SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Notes From the Middle World, by Breyten Breytenbach

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Notes from the Middle World by Breyten Breytenbach

Notes from the Middle World, by Breyten Breytenbach

(Haymarket Books, 2009)

This splendid collection is one volume of Breytenbach’s “Middle World Quartet” and contains the eponymous core discourse on the “middle world”, the world of transition between the birthplace and the eventual but always elusive destination. Surviving transition as a liminal character on life’s journey is a recurring theme in the essays: physical, spiritual and political survival in times of upheaval, and also, importantly, the survival of language.

Breytenbach echoes the philosophy of Jacques Derrida who said: “Survival is life beyond life…it is the affirmation of someone living who prefers living, and therefore survival, to death; because survival is not simply what remains, it is the most intense life possible.” This incisive and challenging collage of the intimate, personal musings of a mature author on “the most intense life possible” should be compulsory reading for all South Africans.

It is impossible to read Breytenbach without being moved, intrigued, discomforted, and challenged. “Madiba’s Smile”, an intimate, tender letter to Nelson Mandela, is particularly memorable. Breytenbach dedicated this collection to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, in honour of whom the Mahmoud Darwish Literary Award, of which Breytenbach was the first recipient in March 2010, was established.

Read an extract from the book on Google Books, here.

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