Original Research

Expressing the indescribable: Mystic desire and loss in Die sneeuslaper by Marlene van Niekerk

Chris van der Merwe
Literator | Vol 33, No 2 | a138 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v33i2.138 | © 2012 Chris van der Merwe | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 July 2012 | Published: 28 November 2012

About the author(s)

Chris van der Merwe, School of Languages and Literature, University of Cape Town, South Africa


The four stories in Die sneeuslaper by Marlene van Niekerk all contain a ‘narrative argument’ about the meaning of life and art. The article is about the role of mysticism in the ‘argument’. It is impossible to give an exhaustive definition of ‘mysticism’, but some characteristics mentioned by seminal studies on mysticism are mentioned. At the heart of mysticism, there seems to be a union with the Absolute – an indescribable experience. Mysticism, like trauma, shatters the world in its familiar guise; both phenomena are overwhelming, and they cannot be expressed by conventional language. In Die sneeuslaper, we find a connection between trauma, mysticism and creativity. The main characters go through a traumatic process in which they take leave of their familiar worlds, in search of a mystical reality, more pure than the reality of every day. By entering this ‘higher’ reality, the creative person is liberated from conventional language and thought and starts to penetrate into the essence of things. It is a process with a liminal structure developing in three stages: It begins with the departure from the familiar world, which leads to transformation and finally to a return with the fruits of creativity.


Narrative; Mysticism; Trauma; Marlene; Van Niekerk; Die Sneeuslaper


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