies all elements of oppression like this Afrikaans thing-that is, our education, which is simply to domesticate you to be a better tool for the white man for the white man when you go and join the working community.

Q. Until now all teaching was done in English?

A. Yes all the time.

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Q. And now the proposal was to make all teaching in Afrikaans, or just some of it?

A. Every student is doing seven subjects, at least until high-school level: the two official languages, English and Afrikaans, your mother tongue, and four other subjects. This Afrikaans policy compelled you to do two of the subjects in Afrikaans and two in English. With the type of education we have and where you do not have much material to research on, students find difficulty in understanding the concepts involved in physics, biology, and geography. And now, if you do all these things in a language you are not conversant in, and the teacher has never been taught to teach in Afrikaans – Afrikaans has got very circles in society because everywhere the medium of English is used, except in official pamphlets where Afrikaans and English is used – and all the time for almost eleven years you have been taught through the medium of English, it is difficult to switch over. A number of junior secondary schools went on strike a then some went back. But there was one in particular, Phuti, which went on strike for six weeks and they would not go back until Afrikaans was scrapped as a medium of instruction. When any school was involved in an incident of some sort, the press built it up as another protest against the Afrikaans language. There was an incident at Naledi high school where security branch officers went to pick up a student for detention. When the go there, the students decide to beat up the security branch officers and burn their car. The press picked that up as another protest of Afrikaans medium of instruction and then it was the talk of the township. We were getting sick and tired because instead of oppression being gradually removed from us, the system was in fact implementing some of the thoughts of oppressing us. I realized that people were fed up with this sort of thing, but nobody had the guts to start anything. I decided that if we were to demonstrate it would have an effect because there has never been a demonstration before in Soweto. There were demonstrations some time before we were born or when we were little kids, like Sharpeville demonstration – of which we know very little because any material written material, about Sharpeville was banned. We heard that the students of the University of Witwatersrand had demonstrated. So I thought that if we could demonstrate it would be something out of the way. I was the president of the South African Student Movement [SASM] at my high school, Morris Isaacson. I called the students together, and on the Wednesday a week before June 16, we talked about it. I delivered the speech on the South African situation and got the students in a mood to do anything.
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I gave them the briefing for the demonstration. On Saturday, we put a placard at the school gates saying: “Notice – no Security Branch allowed. Enter at risk of your skin.” Now the press put that up again as another protest against the Afrikaans issue. On Sunday there was a SASM meeting of all the students in Soweto. I went to the meeting and got a few chaps from the other schools to help me, and we decide to mobilize all the high schools and junior secondary schools. We did that on Monday and Tuesday, and then on Wednesday we went on the streets demonstrating. We were very peaceful all the time and there were just placards denouncing Afrikaans as another method of oppression. The idea was coverage on this junior secondary school, and there, myself and a number of other students had drawn up a memorandum to the effect that we Soweto students totally rejected Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and we were not going back until this was scrapped. We were converged already, and I still trying to tell, the students to settle downs so that we could address them properly, when the cops started shooting.


Q. How many students were involved on June 16?

A. The press put it at 10 000. I am not very good at estimating how many people were there, but I have seen what 10 000 people are. And if I was to compare that demonstration with others, I we had the biggest crowd on June 16. I think nearly all the students in central, north, east, and west Soweto were involved. Only the South was not involved.


Q. How were the workers strikes organized after the student protests?

A. After June 16 we realized that there were too many killings, we tried to get a method whereby we could hit the system, and reduce the casualties. As we did not have guns, our only weapon was to cripple the economy of the country, lies in Black hands. So the idea was to stop workers going to work. So we sent work to the parents, the workers. We requested that from such and such a date to such and such a date nobody should go to work. And that is how the workers came into it. They pledged solidarity with the student and stayed at home. We distributed pamphlets, and students were circulating them, that is how there organized. All the time they wanted to be involved in the struggle, but there was no concrete organization which could announce “Don’t go to work could work” could only be done through students.


Q. Are Black workers being organized on a large scale?

A. Yes I have seen of the underground work.

Q. The clash between some of the hostel workers and the other residents of Soweto what caused that?

A. Now, in the course of the struggle since the Black Consciousness Movement was established and even since Mandela time, the hostel dwellers were always overlooked as a sector of the community. Not much consciousness raising was done, so the system went to these people and told them to kill Black leaders. They gave them pictures of Black leaders, mine was included. They gave them numbers of houses to burn belonging to Black leaders. So, we knew about this, but we were not in a position to do anything. It was confirmed that the system had mobilized all the hostels and fortunate enough some of the hostels did not participate. Only one hostel did participate in the murder of Black people. Immediately afterwards, the Black community reorganized itself to pick the people who did not want to pledge themselves in solidarity with the Black students. But the hostel dwellers became aware of the fact that the system was just using them and so they pledged solidarity with the students. Now they are hitting very hard against the system. The only thing which will happen is that it won’t be reported what the hostel dwellers are doing against the system. It will only be reported what they are doing against the students.


Q. What was the Students Representative Council?

A. The SRC was formed after June 16 when we were planning the second demonstration for the release of the detainees, requested each school to send two representatives. We did not want the thing to appear as if it was organized by SASM, otherwise SASM would be declared a restricted organization. By even so, all members of SASM were detained and I’m the only one left of the national and regional executive councils.


Q. Have all the leaders of SASO and the Black People’s Convention been detained?

A. Yes, all of them. The SASO general student council was from July 5 to July 9. The national president was elected after the riots, was then detained in connection with the riots. Before the demonstrations Mongezi Stofile was an ordinary student, but after he was elected national president he was detained in connection with the riots.


Q. Do you have any connection with the ANC OR PAC?

A. I will tell you something. The ANC and PAC played their part in the South Africa struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. Right now there are ex-members of the ANC in the whole of South Africa. But they are not politically active, that is, have a concept of perpetuating the activity of the ANC or PAC political ideology. As far as the students in South Africa are concerned, the ANC and PAC are extinct internally. Externally we are aware they exist. Internally they are doing no work. There may be some underground work they are doing which we are not aware of, but as far as the struggle is concerned they are not doing anything.


Q. Do you think there is a different political outlook between the old movements, the ANC and PAC, and the Black Consciousness Movement?

A. Yes there is. There were a number of clashes between ANC and BCM leaders, because the ANC leaders did not want to recognise the BCM as a liberation movement.

Q. Why didn’t they want to recognise the BCM?

A. They did not want to understand why BCM was formed when ANC was the liberation movement. But ANC was banned inside the country, so a new liberation front had to come.


Q. Can you say something more about the BCM, its origins and links with similar movements elsewhere?

A. The BCM was formed in 1968. There were student councils in Natal, Orange Freestate, all over South Africa. They came together and formed SASO – that’s the mother body of SASM. SASO and SASM belong to the students, SASO at the university level and SASM at high school to lower primary level. Then there is the Black People’s Convention (BPC) with the Black community, the Black Allied Workers Union with the workers and the Union of Black Women federations which concerned themselves with different sectors of the community. Then ideology is the same: to make the Black man more conscious of the evil of the white man, elements of oppression, and so on. The ideology concerned is to peacefully bring about a change in the South African social aspect and to bring about total liberation of the Black man. The BCM, which is a very strong movement, gained momentum from 1972 until the death of Tiro, the person who established SASM in 1972 and was assassinated by a letter bomb in 1974 in Botswana. He was permanent organizer of SASM and was the first national president of SASM at the high school level. He was one of the Black leaders who died for the Black course.


Q. We have heard that the BCM is influenced by ideas from the American Black National Movement?

A. I am not sure. I myself have read very little material about the Black Power Movement in America. The students in South Africa do not identify Black Power the way it is identified in America. I don’t even know how it is identified in America. I believe that Black Power is the realization of the people of oppression. Immediately they realize they are oppressed they regroup themselves to fight against the system. As long as there is a Black person oppressed in South Africa, there will be Black movements which will result in the concept of Black Power – the eruption of the Black masses. Black Power is every Black person in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Q. To what extent have you involved sections of the Asians and Coloured populations?

A. The ideology of the BCM defines BLACKNESS as an attitude of mind, and not of the colour of the skin. So it makes provision for the Coloured and Indian population to be involved in the BCM. The Black man is any member of the South African community. The difference between the Coloureds, Indians and Blacks is that Blacks are not referred to as Blacks but Africans. If you want to differentiate between the three groups, one is African one is Indian, and one Coloured. They are all referred to as Blacks.


Q. What have you read in South Africa? Are books and pamphlets smuggled in which give people an idea as to what happens in the rest of Africa?

A. There are a number of books which are smuggled into the country. A lot of people possess banned material. You just do not lend it to people to read because that is where the offence is, by giving it to people, by circulating it. So if you have banned material you keep it to yourself. If the system picks you up and you are in possession of banned material, that is another offence. The first banned book I read was the Immorality Act, which is a story written by a judge about a white man who was in love with a Black woman. The next was this book by Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom. There are quite a number of copies in South Africa. Mostly what is not banned are SASO and SASM newsletters, but they are banned after a month or two. Since June 16, everything that was Black was banned even before it was released.

Q. What about Marxist books? Books by Marx and Lenin?

A. Not even in the libraries. I only learned what it was when I was in Botswana in exile, that the concept of Marxism is based on “each according to his abilities, each according to his needs “. Then I realized that this was exactly what we were fighting for in South Africa. If you ask the people what type of government they would like to have, a person cannot articulate in those terms but a person can tell you that those people in Dube are rich and other people in White City eat cow dung and this is obscene. That a person gets R 40 and the other person gets R 140 for the same kind of job per month. If these things could be equal people would live better. In such parables people will tell you exactly what they want: and when you come to analyse it all, they want Marxism. They have been oppressed and suppressed for so long they only want to leave in an equal society.


Q. How did developments in Mozambique and Angola affect the Blacks in South Africa?

A. It brought political awareness of the potential Black people carried in their hands. SASO tried to have a rally sometime before the independence of Mozambique and that rally was banned. Now, I was a political infant, and the question arose in my mind why was this rally banned? You turned to like everything the regime hates. They don’t like anything to do with Frelimo; then you are for Frelimo. When they were fighting Cubans and Angolans in Angola, then we were for those people they don’t like. The fact that they don’t like communism makes you think what communism is, and “no, I think I want this.” They are not aware that they are creating this type of thing. The system more or less made me what I am now because of their constant oppression. My character was built by the environment that I lived in. That is why I claim that I am not the only Tsietsi Mashinini – there are lots of other students who will become active because of what the system is doing to them.

Koketso “Tsietsi Mashinini” Poho

Q. Because of the level of repression since June 16, do you think that the South African regime will be able to crush this movement?

A. I think they will ban the BCM and claim that they are behind all this. But a new liberation front will come up. They are going to drive the people underground, because the people are going to be afraid to act the way the BCM has done. A lot of underground work is going to be done without the knowledge of the system. They will only see various acts of underground work, but they won’t know who is responsible. The system itself has created so many enemies. There were people who sympathized with the BCM, but did not want to have anything to do with politics for fear of detention. The system was raiding almost fifty homes a night after June 16, looking for that person or this person. So many people were killed or detained. So many people have grudges against the system that they are prepared to do anything against the system anytime. So many mothers have lost their children. So many fathers have lost their children. So many husbands have lost their wives. That is because of the system.
In fact, I would say that the system has done more to heighten consciousness than SASO, SASM, and BPC have managed in their history.

Q. Do you see the struggle continuing for ten years?

A. Ten years? Five!

Q. You don’t see the present as a short outburst?

A. I see the downfall of the system in five years.

Q. Do you think that it is possible for the regime to do what it did after Sharpeville and crush the movement?

A. They cannot. If they want to stop Black Power they have to put every Black person in detention. Because as long as there are Black people outside, the struggle will go on.

Q. Do you think it will be possible to organize a powerful, political organization underground in South Africa that could lead a struggle for power by the Blacks?

A. I think there is already a strong, underground liberation movement, the BPC.

Q. Not people from the ANC or PAC?

A. I understand that the ANC has its own underground liberation movement. But there cannot be one underground liberation movement. Because say fifty people are active in this liberation movement, these people cannot come out in public to say, “We are doing this.” So they are acting on their own. Their results will cause people to say, “Such and such has happened. Let’s try do it in such a way.” So there are going to be a lot of underground movements. And I see them as the people who, in fact, are going to start the revolution in South Africa. That is if the people in exile don’t start anything before them.


Q. What do you think of the Kissinger talks with Vorster?

A. We are aware of the role of Kissinger with his peace talks. The peace talks mean that Kissinger is representing the Western world in South Africa. The Western world has economic interests in South Africa. The Black masses are revolting against the racist regime. Kissinger has got to establish peace in South Africa such that their interests are not tampered with. The Black student is just beginning to realise his fight is not just against the racist regime, but that the racist regime has got its power resources in the whole of the Western world. And that is why they are rejecting people like Kissinger and so on.

Q. What attitude do you think the neighboring states should take towards the South African struggles?

A. If they could make military aid available to the South African struggle it would contribute a lot because that is the only language the people want to understand now. Armed struggle against the racist regime, that’s the only thing they see as possible to bring us total freedom. If you could look into the history of the struggle, you could see that all other means have been exhausted. The only thing left is armed struggle against the racist regime. When we protest in demonstrations, we are mad because we don’t have guns. When we try to negotiate, it is always said the government is still considering for indefinite period. And if anybody comes into leadership, they are detained for indefinite period. The racist regime created so many draconian laws to prove itself against the Blacks that if you obey the South African laws there would be political movement in South Africa.

Q. What about the credibility of Buthelezi and other chiefs?

A. They have much support from the hostel dwellers and people from their vicinities. But the Black students and Black parents in urban areas, where much of the Black population is, totally reject Homeland leaders because they are aware of the issue of Homelands and what it means.

Q. What do you think of the Bantustans?

A. Bantustans are supposed to be independent, but they cannot be independent when they are dependent on the racist regime. If the Bantustans have their own parliament, prime ministers and legislative assembly, the final word will always come from Pretoria. Whatever they want to do on a Homeland scale, the final word always comes from Pretoria.The Black people do not recognise any leader who is working within the system to try and bring about a change. All leaders of the government platform only speak that far and not further. Immediately they go over their limit, they are just sacked from their position. Homeland leaders and some new people are brought in. Pretoria is creating all the puppets – a dozen a day – because they are aware the political role these people could play to try and suppress the protests of the people. Now we do not recognise them, especially the students, who constitute a very powerful liberation front. As long as the students do not recognise the Homeland leaders, urban Bantu councilors, and so on, everybody within the government framework. Their independence shall be recognized by the regime only, not by the people.

Q. What message will you have for the people in Britain, France or the USA to help the struggle?

A. For one, by not recognizing the coming independence of Transkei which is just a political swindle as far as I am concerned, between Blacks and whites in South Africa. The people must understand that the racist regime is dependant entirely on Britain and other countries for arms and so on. And if they don’t support the racist regime it is entirely their duty to end to make sure that Britain cuts all ties with South Africa.


1. Afrikaans is the Dutch based language of the Boer section of the white population.
2. Migrant workers in the urban areas generally housed in barracks like hostels so as to isolate them
from the rest of the population.
3. Nelson Mandela a central leader of the African National Congress in the 1950s and early 1960s. He
is now serving a life sentence on Robben Island.
4. African national Congress and Pan Africanist Congress.
5. South Africa’s Black population is composed of 17.8 million Africans, 2.3 million Coloureds,
710 000 Indians. The Indians were originally brought to South Africa as indentured workers,
and the Coloured are descendents of the early White Settlers. Indians, Malay slaves, KhoiKhoi,
San, and other African people.
6. Frente de Libertcao de Mocabique (Mozambique Liberation Front).

June 12, 2017

Willemien Froneman: Ex-Centric Hermeneutics in Stephanus Muller’s Nagmusiek

Filed under: literature,reviews,stephanus muller,The Legend of Jiwe — ABRAXAS @ 9:51 am



In this review article the author reads Nagmusiek – Stephanus Muller’s monumental metafictional biography of South African composer Arnold van Wyk – as an extended allegory on the geopolitics of academic writing. She argues that the book articulates, through its unusual physical apparatus, narratological techniques and metafictional hermeneutic deconcealment, a valuable theory-in-praxis of the aporetics of peripheral writing. In so doing, Muller materializes Walter Mignolo’s notion of ‘epistemic delinking’ in radically original and risky ways.
Keywords: decolonial hermeneutics, delinking, peripheral writing, biography, Arnold van Wyk, South African art music, geopolitics of academic writing

Stephanus Muller, Nagmusiek (Johannesburg: Fourthwall Books, 2014). 3 vols. ISBN 978-0-9922263-2-9.

Volume I: Arnold van Wyk: Katalogus en werklys van musiek 1925-1983 [Arnold van Wyk: Catalogue and work list of music, 1925–1983], 228 pp.

Volume II: Eindnotas, Bladwyser (algemeen), Bladwyser (Van Wyk werke) [End notes, Index (General), Index (Van Wyk works)], 148 pp.

Volume III: Nagmusiek [Night Music]. 540 pages including 1 foldout, 2 photographs, 1 typescript, 1 pocket size score. Afrikaans and English.


Surprising for a biographical project on a South African composer, Oxford – as physical site and allegorical setting – is present throughout Stephanus Muller’s Nagmusiek. ‘I had only recently arrived in Oxford’, the narrator recalls, ‘when David Gombrich (1) enquired about my study’:

‘Musicology,’ I tried to cut the conversation short. I always cut conversations short, but back then it was almost pathological.

‘But what?’

‘The institutionalized discourse about music,’ was my well-rehearsed response.

In retrospect it sounds preposterous and uncharacteristically impudent of me. I did not know who Gombrich was. I did not know academics like him. Indignation resounded in his eyes. He held my descent in his sustained gaze, and calculated it to the nothing it meant in a place like Oxford. This was, I realized then, a place where people know what musicologists do. (2)


In another incident the narrator, buttressed by the requisite academic dress, makes his way to St Catherine’s College for his doctoral defence. He had spent the previous evening formulating lengthy responses (in Afrikaans) to questions about the identity and function of musical works of art in his reading of Arnold van Wyk’s Missa in illo tempore. But his examiners do not interrogate him on any of these matters. Later that year the degree DPhil is conferred to him in the Sheldonian Theatre with a thesis entitled ‘Sounding Margins: Musical Representations of White South Africa’. (3)

These misfirings – one dramatic, the other archetypal in its dreamlike parapraxis – illustrate the breach between the things that matter in a place like Oxford and those that matter elsewhere; say, in a place like South Africa. It is not a breach of the institutional discourse of music per se, or a lack of disciplinary proficiency on the part of the narrator. Rather, the breach becomes discernible only through the subaltern’s reluctance, or incapacity, to take up the role of universal participant in that discourse – a role ostensibly on offer to him in each of these episodes. (4)

Upon his return to South Africa, and despite his intimations of a professional breach, the fresh graduate attempts to reinstall Oxford in his immediate surroundings. At night he labours on his new project – a biography of Arnold van Wyk – by the light of a Headington lamp. A jacket of soft Scottish tweed, bought in Oxford, but wholly unsuited to the South African climate, becomes essential to his elaborate interviewing kit. Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy is always at hand. (Who, he wonders, writes a 1000-page book and pretends someone else has written it?) And, in the most sustained allegory of the process of becoming unmoored from the discourses of the centre, he moves into a ground floor apartment in the heart of the Cape Winelands, where he obsesses over cultivating a square of lawn: ‘perfect turf in every way … my small patch of Christ Church in Stellenbosch.’(5)

These are some of the story points of the metafictional frame Stephanus Muller has devised to narrate the process of writing the life of Arnold van Wyk. Nagmusiek, meaning ‘Night Music’ and referencing one of Van Wyk’s most accomplished compositions for piano, is told from the perspective of fictional musicologist, Werner Ansbach, who stands before the dilemma of fashioning a story out of an excess of archival material, perspectives, opinions and nuances that are increasingly spinning out of his control. Parallel to the proliferation of his intellectual predicaments, described in underground metaphors of ‘burrowing’, ‘digging’ and ‘blind tunnelling’, a labour of moles colonizes and starts upheaving his perfectly maintained turf. As he tries to repress the invaders, exhausting every humane mole deterrent in the process, things start going south for Ansbach in every other way.

At the very least, books sold in bookstores are expected to have a front and back cover and a spine. Nagmusiek’s three volumes enclosed in a slipcase hover suspended in a 360-degree field of vision as if the art of bookmaking had especially to be reinvented for it.


In some sense this is indeed what Muller is proposing. In the first instance a biography of the South African composer Arnold van Wyk, Nagmusiek was awarded several South African literary prizes in 2014 – in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. Volume I is a painstakingly compiled catalogue of all Van Wyk’s works and sketches, including programme notes and reviews. Cross-references to letters and other documents housed at the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS) at Stellenbosch University, in which the individual works are discussed, are also included. Volume II comprises the notes and index, and Volume III is the biographical narrative proper. When grabbing the wrong end of the case the individual volumes tumble out along with every conventional sense of academic turf maintenance (Figure 1). It soon becomes clear that the book’s ambition as a serious, multi-volume reference biography – which it is – is only half the equation. Equally determining of Muller’s concept is the audible grinding of gears as he writes this complicated, interlocking and disturbingly self-aware text into existence.

It is the book’s metafictional narrative depth, catechismal both in form and dimension, that lends itself to all sorts of allegorical readings. For Chris Walton the book is ‘an engrossing allegory of South Africa and Afrikanerdom in the 20th century’ that asks ‘troubling questions about the relationship between art, academia and fascism’, (6)

while Juliana Pistorius reads it as using the example of one life ‘to examine larger questions on the construction of biography, on music and its role in a discriminatory environment, and the sometimes blurred lines between life and fiction’. (7)


To this one might add that it shines a rather desultory light on the current state of South African academic life, and on music studies in particular. Nagmusiek captivates because its fictional allegories are so obviously workings-out of real and painful professional experiences: a late coming-of-age story of a South African academic who, trained in an English tradition of disinterested tolerance, has to confront the challenge of holding together an ambitious intellectual project in a very different political and academic environment. This environment is rarely addressed directly; rather its outline and effects are sketched through the private psychological and libidinal investments of the book’s protagonist, of which his obsession with maintaining a patch of Oxbridge lawn is a pertinent example.

Considered in the wake of the polemics surrounding Fredric Jameson’s much maligned words that ‘[third-world texts] necessarily project a political dimension in the form of national allegory’, (8)

I read Nagmusiek as an extended parable on the geopolitics of academic writing. In particular, I argue that it articulates a valuable metacritical position on the hermeneutics of peripheral texts. From the outset, then, it should be evident that my own project is essentially paradoxical. In considering the place the book might find in international discourses by arguing for its importance as peripheral text, and by addressing you, an international English-speaking audience, I am at risk of merely confirming the geopolitics of periphery/centre that govern the global business of academic writing. Viewed from this perspective, the best I can hope for is to theorize Nagmusiek into the margins of the Anglophone mainstream. Such are the anxieties of every peripheral writer, and unpacking the reasoning behind this anxiety – especially the implicit assumptions about academic canonization – is particularly important to my argument.



‘You South Africans are so fixated on theory, because that’s all you have,’ a Cambridge professor once told me. He was right, of course. At least in the sense that the geopolitical locations we write from and the academic currency of the topics we choose to write about fundamentally determine our theoretical and methodological approaches – and that is true enough for all of us. But according to this centric vision the efforts of geographically peripheral writers (like me, or like Stephanus Muller), should we choose to engage with ‘ex-centric’ material (like Nagmusiek, or the life and work of Arnold van Wyk), are inevitably directed towards alignment with a centric ideal. As a result of the theoretical prerogatives of this directive, marking the material as peripheral even while ostensibly providing an avenue for opening it up for absorption into the mainstream, such writing is forever doomed to the margins. This view dictates, in other words, that where scholars of the centre can use theory – playfully, lightly – to embellish their work with intellectual predicaments, scholars of the periphery can only ever use theory to illustrate centric relevance. Put yet another way: where scholars of the centre can focus on the characteristics and landmarks of the academic-theoretical landscape, the basic prefiguration of peripheral writing is attentiveness to the ‘mappiness’ of the world map of theory – its folds, flaws, tears and errors of scale. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the strategy customarily used by scholars of the periphery to make themselves heard in the global arena is to capitalize on the ‘internal contradictions, gaps, loopholes, and niches in the structures of the dominant groups to initiate a resistance from the inside’. (9)

This approach, however, only confirms the telos of Western capitalist modernity, which decrees, in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s well-known formulation: ‘First in Europe, then elsewhere.’ (10)


Any attempt to canonize peripheral knowledge therefore presents a rather intractable scholarly problem, not to mention displaying an almost inevitable tendency to sound whiny, hagiographic or both.

These constraints form the basis of the very first discussion of Van Wyk in the biographical narrative of Volume III. Speaking from the knowledge economies of the centre the existence of Nagmusiek is highly implausible – and not only on account of its odd structure or expensive minimalist exterior. There is no international scholarly trend or corpus of writing whose logical trajectory would inevitably have pointed to the gap in our knowledge of the life and works of this largely unknown composer, born, as Walton writes in his review of the book, in ‘a tiny nowhere place in the midst of a much bigger nowhere’. Despite the lure of wine and mountains, a tribe of Van Wyk scholars is not about to descend on Stellenbosch. ‘Fact is’, discloses the biographer in the opening chapter, ‘few people outside South Africa knew about Arnold van Wyk or his music – even in 1983 [the year of his death]’, ‘internationally it is only a small group of older musicians and academics, primarily in Britain, who still recognizes the name’, and even in South Africa Arnold van Wyk is known only within a small academic circle. (11)

These disclosures about the composer’s relative (un)importance are anchored to a transcript of an obituary read at his funeral service. Here Muller highlights the stark difference in the assessment of the centre and periphery respectively. Where John Lowe of the BBC wrote in 1951 about Van Wyk’s First Symphony: ‘I do not feel able to recommend it for a broadcast, but, of course, you may have special Overseas policy events for it – it is quite interesting and well scored and should not offend any wavelength,’ the obituary reads:

Screen shot 2017-06-12 at 12.29.42 PM

Arnold van Wyk, who died [on March 27, 1983] in the Jan S. Marais hospital in Bellville, was not only the first South African composer to win international recognition on our behalf, but our foremost composer, the doyen of our music. He placed us on the world map of composition. (12)

In what he calls a series of ‘intuitive, loose, playful deconstructions’ the biographer offers several readings of the claim that Van Wyk was the ‘first’, the ‘foremost’ and the ‘doyen’ of South African composition. This is aimed not only at contextualizing the historical particulars of Van Wyk’s influence, but as a means of thinking about the different angles the biography might have taken and the alternative stories it might have told. Implied in these shifts of perspective is also the question of the reception each of these approaches might be expected to have in a broader scholarly context.

On the metaphorical world map of composition Van Wyk’s local and global importance vacillates with each iteration of the argument. Is the claim that Van Wyk was South Africa’s foremost composer to be deconstructed by the fact that he could hardly be seen as representative of the whole of South Africa in 1983, or should the statement be seen as a ‘more general and universal ideological viewpoint’ in a modernist clash between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture? Is the claim indicative of Van Wyk’s embroilment in a nationalist drive for the ‘own’, or does it mostly reveal the provincialism of South African art music discourse? (13)


Should the biography make room for localized socio-political inquiry, or is it the fact that Van Wyk was an exponent of a ‘notated, learned, Western musical tradition’ that should occupy the biographer?

Rather than in the particulars of each approach the biographer is primarily interested in the ironic counterpoint between them: (14) in the fact that the image of Van Wyk grows and shrinks and mutates from whichever angle one views him. Such questions about perspective and scholarly strategy, one could argue, are common to all academic inquiry, but in this instance the tension is explicitly (if ironically) anchored to the obituarist’s evocation of a ‘world map of composition’ and its imagined musicological corollaries. In other words, it is not only Van Wyk’s relationship to the Western musical canon that occupies the biographer. He is also interested in considering the institutions, theoretical discourses and methodological approaches that would best assist the biographer in ‘accompanying [Van Wyk] past his death to immortality’. (15)

How, the subaltern biographer is asking oxymoronically, can I canonize what is essentially peripheral?



Nagmusiek can be seen as part of a larger body of scholarship proposing alternative approaches to the problem of canonizing peripheral knowledge. Walter Mignolo characterizes the ethos of this work as ‘epistemic delinking’. Mignolo’s point of departure is that the ‘rhetoric of modernity’ and the ‘logic of coloniality’ are two poles of a power differential between the West and its Others that has marked entire parts of the globe as mentally and economically backward in order to sustain the West’s ideology of progress. (16)

The first aim of delinking – a ‘de-colonial epistemic shift [that] brings to the foreground other epistemologies, other principles of knowledge and understanding and, consequently, other economies, other politics, other ethics’ – is to understand the geopolitical situatedness of knowledge production. (17)


Mignolo refers to this as the locus of enunciation, which, in the case of Western knowledge production, is assumed to be universal. Mignolo outlines the factors involved in the authorization of knowledge as a function of hermeneutics that engages every aspect of the process of understanding and interpretation:

[T]he audience addressed and the researcher’s agenda are equally relevant to the construction of the object or subject, as are the information and models available to the understanding subject. Thus, the locus of enunciation is as much a part of the knowing and understanding processes as are the data for the disciplinary (e.g., sociological, anthropological, historical, semiological, etc.) construction of the ‘real.’ Consequently, the ‘true’ account of a subject matter, in the form of knowledge or understanding, will be transacted in the respective communities of interpretation as much for its correspondence to what is taken to be real as for the authorizing locus of enunciation constructed in the very act of describing an object or a subject. Furthermore, the locus of enunciation of the discourse being read would not be understood in itself but in the context of previous loci of enunciation that the current discourse contests, corrects, or expands. It is as much the saying (and the audience involved) as it is what is said (and the world referred to) that preserves or transforms the image of the real constructed by previous acts of saying. (18)


If one takes Mignolo’s constructivist approach to knowledge seriously – that is, if knowledge cannot be separated from its locus of enunciation – canonization, too, must take on an expanded meaning. The ‘canon’, then, is a complex hermeneutic system wherein the world of the researcher, the world as described in academic language, and the interpretative horizon of scholarly audiences, intersect according to a logic of scholarly authorization that mirrors and sustains the unequal distribution of global power. Yet Mignolo’s hope is that the delinking project will not result in the existence of a ‘major’ and a ‘minor’ canon, or in a set of alternative canons, but in ‘heterotopic’ bodies of knowledge that operate according to their own idiosyncratic rules, thereby breaking through the modern/colonial binary.


This idea – that peripheral knowledge relies for its proper articulation on a hermeneutic system that has to be reconstructed as if from scratch – is powerfully demonstrated in Nagmusiek. In explaining his approach to cataloguing Van Wyk’s archive, the result of which is included in Volume I of Nagmusiek, Ansbach has the following exchange with one of his interlocutors:

‘A page by page commentary and description. It will take me many years to complete.’

‘But surely you don’t need to do all of this just to write a biography?’

‘I’m not just writing a biography, if I may say so. I’m discovering a lost world. And my sense of fear, my suspicion of the violence inherent in cataloguing is, I have come to realize, the result of the unwrought and confused richness of the territory I’m mapping. And my desire to control it.’ (19)

In Nagmusiek this ‘lost world’ is shown to consist not only of the experiential world of the composer, but also, among other things, the theoretical frames, the literary apparatus and the idiosyncratic intellectual space its author has had to devise to bring the book into being, and, in this sense, under his control. Through the formal structure of the book, and its physical and literary apparatus, Muller shows how the veracity of the image/s he is constructing of Van Wyk, and, hence, their canonical potential, are intertwined not only with perceived correspondences to what is taken to be real, but, perhaps more importantly, with ‘the authorizing locus of enunciation constructed in the very act of describing an object or a subject’, as Mignolo puts it.


Taking his cue from Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative, Muller explicitly materializes in Nagmusiek the three overlapping worlds of Ricoeur’s model of interpretation. In the context of a biographical project, Mimesis1 refers to the life-world of the biographical subject, available to the biographer only in its chaotic material deposits. This is most convincingly portrayed by the catalogues of Van Wyk’s works in Volume 1, but also by the photographs, lists of insignificant facts, and other archival material embedded in Sebaldian fashion within Volume 3. Mimesis2, the emplotment of the material within a narrative, corresponds with Muller’s configuration of the factual data of Van Wyk’s life into a story. The three extensive chronologies of Van Wyk’s life best materialize this stage. But Muller also complicates Ricoeur’s model with an additional layer: the mimesis of process. He works out the third hermeneutic world, where the biographer’s horizon of understanding merges with and is transfigured by the story of the composer’s life by creating the character of Werner Ansbach, who inserts himself as agent in the invention of all three hermeneutic worlds.


At the start of the narrative of Volume III, the fictional biographer’s self-deprecation reminds strongly of Julian Barnes’s Geoffrey Braithwaite in Flaubert’s Parrot. His ‘listless list-making’, the three extended life chronologies of Van Wyk around which the narrative takes shape, and the inclusion of writing in a range of registers and formats also recall Barnes’s text. On the surface the function of the metafictional conceit seems similar too: the fictional narrator serves to portray the interpretative violence of bending the excessive documentary remains of a life into the constraints of a narrative biography, questioning notions of completeness, significance and the accuracy of historical understanding.

But, as the narrative progresses, the brutality of Ansbach’s self-derision points to something more than a postmodern literary-technical problem circumvented by resorting to metafictional conceit. What sets it apart from other texts that could be classified, following Linda Hutcheon, as ‘historiographic metafiction’, (20) is that Nagmusiek makes a serious claim to knowledge; it is an attempt at ‘metafictional historiography’. In his radical departure from the safety nets of academic writing, of which its ascription to real authors and its status as non-fiction were hitherto incontrovertible values, Muller transforms the playful deconstructive intellectualism of postmodern fiction into a form of scholarly self-reflection directly related to the problem of peripheral writing. The metafictional mirror in Nagmusiek is not only that of a Narcissus, but also of a Ngũgĩ.

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Through metafictional techniques Muller gives form to the hermeneutics of doubleness that arises inevitably from working outside the lines of the Western canon. J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, another fictional character used to examine peripheral authors and their writing, articulates this doubleness as follows:

The English novel … is written in the first place by English people for English people. The Russian novel is written by Russians for Russians. But the African novel is not written by Africans for Africans. African novelists may write about Africa, about African experience, but they are glancing over their shoulder all the time as they write at the foreigners who will read them. Whether they like it or not, they have assumed the role of interpreter, interpreting Africa to the world. How can you explore a world in all its depth if at the same time you are having to explain it to outsiders? (21)


Being a peripheral writer means embodying an essentially paradoxical position. Mignolo characterizes the position of the peripheral writer as ‘thinking from his or her body and experience, subsuming the imperial reason that makes an other, an anthropos out of him or her’, writing ‘with one’s body on the border’, or ‘dwelling and thinking in the borders of local histories confronting global designs’. (22)

This paradoxical position engenders a conflicting ‘need’ and ‘challenge’ in peripheral writing: the need to explain itself in relation to the asymmetrical distribution of power, and the challenge ‘to detach itself from the presuppositions of the established methodological and philosophical foundations from which it departs’. (23)


However, Mignolo’s instructions on ‘delinking’ from the philosophical foundations of the West are mostly dehistoricized, and, by his own admission, ‘somewhat messianic’. (24)

It is equally impossible for the peripheral author to escape the fact that: (1) questioning the epistemological assumptions of the West relies on that same epistemology for its subaltern articulation; and (2) that texts refusing to play along with the methodological and philosophical foundations of the West will remain unread and ineffectual. Beyond theoretical musings and a play on words and their meanings, Mignolo offers no specific strategies for how writers at the margins should negotiate the aporetics of their compromised positions.

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Not only does Muller enact the dividedness of peripheral understanding by exposing the text’s own hermeneutic arc in the book’s apparatus and metafiction, but the double consciousness of peripheral hermeneutics is also part of the internal plot development of Volume III. Muller develops within the biographical narrative a hermeneutics of the inside that is defined in constant struggle with that of the outside.

This is particularly evident in the allegorical depiction of how Ansbach comes to understand Van Wyk’s world. The hermeneutics of the inside becomes a one-to-one collapse of the psychological and material space dividing biographer and subject. Crucially, aspects of Ansbach’s biography merge with those of Van Wyk’s in the first chronology of Van Wyk’s life. ‘I must get to know you [Van Wyk] in a relationship in which I am important, otherwise you slip out of my visual grasp, my field of hearing, out beneath my hands,’ Ansbach writes. (25)

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After the first chronology the narrative retraces its steps. The second incarnation of the story pivots on much the same themes and documentary evidence as the first, but the world of Ansbach and that of Van Wyk show increasing overlaps. In the first part, for example, Ansbach describes Van Wyk’s dietary preferences and evening routines objectively; in the second, Ansbach incorporates them into his own daily routine: eating what Van Wyk ate; doing as Van Wyk did. As the narrative develops, this allegory of understanding becomes so literal that it begins to parody the hermeneutic process: Ansbach works in the same office once occupied by Van Wyk; Ansbach dreams Van Wyk’s dreams; Ansbach finds that his hand is the same size as Van Wyk’s; Ansbach smuggles Van Wyk’s tuxedo out of an archival holding, and wears it in the evenings when playing the piano; on the last page of Volume III Muller/Ansbach’s hands strike the same pose as Van Wyk’s on the cover.


The parodic element indicates that this is no utopian vision of peripheral knowledge. ‘I’ve lost my orientation towards my own text,’ Ansbach laments. ‘Perhaps it started when I could no longer distinguish whether I were reliving another’s life, creating it, or exorcizing it.’ The process of Ansbach’s understanding of Van Wyk’s world correlates inversely and starts depending on his loss of control over other aspects of his life, depicted in similar seemingly naive allegories of forgetting and the loss of intellectual innocence: Ansbach’s mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dies; Ansbach suffers a series of violent over-the-top sexual encounters: the first bringing him closer to understanding gay desire; the second, at the mercy of the aggressive Cecile with whom he enacts as dialogue extracts from Van Wyk’s lectures and radio talks, leaving him particularly humiliated, confused and aroused. At the same time Ansbach’s entire intellectual project is allegorically anchored in exaggerated scale to the mole activity he is struggling to contain below the small patch of grass outside his apartment. (26)

The content of these allegories, the latter in particular, suggests that getting to know Van Wyk’s world and writing his biography in a ‘de-linked’ way depend on the psychologically harmful double consciousness of peripheral understanding (unmoored from Western academic discourse, but focalized through it nonetheless). But more importantly, the allegorical structure itself implies and strategically exploits the hermeneutics particular to peripheral texts.


I have already referred to Jameson’s theory of allegory in ‘third-world’ texts in the opening of this article, but his exposition on the hermeneutics of peripheral texts is pertinent too:

As western readers whose tastes (and much else) have been formed by our own modernisms, a popular or socially realistic third-world novel tends to come before us, not immediately, but as though already-read. We sense, between ourselves and this alien text, the presence of another reader, of the Other reader, for whom a narrative, which strikes us as conventional or naive, has a freshness of information and a social interest that we cannot share. The fear and the resistance I’m evoking has to do, then, with the sense of our own non-coincidence with that Other reader, so different from ourselves; our sense that to coincide in any adequate way with that Other ‘ideal reader’ – that is to say, to read this text adequately – we would have to give up a great deal that is individually precious to us and acknowledge an existence and a situation unfamiliar and therefore frightening – one that we do not know and prefer not to know. (27)


The double consciousness engendered in Western readers by allegorical texts from elsewhere is the mirror image of the anxiety-inducing double consciousness of the subaltern, even though the Western reader is in a position to ignore the Other in a way the subaltern is not. Julie McGonegal has argued convincingly that Jameson’s notes on ‘national allegory’ should be read from a metacritical viewpoint, in other words, that Jameson’s essay says very little about ‘Third World texts’ and more about ‘how these differences are maintained and reproduced by a First World literary criticism that remains blithely unaware, for the most part, of the ways its own historical and social conditions impart various givens to the interpretive situation.’ (28)

The strategically naive allegories of Nagmusiek are metacritical in this sense: they invite the West’s entrenched responses to peripheral writing and augment the anxieties aroused by encountering the unfamiliar. By deconcealing the hermeneutic system within which Nagmusiek has been conceptualized, and within which it is embedded and finds its meaning, Muller invents – albeit precariously – the conditions for Arnold van Wyk’s canonization.



In 2002 the prolific Afrikaans author Karel Schoeman (1939–2017) titled his autobiography The Last Afrikaans Book, for, he argued: ‘The publication of another large-scale work of Afrikaans non-fiction in traditional format and through the traditional commercial press seems highly improbable.’ Schoeman continued:

Writing these notes was a personal endeavor, but as the work progressed I had to acknowledge that it had unwittingly grown into a record of the end of an era in the history of the Afrikaans language and culture of which I am a product, and now also a survivor and witness. (29)


The problem Schoeman articulated is not about the commercial viability of Afrikaans writing, as such, but about the inevitably flailing trajectory, in a liberated South Africa, of a literary tradition that has focused almost exclusively on canonizing the lives and work of white, male, Afrikaans writers. Under the patronage of white-owned media enterprises a generation of Afrikaans non-fiction writers enjoyed the freedom to work on large-scale projects, largely unencumbered by concerns for readability or for how well their books would sell. Although musicologists’ contribution to this tradition was minimal – limited to the odd academic journal article – previous writing on Van Wyk and his contemporaries adopted the formal register, dry positivism and implicit nationalist agenda of their literary counterparts – an aesthetic that allowed twentieth-century Afrikaans academics to focus on their subjects without questioning the political structures that enabled their work to continue in the way it did.

The need to ‘delink’ from this tradition should be as obvious to the contemporary South African biographer as the difficulties of doing so.


On the one hand, Muller’s biographical text does an admirable job of pointing out the ambivalences and contradictions at the borders of the modern/colonial divide, having as subject matter a white, male, apartheid-era composer; someone with little formal musical training, who, despite growing up in a South African rural backwater, went on to compose to some acclaim in a Western late-Romantic idiom; a composer who clearly benefitted from the structures of high apartheid, but who, perhaps due to his reticence towards the regime, or due to his homosexuality, never found the institutional recognition he deserved; a man who felt himself perpetually displaced and uprooted, whether he lived in England or in South Africa. But, inevitably, Nagmusiek’s window on the nuances of colonial aesthetic production (and with that, Muller’s attempt to canonize Van Wyk) is obstructed by the Afrikaans biographical tradition that Muller, by implication, is extending. It should be unthinkable to attempt to canonize someone like Van Wyk as if it were 1980s business as usual, and the metafictional depth and idiosyncratic approach allows the author to wonder out loud about how to write about a peripheral figure (and one who lived on the wrong side of history, at that), and to question his own work in relation to local and global antecedents.


Muller treats his difficult relationship with the Afrikaans biographical tradition by creating a character foil, ‘The Great Biographer’, who works alongside Ansbach in the archival section of Stellenbosch University’s main library – an underground structure dug out below the central square of the campus. Ansbach describes this ‘bunker’ where he ordered Van Wyk’s estate, in words that could be applicable to the sheltered literary space of Afrikaans non-fiction more broadly:

But for my work it was from the outset an amiable space: lily white and artificially homogenous, given the broader context of the country, but one in which – maybe as a result thereof – the money, attention and time I dedicated to Van Wyk were not questioned in principle.

I’ve never lost sight of the fact that, should I lift my chin to take a peek at the world outside the bomb shelter, and look beyond the minutiae of the biographical project towards the context out there, it would be clear that I’m busying myself with an ideologically conservative project. Especially given the time and place in which it unfolds. Of course, biography is traditionally an anointment of priestly oils on the fine lives of selected ‘great figures’. A conservative project, if ever there were one. (30)


Whereas Ansbach is perturbed and overwhelmed by Van Wyk’s archive, burdened by questions of interpretation, and affected by every document he picks up, the Great Biographer proceeds with discipline and persistence, having perfected a method that sacrifices interpretation for productivity. The tension between the two biographers mounts throughout, until they face off in the chapter Oedipus Rex over their many intellectual and methodological differences. This treatment of the anxiety of influence illustrate how Muller both accepts and departs from Mignolo’s reasoning, focusing not on writing himself out of the dilemma of delinking as both a ‘need’ and an ‘impossibility’, but on dramatizing the aporetics of his position within the text itself. Broadly, his narrative strategy is inspired by Ricoeur’s dictum that the relationship between time and narrative culminates in a dialectic between an aporetics and a poetics, (31) which is to say that narrative ‘does not solve aporias, but only resolves them poetically (and not theoretically)’.(32)

Whereas aporias are by definition covert points of possible deconstruction where a text turns against itself, Muller overtly writes these points of dissolution into the text, sometimes in very disconcerting ways.


An important case in point is the introduction to Volume I, which contains the complete catalogue of Van Wyk’s music. In a tenor at odds with the self-effacing style of the biographical narrative of Volume III, the author explains the possible impact and importance of the project. By again referencing Van Wyk’s marginality, he unambiguously identifies the project as an ‘act of canonization’:

a gesture on the part of its compiler and funders and institutional supporters that says: Through the scope of this labour we confirm Arnold van Wyk’s importance to all our people and his unique contribution to expressing our position and humanity in South Africa in sound. … This is clearly an ideological project which, through its weight and scope, stakes its claim to canonization. (33)


This all sounds like regular – if particularly eloquent – funding application stuff, but these statements about canonization are hollowed out by the book’s confusing chronology. Nagmusiek’s three volumes follow no single linear trajectory, the book’s pagination contradicting its volumetric designations. Volume III starts on page 1 and Volume I on page 611. On an experiential level the retrograde pagination suggests at least two ways of navigating through the text – each with its own implications for authorship, intent and monumentality. Read by volumetric chronology the work catalogue was compiled by Stephanus Muller. But read by page chronology (as most readers would), the work list becomes an appendix to Werner Ansbach’s aborted biography of Van Wyk. It is possible, in other words, to read the work list as part of the fictional metabiographical conceit of Volume III – the documentary remains of a failed project – and when read in this way it is impossible to take the author’s words on canonization at face value.

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Alongside Nagmusiek’s canonization drive and the implicit monumentalism of the biographical genre there is another agenda at work: a deconstructive one that allows Van Wyk’s biographical edifice to unravel in a controlled way, and one in which the author strategically vandalizes the idea of the magisterial biographical project. ‘Exclusions and remainders, it would seem, inherently accompany any attempt to generate a canonical form,’ writes Colby Dickenson:

The fundamental aporia of a canonical text, one that seems inextricably intertwined with its authoritative claims, is that it is a text divided from within, by its messianic (prophetic) and canonical (Pharisiac) tensions. There are some memories which must be forgotten, and, inevitably, a sort of ideological script of history takes form around those remaining particular memories. Yet, these are memories which are capable of being contested by the tensions present within the canonical text itself. Any (canonical) authority is consequently beset by the aporias which linger interminably at its core. (34)


Nagmusiek is animated by the aporias of canonization. By working with the aporetic logic of canonical texts rather than against it Muller allows forgotten memories to resurface and exclusions and remainders to assert a counter-authority over the text’s canonical claims. Superficially, this double agenda is visible in the book’s highly stylized packaging. It is at once an imposing and fragile artefact. Its loose parts (two photographs, a reproduction of a letter on thin typewriter paper in which Van Wyk describes the day he received an honorary doctorate from University of Cape Town, and a pocket-sized score of Nagmusiek) easily get lost and come undone from their original contexts within the collection. The aporia is also visible in the exposed bricks of the fourth wall. Scattered throughout the text are incomplete or discarded authors’ notes, or ideas for planned sections that were never finished. The index, too, hints at both the authority of a canonical text and its secreted loose ends. Although it is bulky and consumes half of Volume II, it is strangely opaque to the book’s many metatheoretical concerns.


One of the most brutal instances of canonical desecration is found in the section supposedly containing a peer-review report of the text, close to the end of the biographical narrative of Volume III:

The author plays with the novel, the biography, and the autobiography, and the risky rejection of the weightiness of all, some, or any of these genres, has everything to do with someone who has lost his faith in God.

It pains me to have to say: The author could not find a satisfactory solution to the formal problem of how to approach a project like this one in a new way. In the end the work is neither fish nor fowl. The delicate internal motifs are not enough for integration, to hold the material together. The vast scale of the book is in some respects a sign of this unresolved problem. In the introduction to the catalogue the author expounds his reasons for including the weighty catalogue in the publication. He motivates it in more detail, but in short it comes down to the fact that he wants to make a gesture that could lead to the canonization of Van Wyk. I think this gesture, however commendable, is made at the expense of the possibility of the biography being published. (35)

The critique is devastating for the authority of the text and for the reader’s trust in the authority of its narrator, for its inclusion jolts the reader irredeemably out of the suspension of postmodern disbelief. The reader of a late work of metafiction like Nagmusiek expects to share in the author’s creative act and in the burden of its production. Readers have learnt to make sense of the piecemeal and fragmentary nature of the genre. But Muller’s uncanny ability to project himself into the position of reader and critic, and to imagine devastating receptions of his own text alienate him from his readers, who would at this point not only have sympathized strongly with Ansbach’s futile attempts at creating cohesion, but would have taken on some of the responsibility for fashioning a story from the disjointed set of narrative facts. The narrator’s hermeneutic omniscience may enable a form of self-canonization by dramatizing the arc of interpretation, but it comes at a cost.



Nagmusiek not only undermines its canonical claims by violating them internally, but, more essentially, because it is not written in English. When a nervous and self-castigating Ansbach does present a paper in English at a conference entitled ‘Composing ApARTheid’ (36) he explains at length his decision to write the biography in Afrikaans:

This decision to revisit the possibilities of writing in Afrikaans was not only prompted by the promise of a broadening of register, a change of style, a discovery of spaces hidden in the nuances of a different vocabulary and semantics. But I also found that when I wrote in Afrikaans I instinctively wrote for a different audience. This would happen without any intent or planning. Writing the language I grew up in, I found that I (also) spoke to people like my parents and siblings, my school friends, aunts and uncles, or rather: ooms en tannies. Writing in the language I have grown more proficient in professionally, I invariably found that I addressed learned colleagues. I wanted to see how my writing would change (the ‘what’ as well as the ‘how’) after an enforced change of tongue. […] But let it also be said that it is a painful process, bifurcating between an honest desire for communication with a broader scholarly community in which the lingua franca is English (and the flip-side fear of parochialism), and the desire to think and write and conduct verbal retrospection in the language of one’s home and therefore inevitably coupled with the politicized responsibility of Afrikaans academics to maintain Afrikaans as an academic language, and ultimately as a spoken language, for future generations of South Africans. The responsibility I speak of is not a responsibility to a political idea, at least it is so no longer to me, but to all who might be driven out of themselves in future by finding the doors of the past locked in strange accents and unknown combinations of sounds. More controversially, I would claim, it is to keep the options open of positioning oneself in a discursive space with the potential to stake out in an authentic voice a postcolonial South African position in a global discourse shaped by English.

Here Muller further unpacks the aporetics of peripheral writing: it entails a painful splitting of registers, audiences, desires and scholarly responsibilities, culminating in the paradox that in order ‘to stake out in an authentic voice a postcolonial South African position in a global discourse shaped by English’, the line of communication with that global discourse needs to be shut down. Nagmusiek’s canonical potential is severely restricted because it is not written in English, just as its decolonial ambitions are compromised by its canonical aims.


Muller/Ansbach’s reasons for writing in Afrikaans (I permit myself the intentional fallacy on this occasion, since Muller published part of this particular chapter under his own name elsewhere) (37) form part of the chapter’s broader argument on the hermeneutics of peripheral writing and theorization, in relation to global discourses and canonical understandings. Turning to a no less controversial subject than the meaning of apartheid, Muller/Ansbach takes issue with the conference’s foregone conclusions that white apartheid-era composers ‘were having a pretty good time, thanks to their … patrons … and the apartheid system itself’.(38)


Muller attempts to qualify the paradigmatic view of a mutually profitable relationship between the apartheid regime and white composers by arguing that the agency implied in the title of the conference, Composing ApARTheid, ‘rests perhaps more convincingly in the concerns and preoccupations of scholars today than in the hands of the creators of musics during the Apartheid era’. He goes on:

Even though Apartheid, and in a broader sense colonialism in general, is destined to remain a paradigmatic conceptual framework for South African (musical) culture of the twentieth century and well beyond, I find myself at a personal junction where defining a position with respect to Apartheid – whether it be one of atonement or justification or revelation – can no longer be the sole reason for my visitations to my, and our collective, pasts. I find the Apartheid-framed skirmishes and debates directed at audiences gathered together by a global English-speaking consensus mentality – an Apartheid spelt but rarely pronounced in the Afrikaans fashion, as though English wishes to distance itself from the word even when using it to English-language effects: ApARTheid – to be indifferent, if not antagonistic, to my own research interests.


In order to register an alternative to the ‘global English-speaking consensus mentality’, he analyses a set of photographs of Van Wyk’s hands, taken in 1954. Again following Paul Ricoeur’s model of threefold mimesis in Time and Narrative, Muller asks how the horizon of the world in which these photographs acquired their meaning (Ricoeur’s mimesis2) might intersect with the world of its present-day ‘readers’ (Ricoeur’s mimesis3). ‘[T]hese photographs in their coagulated state,’ says Muller/Ansbach, ‘was about communicating something to the future, my present, that was of some deep and not entirely intelligible significance.’ (39)


Ironically, he interprets these photographs from yet another Western paradigmatic model of understanding, this time German in conception. ‘[I]t is undeniable’, he says, ‘that the photographs signify the kind of Romantic – with a capital R – adulation of an individual as something special, perhaps even genius, that the Beethoven death mask also communicates to us more than two hundred and fifty years after it was made.’ By virtue, then, of the images’ similarity to other canonic imagery of composers that symbolically materialize a Romantic aesthetic – busts, portraits, casts, death masks – the images of Van Wyk’s hands exceed the logic of apartheid:

It asserts the primacy of its agent and his music intersecting with our world – my world – in a manner, that, I maintain, I cannot approximate under a subject potentially assuming so much historically as ‘Composing ApARTheid’ within the context of a celebration of ‘Ten Years of Democracy’.


I’m not as interested here in the merits of Muller’s argument about composers and apartheid (he overturns, deconstructs and relativizes it in numerous ways, anyway) as in his unusual neo-romantic reasoning on marginal unintelligibility. At the end of his exposition on the meanings of the images, he concludes:

There exist things from the past, sometimes incomprehensible and inexplicably significant, that cannot become part of the story this conference wishes to tell, and in this, constitute a crucial, discordant part of its plot.
The first part of this formulation articulates a standard Romantic position on the value of the unknowable: not only is the image of Van Wyk’s hands incomprehensibly significant in ‘our’ hermeneutic world; the image attains its significance by projecting itself, in a Romantic short-circuit of empty meanings, as signifying incomprehensible significance. In the second part of his formulation, however, he uses the Romantic rhetoric of incomprehensible significance to argue for the importance of the marginalized in the geopolitical master narrative of what he earlier called the ‘global English-speaking consensus mentality’. In a (dis)ingenious way, then, Muller/Ansbach uses universal concerns to elevate the incomprehensibility of the marginal into something essentially, but inexplicably, meaningful. In so doing he finds a provisional way through the problem of how to stake out in an authentic voice a postcolonial South African position in a global discourse shaped by English.


This mode of neo-romantic reasoning does not only pertain to Van Wyk’s world, but, via its metafictional self-awareness, to Nagmusiek’s own status as object of interpretation. That the image of Van Wyk’s hands is conspicuously embossed on the cover confers on the book some of the same qualities embedded in the photograph: the suggestion that Romantic representation is at work here, but also, that it attains its value precisely through putting itself forth as an unintelligible part of the geopolitical narrative. Muller/Ansbach’s neo-romantic reasoning culminates in the decision to write in Afrikaans, as Muller explains in an interview:

I gambled on the idea that a book like this cannot be written in English. I felt that if you really want to write books that do extraordinary things, really mad things, risky things, hugely risky things, then you must do it in a marginal language, in a marginal geography, about a marginal composer, about music that’s marginal even in its own society. The benefit of all this marginality is the risks it enables you to take, the scale of the experiment it allows you to make. (40)


By not trying to remedy the book’s marginality, its intelligibility to the West, or the tendency for peripheral texts to be read as national allegories, instead positing it on the edge with wholehearted excessiveness, Muller creates a theory-in-praxis of decolonial hermeneutics. As such, Muller puts into operation Mignolo’s mantra that ‘there is no rhetoric of modernity without the logic of coloniality’, but he goes about it in a fundamentally new and different way. Instead of attempting to provincialize Western musicological discourse, or to posit Van Wyk’s world as an alternative but equal centre of knowledge, tensions around canonization, marginality and the geopolitics of knowledge are worked out within the apparatus of the book, its formal structure, its metafiction, its narrative development, and its sheer bulk. These ex-centric hermeneutic horizons take shape in the shadows of Anglophone musicology and critical scholarship, even while remaining resolutely outside their frames of reference.

What accounts for Nagmusiek’s startling newness is the faith its author places in the value of peripheral knowledge, the lengths he is prepared to go to in order to demonstrate and to canonize this faith, and the sacrifices he makes in the process. Nagmusiek becomes canonical by proposing its own doctrine. It is a catechism for the marginal, and a lesson in how to theorize at the borders of intelligibility. And even then the text seems to be pointing derisively at its own catechismal and didactic impulses, which once more confirm the inescapable aporias of writing from the other side of the world.

first published here: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/veaPdKqmc7yYFweNMwKs/full



1 The allusion is to Sanskrit scholar Richard Gombrich, but the usual disclaimers for fiction apply.

2 Stephanus Muller, Nagmusiek, 3 vols. (Johannesburg, 2014), iii, 30. Translated from the original.

3 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 210–11.

4 See Žižek, Living in the End Times (London, 2011), 52. ‘[T]he universalism of a Western liberal society does not reside in the fact that its values (human rights, etc.) are universal in the sense of holding for all cultures, but in a much more radical sense, for individuals relate to themselves as “universal,” they participate in the universal dimension directly, by-passing their particular social position.’

5 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 81.

6 Chris Walton, ‘Something of the Night’, The Musical Times, Winter (2015).

7 Juliana M. Pistorius, ‘Nagmusiek [Night Music]’, Fontes Artis Musicae, 62/2 (2015), 130.

8 Fredric Jameson, ‘Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, Social Text, 15 (1986), 69. See also Aijaz Ahmad, ‘Jameson’s Rhetoric of Otherness and the “National Allegory”’, Social Text, 17 (1987), 3–25; Julie McGonegal, ‘Postcolonial Metacritique’, Interventions, 7/2 (2005), 251–65.

9 A. Suresh Canagarajah, A Geopolitics of Academic Writing (Pittsburgh, 2002), 30.

10 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, 2000),

11 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 10.

12 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 18. Translated from the original.

13 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 10–11.

14 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 18.

15 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 92. Translated from the original.

16 Walter Mignolo, ‘Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of de-Coloniality’, Cultural Studies, 21/2–3, 453; 464.

17 Mignolo, ‘Delinking’, 485.

18 Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance (Ann Arbor, 2003), 21.

19 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 248.


20 Linda Hutcheon, ‘Historiographic Metafiction: Parody and the Intertextuality of History’, (1989) available at

21 J.M. Coetzee, ‘The Novel in Africa’, Occasional Papers of the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, 17 (1999), 17.

22 Madina V. Tlostanova and Walter Mignolo, ‘On Pluritopic Hermeneutics, Trans-Modern Thinking, and Decolonial Philosophy’, Encounters, 1/1 (2009), 17. Mignolo, ‘Geopolitics of Sensing and Knowing’, 137.

23 Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance, 19.

24 Mignolo, ‘Delinking’ 452.

25 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 234.

26 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 271.

27 Jameson, ‘Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, 66.

28 McGonegal, ‘Postcolonial Metacritique’, 253.

29 Karel Schoeman, Die Laaste Afrikaanse Boek: Outobiografiese Aantekeninge. [The last Afrikaans book: autobiographical notes] (Cape Town, 2002).Translated from the original.

30 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 83. Translated from the original.

31 Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols. (Chicago, 2012), i, 79.

32 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 394.

33 Muller, Nagmusiek, i, 612. Translated from the original.

34 Dickinson, Between the Canon and the Messiah: The Structure of Faith in Contemporary Continental Thought (London, 2013), 162.

35 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 513.

36 In line with the notes on audience above, it is perhaps no coincidence that this particular chapter is readily accessible, and indeed, addressed to English-speaking readers, although they will have to forego Muller’s caricatured typology of South African academics.

37 Stephanus Muller, ‘Arnold van Wyk’s Hands’, Composing Apartheid (Johannesburg, 2008), 281–9.

38 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 379.

39 Muller, Nagmusiek, iii, 393.

40 Available at . Translated from the original.


Willemien Froneman (Stellenbosch) holds a PhD in music from Stellenbosch University (2012) and a MPhil in musicology from Cambridge University (2006). Postcolonial aesthetics, the relationships between official and popular culture, and the history of white popular music in South Africa are the topics that engage her at the moment. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Stellenbosch University and newly appointed co-editor of South African Music Studies (SAMUS).

June 11, 2017

new kagapoems @klyntji

Filed under: kagapoems — ABRAXAS @ 11:50 am

first published here: http://klyntji.com/post/161654885973/aryan-kaganof-status-poems

June 9, 2017

TETE MBAMBISA & HIs SA-UK Big Sound, live in Soweto on 5 July

Filed under: Jonathan Eato,music — ABRAXAS @ 8:09 pm


Kwanele Sosibo interviews Nduduzo Makhathini

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 7:04 pm


Athabile Nonxuba, Stellenbosch University, 2015

Filed under: kagaportraits — ABRAXAS @ 9:09 am


June 8, 2017

a revelation

Filed under: kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 9:13 pm

something else about having a child

it really relativizes the work

no matter how important an editing deadline is, it is NEVER as important as changing the nappies

changing the smelly nappies is SACRED

getting the baby to STOP crying is more important than anything the editing table has to offer

this was a huge revelation for me

The Disaster

Filed under: literature,philosophy — ABRAXAS @ 1:18 pm

The disaster was already there and they didn’t realize it, since the disaster is the very idea of the disaster to come, which ruins everything long before term.

Jonathan Littell

The Kindly Ones pg.443

Louisa Schwab, SABC studios, Cape Town, 2009

Filed under: kagaportraits — ABRAXAS @ 10:07 am


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