Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

To a Dubious Critical Salvation: Etienne Leroux and the Canons of South African English Criticism

Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

To a Dubious Critical Salvation: Etienne Leroux and the Canons of South African English Criticism

Article excerpt

Introduction

The late Afrikaans critic and biographer J. C. Kannemeyer classes Etienne Leroux (1922-89) and J. M. Coetzee together as two of South Africa's most prominent novelists (J. M. Coetzee 23). Andre P Brink, himself a veteran of self-translation and of critical as well as creative work, considers Leroux's Magersfontein, O Magersfontein! as not only the pinnacle of this author's work but also a brilliant novel in its own right, one that would be esteemed as a milestone in any literature (5). Leroux's standing within the Afrikaans literary canon is assured, both as an influential member of the Sestigers, the loose affiliation of writers who collectively constituted Afrikaans literature's great leap into (post)modernity, and as a two-times recipient of the Hertzog Prize, arguably the highest honour bestowed upon Afrikaans writers. Further afield, Leroux was the first Afrikaans author to be published to international acclaim in English translation, his work having been championed by Graham Greene, Paul Theroux and Stephen Gray, among others. Yet at the time of writing, although his collected works remain available in Afrikaans, the English translations of his work are long out of print; discussion of Leroux within English (South African) literary-critical historiography is largely centred on the political controversy around Sewe dae by die Silbersteins and Magersfontein, O Magersfontein!; and their literary merit has rarely been dealt with seriously in English critical literature--certainly not within the last two decades. In the case of Sewe dae by die Silbersteins, critical reception in English, in its most visible instances, is cursory, patronizing, and somewhat off the mark, as this article will suggest. ==Our purpose, then, is to assess Leroux's reputation within English literary discourse as produced by various acts of rewriting over the course of his literary career, including literary translation. We use Lefevere's work, Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (1992), to provide a conceptual framework from within which to account for Leroux's fortunes within English South African literary patronage systems. In particular, the literary manipulation of Leroux by prominent English critics are brought to light and critiqued.

'Rewriting' Leroux

In an essay on the crisis of subjectivity in the novels of Leroux, ""Die krisis van die subjek in die soektog na betekenis" ("The Crisis of the Subject and the Search for Meaning"), critic and literary historian Charles Malan (1987) draws a parallel with the reception and publication history of Byron's Don Juan. (1) Byron's publisher tried to avoid controversy by publishing the first part of Byron's work anonymously and, by withholding publication details, endowed the poem with a life of its own. Other publishers and the press appropriated, abridged and repurposed the text to present an image of Don Juan as part of the current of anti-clerical literature, the yellow press and the sensational weekly press. Equally, argues Malan, the reception of Leroux's novels in South Africa yielded "die vreemdste nuwe tekste" ("the strangest new texts") (56).

According to Malan, Leroux laid bare the ideology underpinning Afrikanerdom, revealing "die ideologie agter en in die Afrikaner se sosiopolitieke, religieuse en moreel-filosofiese diskoerse tot in sy wese" ("the ideology behind and inside the Afrikaner's sociopolitical, religious and moral-philosophical discourses right down to the bone"). In reaction, ecclesiastical, political and cultural power structures were deployed to expel Leroux's most dangerous novels, Sewe dae by die Silbersteins and Magersfontein, O Magersfontein!, from the system as foreign bodies. Consequently, Sewe dae and Magersfontein suffered a similar fate to that of Don Juan: they were rewritten, "voorgestel of 'herskryf' as volksvreemde, godslasterlike, pornografiese en soortgelyke 'aanstootlike' geskrifte" ("presented or 'rewritten' as alien to the nation, blasphemous, pornographic and similarly 'offensive' pieces of writing"). …

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