Orion, Ram's-horn and Labyrinth : quest and creativity in Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf, Agaat and Memorandum.
This study of Marlene Van Niekerk’s three novels, Triomf, Agaat, and Memorandum, explores the motifs of quest and creativity, and their association with the spiritual and numinous. Notions of self-creation, the imaginative re-creation of reality and the relationship between creativity, self-awakening and revelation are explored in an analysis of Van Niekerk’s novels. This thesis considers the encounter with alterity as a catalyst for undoing the boundaries of the self that leads to “profane illumination” and transformation. Van Niekerk’s characters confront alterity on numerous levels: their own abjection, death, the racial other, and the experience of alterity in artistic creation. It is worth noting that the characters who form the focus of this study – Mol, Treppie, Agaat, Milla, Jakkie and Wiid – are story-tellers and myth-makers, and that their creative use of symbol, myth and metaphor stimulate self-transformation. This study illuminates the relatively unexplored domain of the mystical and spiritual in Van Niekerk’s novels. This focus emerges within the context of a renewed interest in the spiritual within the humanities. Van Niekerk’s writing resonates with an integralist conception of spirituality that includes aesthetic experience, magic, and a sense of the sacred as embodied and demotic. The concern with immanence and non-dualism in Van Niekerk’s novels is typical of postmodern spirituality, and resonates with Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings on art and the Dionysian worldview. For Nietzsche art is spiritual, turning the individual into a creator and “transfigurer” of existence. Through the lens of Nietzsche’s writings on the artist-philsopher, I explore the motif of a spiritual-ethical and aesthetic quest toward a greater openness to alterity, to the world, and toward cosmic interconnectedness. Chapter One offers a reading of Triomf, focussing on the antithetical perspectives of Treppie and Mol, and their ontological quests. I explore Mol’s abjection in terms of Luce Irigaray’s writings on female mysticism, looking at Mol as a burlesque Mary/Martha figure. I explore Mol’s mystical quest, her compassion, and her affinity with alterity, which allows her to become the creator of her own cosmology. Conversely, I explore Treppie’s quest toward becoming an artist-philosopher. In the conclusion to this chapter I examine the implications of Treppie’s and Mol’s cosmic gaze and their different ontological outlooks.