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This interview is taken from PN Review 189, Volume 36 Number 1, September - October 2009.

An Interview with Breyten Breytenbach André Naffis

Evil is not the exclusive dominion of the other.

During one of his frequent arrests, policemen confronted journalist Henri Rochefort with pictures they had found while searching his home: ‘Among your autographed portraits of Mazzini and Garibaldi, we found several of Rochefort, would you care to explain?’ ‘… Explain?… I am Henri Rochefort.’ ‘That may be true,’ one of the agents replied, ‘but their possession is still a punishable offence.’ A brief glance through Breyten Breytenbach’s books and the reader will make a similar discovery. His novels and memoirs are strewn with personas of the author, most of which are thinly disguised polyglot puns: take ‘Ka’afir’, a West African poet, ‘someone I’ve known on and off over the years’, a reality-check heteronym for Breytenbach, ‘someone I had to invent’ whose name is an Afrikaans anagram for Africa as well as the Arabic for ‘infidel’. It is difficult to pin Breytenbach down to a single epithet. When we met in Paris in late May I found him eager to devote more time to his paintings, the surreal Goya-esque canvases which have won him a number of well-received exhibitions: ‘It is true that I think of myself as a painter first and foremost, but not because it does away with the thorn of not being able to stand on a solid footing in any language. It is just a much more pleasant activity. As soon as you start moving the brush, the physicality of the dialogue allows you ...


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