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23 August 2016
Jan Rabie Memorial Lecture 2016

Jan Rabie Lecture 2016: Empty white spaces and the politics of nostalgia

The University of the Western Cape hosted the Jan Rabie and Marjorie Wallace Memorial Lecture on 23 August 2016, giving celebrated South African writer S.J. Naude the chance to discuss an interesting topic: Empty white spaces and the politics of nostalgia.

Naude, author of the acclaimed book The Alphabet of Birds and  recipient of the 2014 Jan Rabie & Marjorie Wallace bursary – one of the most prestigious literary prizes on the African continent - delivered a scintillating reading on the evolution of Afrikaans and literature and a sense of belonging in a changing country.

“In South Africa the trend was therefore the opposite of the Western world, mainly because South Africa was politically on an entirely different political trajectory,” read Naude*. “In the last decades of apartheid, the sensibilities of modernism, of formal experimentation, of singular exceptions, were not high on the literary agenda. Politically charged writings were chasing all other writing modes from the arena, and were evident in the text author 's political colors. If you were a white African writer, and therefore an assumed brother or sister of the mighty, then you were held in suspicion from the outset.”

But of course, times change - and people and feelings and societies change with them. And languages?

“Those times have passed,” says Naude. “So what has happened to cultural production in Afrikaans? What happens now? What is now possible on paper? How does one integrate the amputated absurd past with the absurd truth? And how does one respond to the murky and fragmented new socio-political landscape?"

There were no easy answers given - but the questions, Naude showed, are well worth exploring.

Jan Rabie & Marjorie Wallace: Bringing people together through art

The lecture is aimed at celebrating the lives of two of South Africa’s great artistic talents: Marjorie Wallace, the youngest person to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy of Arts and recipient of South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze for outstanding contributions to the visual arts in 2005; and Jan Sebastian Rabie, a renowned Afrikaans writer of short stories, novels and other literary works, and one of the Sestigers, a group of influential Afrikaans writers of the 1960s that included Andre Brink and the late Adam Small.

Rabie was born in George in 1920, and was the writer of some twenty-one well-known works, including Groen reise (Green travels) (1950), Die evolusie van nasionalisme (The evolution of nationalism) (1960) and Paryse dagboek (Paris diary) (1998). Wallace was born in Edinburgh in 1925, and trained at the Edinburgh College of Art.  In 1953, after an extensive European tour, they met in Paris and were eventually married.

The couple settled at Onrus, near Hermanus, and for decades they held an open house for a stream of writers, artists, poets, film and theatre producers, and commentators. The Lecture honours their sense of community and vision of a united and diverse South African literary community.

*The lecture was delivered in Afrikaans. These translated extracts attempt to preserve the spirit of the original words...but of course, something is always lost along the way. So why not check out the full reading, available here (in Afrikaans).

So feel free to download an Afrikaans version of this story here.