Inaugural Lecture: Professor Dirk Klopper

16 October 2013

Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Heads of Department, colleagues, students, family and friends of Prof Klopper, ladies and gentlemen – molweni, good evening, welcome.

The University Calendar lists all the current full professors of Rhodes University. Professor Dirk Klopper, the Head of the English Department, is one of the more recent entries on this list.

This evening, as is our tradition, we have the presentation of the Inaugural Lecture that follows the University conferring the status of full professor on an academic.

It is an evening on which as academic peers, colleagues, students, family, friends, and the public we celebrate the intellectual and scholarly achievements of one of our professors.

Having spent his childhood between his father’s house in Kroonstad and his mother’s house first in Johannesburg and then Pretoria, Dirk found himself a boarder at Dale College, King Williams Town, where he matriculated in 1974.

Although the boarding school regime on an old frontier was somewhat repressive, it was no more oppressive than the hostels he had stayed in with farmers’ children in Kroonstad.

In the Free State he spent weekends on farms in the district, riding horses and fishing in muddy dams, in the Eastern Cape he visited school friends who lived in interesting places, like the trading station in Idutywa and the hotel in Stutterheim.

Dirk’s academic training started at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, where he was taught, among others, by Paul Walters, who had arrived back from his studies in the United States of America and was en route to Rhodes University. During this time Dirk got to attend live music shows by Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim) and Philip Tabane, which made an indelible impression on him.

He graduated from the university with a BA degree in English and Afrikaans-Netherlands, and with a Higher Degree in Education.

As a conscientious non-combatant, Dirk was posted to an administrative job in Pretoria for his compulsory national service, and enrolled for a part-time Honours degree in English at UNISA, which he obtained at the end of the two-year period.

He then taught English at the Pretoria School of Art, Ballet and Music, enrolling at UNISA for his Master’s degree by thesis, on poststructuralist theory and the poetry of Shelley. For this work he received the Doctor’s Exhibition Award.

In 1985 he started his academic career at Vista University, Mamelodi, where he first encountered the music of Vusi Mahlasela, and where he appointed Lynda Spencer, his current wife, as tutor shortly before he left the university 10 years later.

While at Vista, he advanced through the ranks to Associate Professor level and also spent a term as Head of Department. Dirk also received the Council Achievement Award for two years running while at Vista.

During this period Dirk completed a doctoral study on materialist theory and the settler poetry of the Eastern Cape frontier, from Thomas Pringle to Guy Butler. The thesis was examined by, among others, Malvern Van Wyk Smith, who was later to profess that he didn’t much care for the early chapters but liked the chapter on Butler sufficiently to pass the thesis. Happily it did not go the other way.

In 1995 Dirk took up a post at the Rand Afrikaans University, now the University of Johannesburg, and subsequently spent 12 months on a Commonwealth Fellowship conducting research at Oxford University on the poet Arthur Nortje, where he worked under the supervision of the postcolonial theorist Robert Young.

While at Rand Afrikaans University he was also recognised by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) Best Special Issue Award, which was awarded to the journal Poetics Today: South Africa in the Global Imaginary 22(2) 2001 in which his article “Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s Testimony before the TRC” was published.

Shortly after his return from Oxford, he took up a position as Professor of English and HoD at Stellenbosch University in 2003.

During his time at Stellenbosch, Dirk sat on the Chairs of Department Committee, was tasked as a member of the Faculty Research Committee with evaluating staff research proposals for funding, and contributed to multilingual language policy development and Faculty language planning as a member of the Council Language Committee.

Since coming to Rhodes in 2010, Dirk has been an active member of the Humanities Standing Committee, the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA) Management Board, the Theatre Management Committee, and the Rhodes representative on the National English Literary Museum (NELM) Council.

Dirk’s teaching interests include: South African travel writing and narrative fiction; transnationalism and cultural translation; place history and kinship; and anthropology, ecology and postcolonial studies.

He has supervised one Doctoral thesis and 13 Master’s theses. He is currently supervising a further five Masters and Doctorates, and five Postdoctoral studies while also mentoring an NRF internship at Rhodes.

His external examination activities include nine Masters and three Doctoral theses and he has been an external examiner for several South African universities.

Dirk has also been an adjudicator for highly sought after prizes and awards such as the Sydney Clouts Memorial Prize, the Olive Schreiner and Thomas Pringle Awards and the Alex La Guma Bessie Head Fiction Award.

Finally, he has been an evaluator for NRF research projects and researcher ratings, literary-critical manuscripts of UKZN and UNISA Presses, poetry manuscripts for Ravan Press and articles for the Journal of Literary Studies, Literator, English in Africa, and English Studies in Africa.

Dirk’s commitments to professional associations have included a role as editor in chief of English Academy Review, member of the editorial board and guest editor of the English in Africa annual special issue. He has also been a member of the English Studies Management Forum, the executive committee and council of the English Academy of Southern Africa, and executive member of the Association of University English Teachers of South Africa and Committee of University Professors.

At the cultural level Dirk’s involvement has included directing a best production of Barnstable and a workshop production on Athol Fugard at the SACEE Drama Festival; he has also coordinated and participated in COSAW activities in Johannesburg and Pretoria, a creative arts society at Vista, and a poetry group and poetry festival for Arts Alive and Rand Afrikaans University.

His community involvement has been evident in his work with UDUSA and IDASA in the establishment with of parent, teacher and student associations and workshops on democratic governance with teacher and student organisations in Mamelodi high schools. He was also an English tutor for the Pretoria-based Education Support Programme.

His current research into South African Literary History seeks to compile a comprehensive digital record of South African literature and to promote archival research. This project has been undertaken in close collaboration with NELM and has a special annual issue of the journal of English in Africa devoted to its work.

Another project on Dwelling and Kinship in South African Writing has Dirk working on a monograph that focuses on the topos of the country in South African narrative fiction.

Dirk was also awarded a Mellon Research Focus area titled South African Literature in Focus. The project has initiated incisive and engaging research on South African literature through the provision of undergraduate and Honours courses, challenging postgraduate research opportunities and the promotion of staff teaching and research in the field.

Previously his NRF Research niche area focused on the tensions between national and local forms of identification and was titled Embedded Subjectivities: Language, Ethnicity and the Body in South African literature.

Dirk has published 29 articles in accredited journals and 11 book chapters on various aspects of South African literature, is editor of Anatomy of Dark: Collected Poems of Arthur Nortje, and is co-author, with Gareth Cornwell and Craig McKenzie, of The Columbia Guide to South African Literature in English since 1945.

He has also written several reviews for journals such as New Coin, the Southern African Review of Books and Staffrider among others and has presented some 34 conference papers, been invited to lecture or conduct seminars on numerous occasions and participated in panel discussions, readings and conducted interviews in his areas of expertise.

Most recently he convened the conference titled Interrogating the Human: Literary and Epistemological Interchange Conference at Rhodes.

It is my great pleasure to invite Professor Dirk Klopper to address us this evening. His lecture is titled ‘Poverty, Bare Life & the Work of the Imaginary’.


Last Modified: Mon, 17 Nov 2014 11:08:09 SAST