Foreign ingredients, and their influence on culture

THURSDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2008

Browsing through the book, Die Prosa van die Tweede Afrikaanse Beweging [The Prose of the Second Afrikaans Movement], first published in 1922, I found the text quoted below. You sometimes get the idea amongst Afrikaans people that they think progressive ideas about Afrikaans culture and literature did not see daylight in South Africa before the sixties or even as late as the late eighties. That this text dates from the early 1920s will therefore come as a surprise to some people (I know I was pleasantly surprised).

“Also amongst our own artists, there are those who anxiously want to expunge all foreign influences; these are people who seek their strength in a cramped, suffocating isolation. They hope to build up in this way a pure form of Afrikaans art, free from all bastard elements. We have to struggle forth on our own thorny road because our circumstances are apparently completely different from those in the older culture countries. That this approach is wholly wrong is proved at once by the fact that our best artists have created their most masterful work precisely under the influence of foreign elements. The true artist does not allow himself to be mongrelized by a foreign culture. He borrows from it that which is of service to the full deployment of his spirit, and transforms and processes the foreign ingredients into a pure national artwork. A nation that cannot stand his man against foreign influences is ruined, as is the artist. But rightfully we can demand of him that he broadens our scope and brings us into intimate contact with art from other countries as well. Isolation in the literary arena would mean cultural drought; it would lead to endless regurgitation. Let our artists therefore take full liberty in enriching their spirits from all corners of the globe. If they are man enough, their autonomy will not suffer, and our art will retain its national character. In any case no Chinese wall around South Africa!”

Source: Die Prosa van die Tweede Afrikaanse Beweging, by Pieter Cornelis Schoonees (1922) [The Prose of the Second Afrikaans Movement]

Well, there are some references that make it clear it was not written in the last decade, but the call itself to not be afraid of “foreign influences” but to use it to make your own art and literature better, more fully deployed, as the text says, is clear enough.

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