The Critic in Exile: Breyten Breytenbach & South Africa

The Critic in Exile: Breyten Breytenbach & South Africa

Since 1983 Breyten Breytenbach has been a naturalized French citizen, living in Paris, grateful for France’s “tolerance of political dissidents,” free to travel wherever he likes (though not to his homeland), free to write as he pleases, even “to castigate [his] adopted patria if the need arose. (As it would.)” Mostly, however, he has continued to castigate his native South Africa. He cannot live there; he is an exile or, as he now says, an emigre, but he is also the most brilliant of South African social critics. And the most self-conscious: He writes with extraordinary sharpness, intensity, and pain about the difficulty of writing from a distance—as he has had to do for most of his life—without daily contact, out of hearing of his own language. His language is Afrikaans, and he is said to be one of the finest poets ever to write in Afrikaans, though the greater number of his poems have been written in foreign countries, out of hearing. Perhaps poetry is easier than criticism, for the poet listens with his inner ear

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