The Department of Dutch and South African Studies
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Egonne Roth (Ramat Gan)

Olga Kirsch as Cross-over poet between Afrikaans and Jewish literature and world views.

There are a number of direct parallels between Dutch and Afrikaans literature: both have a relatively small potential readership. My study of one specific poet, the Afrikaans Jewish poetess, Olga Kirsch offers a third parallel: namely Jewish literature. In much the same way as the Dutch culture of the Low Lands is positioned on the edge of two powerful cultures and Afrikaans is situated at the southern tip of the African continent, so over the centuries Jewish culture has lived in the shadow of other, more powerful cultures that have tried to impose their world view on it. Jewish culture by its very nature has always been numerically small compared to the Christian cultures in which it found itself and has had to fight for its survival. Olga Kirsch offers a good illustration of the role a poet or writer can play as cross-over facilitator within two parallel cultures, in this case Afrikaans and Jewish.
In this paper I wish to address three questions:
How was Olga Kirsch as Jewish poet influenced by the dominant Christian culture in which she grew up?
Did she in turn influence this dominant culture in any way? In other words, did she offer her non-Jewish readers an entrance to cross-over into the world of the Jew or gain greater understanding of it and have they been able to use this bridge?
How does the Jewishness of an Afrikaans poet problematize the writing of her biography?
I will answer these questions by drawing on my research into the life and work of Kirsch, as well as on my experience as her biographer.

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