Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde: Translating Mofolo

Articles, Articles, Essays, Interviews & Memoir

Volume 53 (2) • 2016

Imaginary Intersection: Thomas Mofolo, Gertrude Stein and W.E. B. DuBois

Thomas Mofolo (1876-1948) and Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) shared a sense of narrative rhythm and fidelity to the notion of place, despite the distance, both literal and cultural, that separated them.  In their work from the early 20th century, Mofolo, a Mosotho educated by priests in southern Africa, and Stein, an ex-patriot American Jewish lesbian living in Paris, were experimenting with what it meant to show, as Stein would say, ‘the old world in the new or more exactly the new world all made out of the old.’ This piece explores the surprising and unintended encounter with two works published in English in the 1930s, Mofolo’s The Traveller to the East (1934) and Stein’s The World is Round (1939), where each is in the process of authoring a new configuration of identities. The sympathetic resonance inherent in their work may have found a conduit in W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), African-American intellectual, sociologist and civil rights activist. As a proponent of the Pan-African movement, DuBois made frequent trips to the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, and as editor of The Crisis magazine he was familiar with Stein’s work.  In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), DuBois theorized that racial oppression created a ‘double consciousness,’ a recognition of otherness that reverberates in Stein’s insistence on the authenticity of what is seen and Mofolo’s allegory of divine dislocation. This piece explores these potential intersections, searching for the transfer points, both real and imaginary. More