Original Research

Country of my skull/Skull of my country: Krog and Zagajewski, South Africa and Poland

P. van Schalkwyk
Literator | Vol 27, No 3 | a203 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v27i3.203 | © 2006 P. van Schalkwyk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 July 2006 | Published: 30 July 2006

About the author(s)

P. van Schalkwyk, School of Languages, Potchefstroom Campus, North-West University, South Africa

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In the ninth poem of the cycle “land van genade en verdriet” (“country of grace and sorrow”) in the collection “Kleur kom nooit alleen nie” (“Colour never comes on its own”), Antjie Krog contends that the old is “stinking along” ever so cheerfully/ robustly in the new South African dispensation. This could also hold true for the new democratic Poland. Krog and the Polish poet Adam Zagajewksi could, in fact, be described as “intimate strangers”, specifically with regard to the mirrored imagery of “country of my skull”/“skull of my country” present in their work. The notion of “intimate strangers” may be seen as pointing toward the feminine dimension of subjectivity, which could be elaborated along the lines of Bracha Ettinger’s concept of “matrixial borderlinking”. Ettinger has made a significant contribution to the field of psychoanalysis, building on Freud and Lacan. She investigates the subject’s relation to the m/Other, and the intimate matrixial sharing of “phantasm”, “jouissance” and trauma among several entities. Critical of the conventional “phallic” paradigm, Ettinger turns to the womb in exploring the “borderlinking” of the I and the non-I within the matrix (the psychic creative “borderspace”). With these considerations as point of departure, and with specific reference to the closing poem in Krog’s “Country of my skull” and Zagajewski’s “Fire” (both exploring “weaning” experiences in recent personal and public history), I intend to show how the public/political is connected to the personal/psychological, and vice versa, and how committed literary works like those of Krog and Zagajewski can be clarified further from a psychoanalytical perspective. The image of the skull in the texts under scrutiny is investigated with recourse to the Lacanian notion of the “cavity”, as adopted and adapted by Ettinger. True to the mirror experience as described within psychoanalysis, this exercise in mirroring Krog and Zagajewski has confirmed the ambiguous, eluding and illusory nature of identification and identity.


Bracha L Ettinger; Antjie Krog; Country Of My Skull; Poetry; Poland; Polish Literature Compared To South Africa; South African Literature; Psychoanalysis; Feminist


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