Academic journal article African Studies Review

Apartheid's Landscape and Ideas: A Scorched Soul

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Apartheid's Landscape and Ideas: A Scorched Soul

Article excerpt

Alan Schwerin. Apartheid's Landscape and Ideas: A Scorched Soul. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2001. xv + 318 pp. Photographs. Appendixes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. No price reported. Cloth.

Alan Schwerin was appointed lecturer in philosophy at the University of the Transkei in January 1980. For the next five years, until he immigrated to the United States in 1985, he spent his spare time photographing the natural forms (leaves, tree trunks) and man-made objects he encountered. The idea of combining some of these photographs with historical documents and other writings to sketch the evolution of apartheid was inspired by Paul Strand and Nancy Newhall's Time in New England (1980), which had used a similar format.

Schwerin's book is divided into four parts, entitled "The Sea," "The Land," "The People," and "The Ideas." Each part has a brief introduction and contains a number of photographs and extracts from documents, roughly divided under more or less cryptic chapter headings. The vast majority of the documents date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a heavy preponderance of what might be termed "travelers' tales" taken from letters, diaries, and published narratives. However, some documents and poems of more recent vintage are also included. The extracts are not arranged chronologically and no explanation is provided for the inclusion of individual pieces. Presumably this is because the stated intention is to "evoke" rather than to explain the origins of apartheid.

To understand the selection of extracts we must turn to Schwerin's introductory remarks. They reflect his belief that apartheid grew out of a centuries-old racist framework or "gestalt" in South Africa. He identifies the three major components of this gestalt as "fear, self-righteousness, and the assumption of cultural superiority" (7). Essentially the extracts are chosen to illustrate this idea. To justify the inclusion of his photographs, Schwerin cites Wittgenstein: "A picture is a model of reality. …

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