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Breyten Breytenbach shares his words and philosophies
2013-03-05

 

Breyten Breytenbach
Photo: Johan Roux
02 March 2013

The Department of Philosophy at the University of the Free State (UFS) recently hosted Breyten Breytenbach as part of its Colloquium series.

In a packed Odeion theatre, Breytenbach shared his words and views relating to poetry and philosophy. The session was chaired by Prof Pieter Duvenhage from the Department of Philosophy, who noted the symbiotic relationship which exists between the two seemingly distinct disciplines.

Breytenbach is one of South Africa’s best-known literary sons, gaining worldwide recognition for his writings and poetry, as well as his political activism against the erstwhile Apartheid regime. He left the country in 1960 due to Apartheid and settled in Paris where his first collection of poetry was published in 1964. It was the beginning of a prizewinning literary career spanning multiple languages and decades.

He returned illegally in 1975 in order to agitate against the repressive National Party government, but was arrested, spending seven years in prison after being charged with terrorism.

The audience was treated to a reading from an unpublished work from Breytenbach, A letter to my daughter. The lengthy letter outlined Breytenbach's world views, his sense of the creative process, his philosophies and his takes on current and historical events.

A large part of the letter focused on the philosophical and emotional processes involved in writing.“Writing is the travelling of its own landscape; landscapes and rooms that may always have been there,” he said.

He noted that it’s not always an easy process, and that sometimes writers need to explore the abysses, which can be unnerving.

“In this regard it is important to know that emptiness exists,” he said.

He stressed his concern over some of the problems the country currently faces, especially the abuse of state institutions. He was especially worried about the abuse of power. He warned that “power has its own predatory identity,” often abused and misused by those who wield it.

Despite his misgivings, Breytenbach still retains his optimism for the country and its people. He remarked that the country and its many diverse cultures resembles a “fantastic patchwork blanket,” one that should be cherished and protected.

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