Mistiek in die Afrikaanse poësie
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The concept "mysticism" has been defined in many ways, and in the present day it seems to be used to refer to any strange experience. In its essence, however, mysticism can be described as an awareness of the godhead which evolves into an experience of the godhead in a direct and intimately personal manner, and ultimately an unification with it. In this study of the revelation of such an experience in Afrikaans poetry, the research was based on the premise that such experiences, when expressed in language, become accessible to others through the fact of their existence in language. The aim of the research was to establish a common set of characteristics prevailing in a group of Afrikaans poems written between 1920 and 1980 by poets who shared little else but the language they wrote in. The selection of the 26 poems by 11 poets was determined by the degree of mystical awareness that became apparent while reading. This was facilitated by an initial study of the history and development of mysticism within the Western tradition, and an effort to identify the main characteristics of the mystical experience. Although some writers maintain that there can be very little probability of a "fixed system" in mystical writing, this research aimed to isolate exactly that. Accepting the contention of A. Nygren in his work Agape and Eros that there is something common in mystical texts, the research inquired into "the fundamental motif ( ... )which makes a work of art into a unified whole, determines its structure, and gives it its specific character." 1953: 42) (Nygren, This fundamental motif should, however, not be seen as merely the idea expressed in the poem, but precisely the way in which it is expressed. This approach utilizes the semiotical theory that in any form of communication it is possible to identify a semantical system (a set of notions that is traditionally associated with mysticism), and a syntactical system, as well as a "rule" "code" that governs the relationship between the two systems. D.W. Fokkema formulated this clearly in his significant essay "Method and Programme of Comparative Literature": "The assimilation and organization of the formal and semantic raw material (including that of preceding literary texts) is guided by a system of selective principles which belongs to the code of the receiving texts." (Fokkema , 1974: 56) This system of selective principles can be called the code, which is a "regulative idea, an ideal type which may not be completely fulfilled by any single work and will certainly in every individual work be combined with different traits, survivals from the past, antic ipations of the future and quite individual peculiarities". (Wellek, 1963: 252-253) The working hypothesis for the research was that there existed a group of poems in Afrikaans which gave expression to the mystical experience, and that these poems were structured in such a manner that it would be possible to reconstruct a code. This code could be called the code for mystical poetry, and would be useful for further comparative studies of poetry within this tradition, also outside Afrikaans. The second chapter of the thesis was devoted to a short survey of the earlier history of mysticism in the Western tradition, before looking at the nature of the phenomenon. As an introduction a cursory glance was given at the mystical tradition as expressed in the Bible, and the new dimension that was added with the figure of Christ, a figure transcending the chasm between man and God. The historical section continued with the Neo-Platonists, of whom Philo, Origines and Plotinus were the most important. The basis for Greek speculative mysticism was that the soul carried something of its Essence of Origin with it, and longed to be re-united. The development in their thought came when the abstract Essence was replaced by the "One'', but knowing the One still remained a negative experience as far as formulating the relationship between man and godhead was concerned. This frustrating aspect of the mystical experience also dominated the contribution of the Syrian monk Dionysius. He nevertheless played an important role in further development by stressing the importance of annihilating the Self. He called for a complete denial of the mystic's human needs and aspirations before there could be any possibility of a mystical experience. Bernard of Clairvaux expressed his mystical convictions in terms of love, and his extensive commentary on the Song of Songs led to the generally accepted interpretation of this song as a work expressing the mystical relationship between God and man. The Dutch mystics of the late Middle Ages was represented by Jan van Ruusbroec, whose beautiful prose works in the vernacular used nature as a simile to try and express the mystical experience. As was the case with earlier writers, he too recognised three phases in the mystic's journey to unification with the godhead. These phases are generally called by their Latin names: via purgativa (the cleansing phase), via illuminata (the phase of enlightment) and the via unitiva (the phase of unification). The great Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, also made extensive use of concept of the mystical experience as a journey in three phases, but at the same time he became famous for his poetry about the mystical experience, usually employing courtship and love as analogy for the growing closeness between man and God. The historical survey made it clear that it is important to distinguish between speculative mysticisnt (which leads to the creation of "a void in which the self is ineffably touched") and practical or affective mysticism, "the supernatural mystical experience, from charity, which connaturalizes the soul to God and transcends every emotion", as Maritain concludes in his work Approaches to God. (Maritain, 1955: 71) Certain characteristics became clear. The mystic, despite all his efforts, remains a passive partner, waiting for the moment of supreme ecstasy. This moment comes unexpectedly and brings immediate contact with the godhead: it fills the mystic with joy and destroys all consciousness of time and place. At the same time it has a fleeting character, and even while the mystic experiences the Absolute, it disappears. He returns to the realities of everyday existence, finding it impossible to tell what has happened to him. He nevertheless tries desperately to tell others (and himself) of his experience, and often chooses certain specific analogies. It is possible to identify love mysticism, nature mysticism, light mysticism, heart mysticism, mysticism of the Passion or the Cross, as well as a more intellectual Trinity mysticism. The analogical language used by mystics dominates mystical discourse, was the conclusion reached in Chapter Three. Even though everyday language was incapable of expressing the mystical experience, this was all that was left to the mystic who had to devise a new way of using language. This use of language closely resembles the poetic language and may be the reason why many mystics chose to write poetry rather than prose. The desire of the mystic to tell of his experience, which cannot be related, leads to certain linguistic features dominating in his work . The most apparent ones are paradox and the hyperbole, supporting the analogical frame of mind. This is, in turn supported by certain specific images, often phrased in a manner that borders on the cliche. The bulk of the thesis consisted of analyses of 26 poems by Afrikaans poets. The poems and their authors were the following: "Nagwandeling" (Jan F.E. Celliers), "Nag op die see" and "Veldeensaamheid" (Totius), "Om Mane Padne Hum!" (C. Louis Leipoldt), "Wie eenmaal blind", "Die nag is eensaam" and "By die riete" (C.M. van den Reever), "Die Aangesig Gods" (W.E . G. Louw), "Ek het die aarde nie gesien", "In waansin het ek gevra" and "Ekstase" (N.P. van Wyk Louw), "Miskruier", "Leeu", "Ou Non", "Rooi Oog" and "Kroniek van Christien" (D.J. Opperman), "Die Vlam van God" (Ernst van Heerden), "Droom ek" (Pirow Bekker), "5.2" and "9.3 (die tekenaar)" by Breyten Breytenbach and six poems by Sheila Cussons: "Gebed", "Bedekte naak", "Laat Karmeliet", "Karmeliet in haar sel", "Die koekie seep" and "Die ab praat". The final chapter is an effort to construct the code for mystical poetry. To do this, I made use of the nine categories indicated by D.W. Fokkema in his already mentioned article on a method and programme for comparative literature. These are the measure of generalization in a text, the narrative perspective and the role of the narrator, the relation between fable and sujet, characterization, thematic material, function and utilization of time, the spatial relationships, the correspondence between text and extra- textual reality, and the use of language. The central and dominating organizational principle at work in these texts is clearly the juxtapositioning of two disparate realities, a factor that clearly influences all other structural aspects of the poems. The narrative is predominantly a first person narrative, expressing the narrator's mixed emotional reaction. It is a self-negating narrator who is passive, lives in a state of longing and is struggling to articulate. The poems are further characterized by a paradoxical relation between fine detail and generalization. By generalizing, the mystics wish to degrade the one reality, but at the same time they can say very little about the other except in general terms. Thematic material is unlimited , but there is a definite preference for nature. Human intellect is seen negatively, while the love relationship is utilized to some extent. Traditional religious material is rarely used. Space plays an important role, because it is the best way to express the distance between the two realities. There is a concerted effort by the narrator to free himself from the limits of the space within which he lives. Time, being part of human existence, is another factor the narrators try to deny, but the paradoxical relation between timelessness and the absolute moment, between eternity and brevity, indicates that this is impossible. There is no sign of any social commitment and there is no concern for justice, peace or social responsibility. The mystic is clearly trying to escape the reality that surrounds him. Finally, as far as the use of language is concerned, paradox and hyperbole dominate. There is a tendency to repeat certain phrases, words and constructions. A definite lexicon can be isolated, words somehow tied up with a state of indefiniteness: light, dark, water, fire and wind.
- Humanities