Andre Brink5 July 2009 at 5:43 AM | Posted in News | 3 Comments
In his essay “English and the Afrikaans Writer” (1983), Andre Brink compares Afrikaans with English (two languages he has written in): “It is remarkable, for example, what difference there exists between the ‘loads’ of emotional content the two languages can carry. Afrikaans, like French, appears to offer a much higher resistance to overstatement; it is much more at ease with superlatives and emotions. In English the threshold of overstatement is reached much more easily; ‘valid’ emotionalism in Afrikaans soon becomes unbearable in English. And this is but one, obvious, illustration of how one is forced to ‘refeel’ a novel in a new medium.”
Although Brink’s essay has elicited rather vehement negative reactions (see, for example, “The White South African Writer in Our National Situation”  by Ntongela Masilela), it has nevertheless called attention to the importance of the medium to the literary quality of the work. It cannot be said that a novel works equally well in any language. Translators know this both instinctively and professionally. Writers know this through experience. But literary critics appear to be language-blind in this respect. There are certain things one cannot say in one language but can say very well in another language, in terms of literariness.