Afrikaans literature, Breyten Breytenbach, prison poetry, the reader
Breyten Breytenbach is the most important prison writer in the Afrikaans literary tradition. This article briefly places his prison writing against the background of national and international prison writing before going on to investigate the way in which the reader is represented in his Afrikaans prison poetry. Research about prison writing points out the importance of communication with the outside world for the prisoner. To the prisoner who is also a creative writer, writing is one of the most important means of establishing contact with the outside world. Amongst the large number of poems in Breytenbach’s body of prison poetry which depict an attempt to communicate with the outside world, there are several in which the addressee is explicitly referred to as the reader. The focus of this investigation thus falls on that which reception aesthetics refer to as a”text-internal reader” or “explicit reader”, directly or indirectly addressed in the text. The investigation shows that the poet-narrator in Breytenbach’s prison poems is very conscious of the reader’s role in the concretization of the poem. Several poems from Breytenbach’s body of prison poetry, collected in the anthology Die ongedanste dans (“The undanced dance”, 2005), are analysed to show different facets of the poetnarrator’s relationship with the reader. Some of these analyses describe the poet-narrator’s circumspect approach to the reader and the explanations and instructions given to the reader. Other analyses focus on the poet-narrator’s attempts to manipulate references to time in order to create the illusion of simultaneity with the reader. Further analyses show that the prison writer’s emphasis on the anonymity and absence of the reader can be related to philosophical representations of signification while at the same time being grounded in the material circumstances of Breytenbach’s imprisonment. It is also shown that some of the poems depict the reader as being complicit in creating the circumstances in which the prison poet finds himself.