‘A reflection of a reflection’: Notes on representational and ethical possibilities in Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka
In January 2014, I published a Dutch poetry volume Mens Dier Ding (Man Animal Thing) in the Netherlands and Belgium. The book is partly based on research around the historical figure of Chaka, and especially Chaka’s fictional representation in three versions of Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka, namely the English translation by F. H. Dutton, the later translation by Daniel P. Kunene, and the Afrikaans translation by Chris Swanepoel. In other words, Man Animal Thing is a work of poetic fiction based on (or “inspired by”) a work of fiction. This brings with it representational and ethical problems: what is used from which text, what is the tipping point between writing and merely copying, for which type of reader in which context and culture is the new work of fiction meant, and what are the consequences of portraying and imaging a fictional and historical figure? This article tries to highlight several aspects of the creative process of misreading, researching, writing, portraying and transforming in Mens Dier Ding. It explores how “translating” a work of fiction into another work of fiction is at the heart of the continuing conversation that is literature, and may even be a metaphor for postmodern, or better, metamodern literature, which is characterised by an oscillation between both modernism and postmodernism.
Keywords: adaptation, anachronism, ethics, metamodernism, poetry, Thomas Mofolo, translation