‘In die bus afgeluister’: the intellectual in the city

Many of N.P. van Wyk Louw’s essays address the role of the intellectual. In the 1930s, Louw struggles to define a place for the intellectual in relation to the Afrikaner ‘volk’ and its cultural movements and political parties. At the end of ‘Kultuurleiers sonder kultuur’ (Cultural Leaders without Culture, 1939), Louw turns to the simile of the cave from book seven of Plato’s ‘Republic’. There the cave represents the city and its people, who are trapped in illusion. Plato’s ‘philosopher’ escapes the dark chamber where the prisoners observe only shadows, gains enlightenment, and returns to open the eyes of his fellow inhabitants. Returning is the duty of the philosopher. How did N.P. van Wyk Louw imagine descending back into the ‘cave’, into the midst of the city, to be among the people of his country? One answer lies in a pair of unpublished fragments dating from the 1940s, entitled ‘In die bus afgeluister’ (Overheard on the Bus). In these fragments, Louw eavesdrops, as he takes the bus to and from work, on the conversations of people of Cape Town (South Africa) of various races. We get a slice of city life, and a sense of how Louw tried to embrace that life rather than isolate himself from it. The two urban sketches nevertheless show that the task of enlightening one’s fellow citizens proves more complicated than Louw expects because the intellectual is more deeply implicated in the illusory play of shadows than he imagines. This paper was presented as the N.P. van Wyk Louw Memorial Lecture at the University of Johannesburg on 15 September 2005. The text of ‘In die bus afgeluister’ is included in Afrikaans (p. 22-23) and English (p. 24-25). Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]

Title: ‘In die bus afgeluister’: the intellectual in the city
Author: Sanders, Mark
Year: 2006
Periodical: Tydskrif vir letterkunde
Volume: 43
Issue: 1
Pages: 5-21
Language: English
Geographic term: South Africa
About person: Nicolaas Petrus van Wyk Louw (1906-1970)
External link: https://doi.org/10.4314/tvl.v43i1.29715
Abstract: Many of N.P. van Wyk Louw’s essays address the role of the intellectual. In the 1930s, Louw struggles to define a place for the intellectual in relation to the Afrikaner ‘volk’ and its cultural movements and political parties. At the end of ‘Kultuurleiers sonder kultuur’ (Cultural Leaders without Culture, 1939), Louw turns to the simile of the cave from book seven of Plato’s ‘Republic’. There the cave represents the city and its people, who are trapped in illusion. Plato’s ‘philosopher’ escapes the dark chamber where the prisoners observe only shadows, gains enlightenment, and returns to open the eyes of his fellow inhabitants. Returning is the duty of the philosopher. How did N.P. van Wyk Louw imagine descending back into the ‘cave’, into the midst of the city, to be among the people of his country? One answer lies in a pair of unpublished fragments dating from the 1940s, entitled ‘In die bus afgeluister’ (Overheard on the Bus). In these fragments, Louw eavesdrops, as he takes the bus to and from work, on the conversations of people of Cape Town (South Africa) of various races. We get a slice of city life, and a sense of how Louw tried to embrace that life rather than isolate himself from it. The two urban sketches nevertheless show that the task of enlightening one’s fellow citizens proves more complicated than Louw expects because the intellectual is more deeply implicated in the illusory play of shadows than he imagines. This paper was presented as the N.P. van Wyk Louw Memorial Lecture at the University of Johannesburg on 15 September 2005. The text of ‘In die bus afgeluister’ is included in Afrikaans (p. 22-23) and English (p. 24-25). Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]