Breyten Breytenbach

Literary Birthday – 16 September – Breyten Breytenbach

Happy Birthday, Breyten Breytenbach, born 16 September 1939.


  1. I came, I saw, I was confused.
  2. You ride astride the imaginary in order to hunt down the real.
  3. We know that in order to progress we must stretch for something just out of reach—if only for a life that will be more compassionate and decent than the cruelty, paranoia, greed, narrow corporatism, or narcissism we mostly indulge in and find such ample justification for. And so we dream.
  4. History is a succession of things that ought never to have happened, and the writing act is a kind of revenge against this.
  5. For me, writing in prison was a way of going into a space, which was partly memory and obviously partly one of the other rooms, a room of imagination.
  6. Rhythm, repetition, making patterns–these are not only important devices for shaping the strange and abstract instrument/object we call a poem or a story, but they are craved as well because of our primordial need for reassurance, the sense of security we get from moving over the known. A mystery doesn’t lose power in revisiting. Writing is not just to know, it is also to console. We need to be reminded that we are part of the obscure rhythm of birth and decade. It is the humming that matters.

On America

  1. I mean that America in Africa is not about values. It’s about American interests as interpreted by—in a very narrow way by people in power here.
  2. In reality the workings of your governing system are opaque and covert, while hiding in the chattering spotlight of an ostensible transparency, even though the ultimate objective is clear.
  3. …your present Administration and its specialised agencies by all accounts know no restraint in hitting out at any perceived enemy of America, and nobody or nothing can protect one from their vindictiveness.
  4. Americans have mastered the art of living with the unacceptable.

Breyten Breytenbach is a South African writer and painter. He opposed apartheid and left South Africa in 1960, settling in Paris in 1962 with his Viëtnamese wife. When Breytenbach returned to South Africa with a false passport in 1975, he was arrested, charged under the Terrorism Act, and jailed for seven years, where he wrote The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. He returned to Paris on his release. He currently divides his time between Europe, South Africa, and the USA.

Source for Image

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

by Amanda Patterson

Please click here for our Literary Birthday Calendar

Posted on: 16th September 2013