Uneasy reading : resistance and revelation in Willem Boshoff's "Verskanste Openbaring"

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In 1978, South African conceptual artist Willem Boshoff retyped the Book of Revelation onto a single sheet of paper; reinserting the same page into his typewriter, layering the language upon itself. This project sets out to "read" the product of Boshoff's performance - a rectangle of superimposed text entitled "Verskanste Openbaring" ("Entrenched Revelation"). Entirely illegible, this page is immediately resistant to conventional strategies of reading. However, perhaps the text's provocation might also be an invitation of sorts; in the absence of discernible language, can we read the text's act of resistance? "Verskanste Openbaring" oscillates unpredictably between image and text. Rather, then, than imposing a rigid mode of interpretation, I situate the poem flexibly within the theoretical frameworks of concrete poetry, book history and conceptual writing. I begin at the surface of the page, approaching the the text in aesthetic and material terms. Here, specific attention is paid to considerations of the authorial performance, temporality, sound and typography. Having considered the author's performance of writing, I consider his medium: Afrikaans. Might we "read" a language aesthetically? Finally, focus is shifted from the ink to the book that is hidden within: Revelation. Looking back two thousand years, I explore the socio-political context in which John of Patmos produced this strange and deeply violent prophesy. Guided by the material conditions of Boshoff's piece, this paper seeks to respond to the provocations of both "Verskanste Openbaring" and its source text. Might the plagiarism be productively put into conversation with the original - and vice versa? In producing "Verskanste Openbaring" Boshoff foregrounds the performance of writing. In response, this project takes the shape its own self-conscious interpretive performance; an exploration of the possibilities of reading - via a single illegible page.