05 July 2009

Andre Brink

In his essay "English and the Afrikaans Writer" (1983), Andre Brink compares Afrikaans with English (two languages he has written in): "It is remarkable, for example, what difference there exists between the ‘loads’ of emotional content the two languages can carry. Afrikaans, like French, appears to offer a much higher resistance to overstatement; it is much more at ease with superlatives and emotions. In English the threshold of overstatement is reached much more easily; ‘valid’ emotionalism in Afrikaans soon becomes unbearable in English. And this is but one, obvious, illustration of how one is forced to ‘refeel’ a novel in a new medium."

Although Brink's essay has elicited rather vehement negative reactions (see, for example, "The White South African Writer in Our National Situation" [1988] by Ntongela Masilela), it has nevertheless called attention to the importance of the medium to the literary quality of the work. It cannot be said that a novel works equally well in any language. Translators know this both instinctively and professionally. Writers know this through experience. But literary critics appear to be language-blind in this respect. There are certain things one cannot say in one language but can say very well in another language, in terms of literariness.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is important to keep in mind that André Brink not only wrote in the two languages, but that he wrote every single book in the two languages (for more information see my blog "self-translation"). So for a long time he has the experience of comparing the two languages and aiming to express the same ideas in both languages. Interestingly enough, critics often only look at the book in one language whereas the study of both versions would give a greater insight.