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Philology Contra Modernism: Translating Izibongo in Johannesburg

In many ways, the concept of translation has been at the heart of the global modernist project. In the canonical account of modernism first laid down by Hugh Kenner and his contemporaries, modernist translations of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit texts were never really intended to jumpstart a “comparative poetics.” They were simply the raw materials that Pound, Yeats, and Eliot used to “rethink the nature of an English poem.”[1] Fast-forward 40 years, and such a statement seems to cut against not only the prevailing sentiment that modernist writers were in fact interested in developing an ethics of cross-cultural encounter, but also the growing recognition that both modernism and translation are more multidirectional than Kenner’s account would suggest.[2] Work by Shu-mei Shih, Simon Gikandi, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Steven S. Lee, Jahan Ramazani, and many, many others has shown that modernism was built on a series of cross-cultural exchanges that radically reshaped both European and non-European literature.[3] Non-Western writers were just as actively transforming their own literatures as were Pound, Yeats, and Eliot—sometimes by borrowing from the language of the European avant-garde, sometimes by creating new models for modern poetry, and sometimes by directly influencing their European counterparts. In the imaginary of global modernism, it is the totality of all of these exchanges—and not just their effects on the European avant-garde—that constitute “modernism” writ large, and it is the duty of the scholar to help provide a more exhaustive picture of these “comparative poetics.”

There are very good reasons for expanding modernism in this way, and I would hesitate to label this expansion as anything other than a net positive. But that being said, we can also wonder about what gets lost when translation practices are coded first and foremost in a modernist language—as happens, I would argue, not only when the term “modernism” gets applied to a genus of non-Western works that demonstrate some of the key characteristics of European modernism (irony, fragmentation, parataxis, etc.), but which also occurs when translation theory borrows a modernist vocabulary for talking about the ambiguities inherent in the translation process. I am thinking in particular of works that rely heavily on Walter Benjamin’s influential account of “The Task of the Translator” or on Jacques Derrida’s notion of the “untranslatable,” both of which often lead scholars to stress the “defamiliarization” entailed in translation, as well as “the diminished status of originality (long a fixture of avant-garde doctrine or modernist credos of authorial impersonality)” and the radical “estrangement in language” experienced by the translator.[4]

In keeping with the spirit of this cluster, I want to ask what happens when we decouple the languages we use to describe modernism and translation. More specifically, I am interested in how we might exploit this decoupling to trace the gaps between the types of formal experiments that tend to go along with translation and the institutional locations that produce such translations. What are we to make of modernist experiments that grew out of the very institutional spaces that the European avant-garde ranged itself against, such as comparative philology, the university, and academic scholarship more generally? How might a renewed focus on translation help us to better describe the nature of these projects? And to what extent can a more nuanced discussion of modernism and translation provide us with a more rigorous sense of modernism’s global itinerary?

Modernism in Zulu: B. Wallet Vilakazi’s Experiments with Rhyme

To explore these questions, I turn in this essay to the work of the Zulu poet B. Wallet Vilakazi. Born in 1906 to two Christian converts, Vilakazi was a member of the class of African intellectuals that Tim Couzens has dubbed the “New Africans.”[5] Like his fellow New Africans, Vilakazi was educated at one of South Africa’s many mission schools, Groutville, and taught at several other mission schools before finally moving to Johannesburg in 1935. In Johannesburg, Vilakazi enrolled in the University of the Witwatersrand’s Bantu Studies Department, where he became the first black South African to receive an academic appointment. After working as a Language Assistant for several years, Vilakazi eventually received a Doctorate in Literature for his dissertation “The Oral and Written Literature in Nguni” (1946). While at Wits, he also produced a Master’s thesis, “The Conception and Development of Poetry in Zulu,” that would prove to be one the period’s more influential statements on Zulu poetics, and he collaborated with C. M. Doke on the monumental Zulu-English Dictionary (1948). Both of these latter two projects would be reprinted numerous times, and they continue to serve as key contributions to the study of oral poetry and the Zulu language.

Fig. 1. B. Wallet Vilakazi. Photographer unkown.

But it is as a poet that Vilakazi is most well remembered today. In the same year that he started at Wits, Vilakazi published one of the two poetry collections for which he is most well-known today, Inkondlo kaZulu (Zulu Songs, 1935). This collection is often credited with being one of the first works of written Zulu poetry, which up until the 1930s had been dominated by oral forms.[6] It is also, as David Attwell reminds us, a self-conscious attempt on Vilakazi’s part to “modernise” Zulu poetry by introducing English-style rhyme schemes into its various forms.[7] Vilakazi’s favorite compositional technique was to take familiar oral forms, such as amahubo (“ceremonial songs”), imidunduzelo (“lullabies”), and “izibongo (“praise poems”), and then shape them into couplets, rhyming quatrains, and other regular modes of verse. His hope was that these rhyme schemes would supply writers with “some form to embody or clothe the beautiful spirit of our poetry.”[8] In his more grandiose moments, Vilakazi would even go so far as to claim that his experiments with European models of verse were “beginning the work which may be given perfect form in generations to come”—a goal which, as Attwell notes, privileges the modernist tropes of “abstraction, distance, monumentality, and perfection” (Vilakazi, “Conception,” 129; Attwell, Rewriting Modernity, 89).

To understand the novelty of this technique and its connection to modernism, we must first recognize that Zulu oral poetry does not possess regular rhyme schemes. Instead, poems depend on various types of alliteration, repetition, and rhythmic balance for their structure. These basic elements are then used to construct more specialized forms, such as the ideophone, an “idea-in-sound” that was often onomatopoetic in nature, or the praise name, a phrase that “pick[s] out some quality of an object” and uses it as a stand-in for the name of an animal, an object, or a person.[9] Michael Chapman explains how the ideophone works by using the example of a butterfly flying through the air that is represented by the “pha-pha-pha-pha” that its wings make. Similarly, a famous hunter might be referred to by his praise name: “he who hunted the forests until they murmured” (Chapman, Southern African Literatures, 51). In both cases, the poetry is not driven by rhyme scheme, but by the rhythmic and alliterative combination of prefixes and stems into a wide range of epithets, interjections, and descriptions.

Part of the reason why Zulu poetry favors these combinative devices over rhyme has to do with the structure of the Zulu language. As Vilakazi himself was well aware, the Zulu language is not a natural fit for English-style rhyme schemes. The final syllable in most Zulu words is devocalized, which makes any attempt to fashion word endings into rhymes sound jarring to the ear. Furthermore, Zulu’s tendency to end words with a vowel drastically reduces the number of sounds from which rhymes can be fashioned.[10] This means that even if one were to try and build rhymes off of the devocalized final syllable, those rhymes would come off as leaden and mechanical. Such a ponderous meter is present in the following stanza from Vilakazi’s “We Moya,” which, as D. B. Z. Ntuli points out, is more of a “monotonous . . . repetition” of the suffix “-ini” than a “rhyme” per se (The Poetry of B. W. Vilakazi, 212):

Ngibe ngisangen’ endlini

Ngikuzw’ uthint’ ezintini

Nangaphande etshanini

[Whenever I enter the house

I hear you touching the rafters

And also outside on the grass.] (Quoted in Ntuli, The Poetry of B. W. Vilakazi, 212)

Vilakazi’s solution to this problem shows him at his most modernist. In order to avoid the jarring non-rhymes produced by a strict adherence to English models of versification, Vilakazi proposed extending the rhyme onto the penultimate syllable, where the vowel’s “governing consonant” would lend stress and variety to the meter (“Conception,” 128). Such a rhyme scheme would look something like this:

Sengiyokholwa ukuthi sewafa

Um’ ukukhala kwezinyoni zaphezulu

Nobususuku obuqhakaz’ izinkanyezi zezulu

Um’ inkwezane yokusa nezinkanyezi

Ezikhanyis’ umnyama njengonyezi

Sezanyamalal’ ungunaphakade (Quoted in Vilakazi, “Conception,” 128)

[I shall believe that you have died

When bird-calls brightening the air,

When night-dark skies festooned with stars,

When haze of dawn and mist of dusk

Whose fading glow is pale as moonbeams—

Have vanished forever from the earth.] [11]

Here, the disyllabic rhyme scheme enables Vilakazi to build cadences out of the stressed intonations that fall on the penultimate syllable: ZU-lu, NYE-zi. The resulting rhymes are more melodic than the monosyllabic rhymes common to English, which in Zulu cause the devocalized final vowel to be overwhelmed by the stressed consonant of the penultimate syllable. The structure also leads to longer, more-drawn out rhymes than would be the case for English, since the poet is required to string a rhyme together for multiple syllables (i.e., “ZU-lu” rather than just “lu”).

Taken in a vacuum, this project looks remarkably modernist. Just like the European writers who borrowed formal models from foreign cultures and used them to displace entrenched conventions, Vilakazi adopts a foreign form—English verse—and uses it to reimagine what is possible in Zulu poetry. In this respect, his project is not so different from, say, Pound’s experiments with Chinese grammatical forms and with Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse. If Pound believed that these models would help him to “make it new,” Vilakazi similarly saw “European standards” as a source of novelty for a South African audience that was in constant “demand for something new” (“Conception,” 127). And by translating these “standards” into Zulu, Vilakazi imagined himself to be not merely “imitating” their “form,” but to be participating in an expansion of the Zulu language itself. “[O]ur language is old,” reflects Vilakazi, “and is fast accumulating new words and concepts” (129). As such, European models could serve as a source of “influence” for new poetic forms that would reflect the growing internationalism of the Zulu language and its speakers, in a manner strikingly reminiscent of the revival movements Lital Levy describes in her contribution to this M/m cluster. This rejuvenated poetry would acknowledge that “conquest and subjugation to Western conditions” had exposed the Zulu people to a type of “human existence,” and that only new formal structures could help the poet to “interpret” this changed “existence” (132).

Zulu Poetry and the Philological Method

The analogy with modernism begins to break down, though, when we dig more deeply into how Vilakazi’s academic scholarship influenced his poetic theories. Alongside Doke, Vilakazi delved deeply into the minutiae of the Zulu language—the logic of its grammatical structures, the construction of its phonemes, and, of course, the correspondence between Zulu and English words. This last project was one that missionaries, lexicographers, and linguists had been struggling with for years, and it was the singular accomplishment of Doke and Vilakazi’s Zulu-English Dictionary that it was finally able to fix the shifting field of English-Zulu semantics into a finished set of correspondences.[12] Elizabeth Le Roux praises the text for still being “among the most comprehensive and scholarly [dictionaries] yet produced for any Bantu language” even after 70 years after its initial publication, and it remains one of the most expansive and authoritative sources of information on the Zulu language for English readers.[13]

Vilakazi’s work in linguistics found its way into his poetic theory, where pride of place is often accorded to nuanced investigations into the phonetic basis of rhymes and the grammatical rules governing the construction of verse.

At the time of Vilakazi’s appointment, the field of Bantu Studies was dominated by methods drawn from comparative philology, which had played a decisive role in the formation of Bantu Studies in the late nineteenth century. Under the guiding influence of the German linguists Wilhelm Bleek and Carl Meinhof, who had first imported the methods of German philology into Bantu Studies, scholars routinely used classifications of grammatical and lexical forms to divide the country’s population into a number of distinct ethnic groups. [14] For example, differences in phonetics were used to solidify a longstanding distinction between the three major ethnic groups in South Africa, the “Bushmen,” the “Hottentots,” and the “Bantu.” Thus, in The Yellow and Dark-skinned People of Africa South of the Zambesi (1910) the historian George McCall Theal distinguished between “Bushmen” languages (“abounding in clicks and in deep guttural sounds”), “Hottentot” languages (“abounding in clicks, but less so than that of the Bushmen, and without the croaking sounds of the wild people”), and “Bantu” languages (“musical, words abounding in vowels and inflected to produce harmony and sound”).[15] The Bushmen languages’ reliance on “clicks” and “guttural sounds” signaled to Theal that the Bushmen occupied a lower rung on the evolutionary hierarchy than Bantus, with their more sophisticated use of vowels. As such, the two groups needed to be kept analytically separate. “The variations between the three classes of human beings”—Bushmen, Hottentots, and Bantus—are “very marked,” concludes Theal, and can only be described in insolation from one another (The Yellow and Dark-skinned People, 31). Much like the German Romantics who assumed that there was an essential connection between race, language, and nation, Theal insists that variations in linguistic structure must be treated as signs of ethnic difference—and, moreover, that such linguistic markers can therefore be used to construct a scientific classification of the “races” of South Africa.

Such classification systems were based on a presumed congruence between grammatical form and historical evolution. In his Comparative Grammar of South African Languages (1862)—one of the early cornerstones of Bantu Studies—Wilhelm Bleek would go so far as to claim that philology provided an insight into historical change “superior in its certainty to that of the historical record.”[16] This somewhat counterintuitive claim followed from Bleek’s own debts to German Romanticism, as well as from the popular perception that African cultures were inherently static. When these two beliefs were combined, they led philologists such as Bleek and Meinhof to conclude that any alternations to a language’s deep-grammatical structures must have been the result of contact with outside cultures.  According to this theory, all of the languages included in the larger “Bantu” language tree—Nguni, Sotho, Shona, etc.—could be traced back to a single source language, “Ur-Bantu” (an obvious echo of the Indo-European language tree made famous by German philology).[17] Over the years, “the descent and mixture of the different nations inhabiting South Africa” had allegedly caused Ur-Bantu to splinter into dozens of different languages and dialectics, each of which bore the history of these “mixtures” in its morphology (Bleek, Comparative Grammar, vii). For Bleek, Meinhof, and their fellow philologists, this meant that the history of South Africa was most directly visible in the traces that it imprinted on linguistic structure. It was here, Bleek insisted, that scholars could see “whence and by what races South Africa was originally peopled, how they came into contact with one another, whether they peacefully comingled, or whether the stronger drove the weaker race vigorously before them” (vii).

As an academic working in Bantu Studies, Vilakazi inherited Bleek’s sense that historical ruptures were recorded in a language’s deep grammar. His experiments with disyllabic rhyme schemes were inspired by his belief that “the advent of the White man” in South Africa “marks a new epoch in the history of the Zulus” (Vilakazi, “Conception,” 124). The Zulu’s “contact with the so-called western civilization,” Vilakazi remarks in “The Conception and Development of Zulu Poetry,” “has changed even the spring of his emotions,” which now “necessitate a new form” for their expression (124). Vilakazi is clear that what he means by “form” here is not simply the creation of new genres, or even an “imitation” of the “outward decoration” of “Western stanza-forms and metrical system[s]” in and of itself (127). Rather, Vilakazi’s “new form” is one that operates on the level of deep linguistic structures—from the accumulation of “new words and concepts” to the very sounds encoded in Zulu phonetics. The fact, for instance, that the sound “R is creeping into the language” suggests to Vilakazi that the inmost principles of Zulu have been altered by English imperialism. And while Zulu poets do not yet have a “definite form” capable of engaging with such changes, English-style rhyme schemes present one plausible model for how to adapt the language to its evolving linguistic structures.

It is this investment in philology’s deep-grammatical notion of historical change that Vilakazi’s contemporary, the poet and dramatist H. I. E. Dhlomo, misses when he critiques Vilakazi’s rhyme schemes for being “totally alien to our tribal culture.”[18] The whole point behind Vilakazi’s experimentalism is that Zulu is changing through contact with European culture, and it is the poet’s duty to help “force” this transformation into being (in the Badiouian sense) by crafting new poetic forms for an evolving language.[19] This is why Vilakazi devotes several pages of his most important theoretical statement on Zulu poetry, “The Conception and Development of Poetry in Zulu,” to classifying the phonetic basis for Zulu rhymes—the “denti-labial consonants” that “rhyme well” (e.g., vela/fela, vula/fula), “alveolars” such as “t, th, and d” that “run together” (amatata/amathatha/amadada), “velar consonants” that “rhyme very smoothly” (amagagasi/amakhosikazi/amakhasi), and on and on (129–30). In the philological imaginary, these grammatical constructions are the level at which historical change takes place, and it is an indication of the Zulu language’s inherent modernity that it can cannibalize European metrical systems, grammatical rules, phonemes—even orthography. Indeed, in Vilakazi’s reading of the Western poetic tradition it is precisely when European culture “discovered” the Greco-Roman classics that it was able to develop its own modern “standards” for poetry—in part, Vilakazi seems to imply, because classical literature jolted European languages out of their traditional linguistic structures by bringing them into contact with a foreign set of grammatical rules (“Conception,” 127). Within this longer history of modernization-through-cannibalization, Vilakazi’s experiments with disyllabic rhymes simply reflect his belief that the poet can only intervene in modernity by laying down new formal structures capable of reaching into the innermost recesses of a language’s deep grammar—by producing, that is, the very sort of “alien” forms that Dhlomo found so jarring in Vilakazi’s poetry.

Yet it is also this very belief in the poet’s ability to help shape emerging grammatical norms that places Vilakazi furthest away from European modernism. In the disciplinary ecology of early twentieth-century Europe, modernist experimentalism staked its reputation on its distance from the scientific discourses on language that were taking shape in the research university. As John Guillory explains, in the 1890s a schism developed between “the study of language and the study of literature” that “internalized the fault line between the sciences and the humanities.”[20] Literature subsequently became “the repository of whatever in language was resistant to scientific rationality”—a distinction that modernists exploited to distinguish their approach to language from the one “philologically taught . . . in classrooms” (Guillory, “Literary Study,” 35).[21]

Modernism Beyond the Avant-Garde

So where does this leave Vilakazi? The easy approach would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater: “If the term ‘global modernism’ obscures important aspects of Vilakazi’s work, then let’s be done with it and find something better!” But to me, this approach misses what is so intriguing about Vilakazi’s work—namely, that it manages to combine modernist-style experimentalism with a very un-modernist interest in academic linguistics. There is a fundamental incongruity between the European avant-garde’s account of literary experimentation and Vilakazi’s philological imaginary, and this dissonance tells us much about the nature of experimental poetry in South Africa.  For instance, we could note that literary experiments in South Africa tended to be dependent on vast institutional apparatuses that facilitated translations between African languages and European languages—the transcription of African languages into the Roman alphabet, the standardization of African languages in grammars, dictionaries, and primers, and the instruction in European forms of poetry provided by the mission schools.[22] By their very nature, these institutions place a greater emphasis on the collective dimensions of language—those grammatical structures that are resistant to the singular interventions of the individual artist. Yet the experiments performed in these spaces were still framed in the same language of revolutionary change which in Europe was confined—at least initially—to the counterpublic institutions of the radical avant-garde.

And here is where a renewed focus on translation comes in handy. When we blend the concepts of modernism and translation together, the two terms become such close synonyms that all sorts of translational practices become sui generis “modernist.” After all, translation brings to the fore many of the same aesthetic concerns as does modernism: the gap between words and their intended meanings, the materiality of language’s sonic dimension, and the need for new forms to convey one’s message. This is why it has been so easy for modernist studies to expand itself into new geographies and time periods. If the ambiguities that result from translation and other types of cross-cultural exchange are read as fundamentally “modernist,” then modernism can exist in almost any time and place. Even when texts include elements that we might be tempted to describe as “non-modernist”—conventional realism, melodrama, fixed meter and rhyme schemes, etc.—we can always pull these texts back into the modernist orbit by diagnosing these contradictions as signs of their inherent “fragmentation.”

But when we decouple translation from modernism, we can begin to see modernist experimentalism as only one element of a much more multifaceted work. Vilakazi’s poetry can be modernist in its concern with the creation of new poetic forms and in its break with conventional forms of representation, but it can also possess characteristics that cannot be assimilated to the modernist project, such as its academicism and its philological account of historical evolution. Our tendency in modernist studies is to read these schisms as further indicators of a text’s modernism, so that modernism becomes an all-or-nothing proposition: a text either “is” modernist or it “isn’t.”[23] But we could instead think of modernism as a more historically-specific brand of experimentalism born out of a close encounter with certain types of translation (i.e., the vast archives of non-European texts that were being made available to lay readers through the fruits of scholarly exegesis and imperial expansion). Such a perspective would have the utility of explaining how and why modernist projects began to spring up across the globe in the early twentieth century, while also leaving room for the elaboration of regional specificities. It would also help us to see that modernism was—first and foremost—a translational aesthetic.



[1] Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 199.

[2] On the relationship between modernist form and the ethics of cross-cultural encounter, see Jessica Berman, Modernist Commitments: Ethics, Politics, and Transnational Modernism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

[3] See Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Simon Gikandi, “Picasso, Africa, and the Schemata of Difference,” Modernism/modernity 10, no. 3 (2003): 455–80; Chika Okeke-Agula, Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015); Steven S. Lee, The Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015); Jahan Ramazani, A Transnational Poetics (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

[4] Lawrence Venuti, “Translation, Community, Utopia,” in The Translation Studies Reader, ed. Lawrence Venuti (New York: Routledge, 2000), 468–488, 469; Emily Apter, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 223, 246. See also Jacques Derrida, The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, ed. Christie McDonald and trans. Peggy Kamuf (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985); and Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 1: 1913–1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 253–63.

[5] Tim Couzens, The New African: A Study of the Life and Work of H. I. E. Dhlomo (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1985). Couzens takes the term “New African” from a 1945 newspaper article by the poet and dramatist H. I. E. Dhlomo, “African Attitudes to the European” (The Democrat, December 1, 1945). In its now-conventional usage, the term is used to refer to the small but robust group of teachers, journalists, and politicians active in the Bantu Men’s Social Centre (BMSC) in the 1930s. This group—which included such notable figures as H. I. E. Dhlomo, Peter Abrahams, Selope Thelma, and D. D. T. Jabayu—sought to develop a new, modern, and urbanized “African” culture, largely as a means to counter the images of “traditional” tribal culture that were circulating among South Africa’s white population.

[6] Some version of this claim is made in, for example, C. L. S. Nyembezi, A Review of Zulu Literature (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal, 1961), N. B. Z. Ntuli, The Poetry of B. W. Vilakazi (Pretoria: van Schaik, 1984), and A. T. Cope, “Zulu Izibongo as Written Literature,” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory 62, no. 1 (1984): 13–27.

[7] David Attwell, Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005), 87.

[8] B. W. Vilakazi, “The Conception and Development of Poetry in Zulu,” Bantu Studies 12, no. 1 (1938): 105–34, 129.

[9] Michael Chapman, Southern African Literatures (New York: Longman, 1996), 51.

[10] J. D. Taylor made this point in an early of review of Inkondlo kaZulu. See J. Dexter Taylor, “Inkondlo kaZulu—An Appreciation,” Bantu Studies 9, no. 1 (1935): 163–65, 164.

[11] Unless otherwise specified, all translations of Vilakazi’s poems are taken from Zulu Horizons, trans. Florence Louie Ferguson, D. McK. Malcolm, and J. Mandlenkosi Sikakana (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1973). Even though the volume is titled Zulu Horizons—the name of Vilakazi’s second volume, Amal’ezulu (1945)—it includes the poems contained in both Amal’ezul and Inkondlo kaZulu.

[12] For a more detailed discussion of some of the debates sparked by early twentieth-century translation projects, see Bhekizizwe Peterson, Monarchs, Missionaries, and Intellectuals: African Theater and the Unmaking of Colonial Marginality (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000), 72–77.

[13] Elizabeth Le Roux, “Between the Cathedral and the Market: A Study of Wits University Press,” in The Book in Africa: Critical Debates, ed. Caroline Davis and David Johnson (New York: Palgrave, 2015), 176-197, 180.

[14] Sara Pugach traces the reception of Meinhof’s ideas among South African academics in Africa in Translation: A History of Colonial Linguistics in Germany and Beyond, 1814–1945 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 160–85.

[15] George McCall Theal, The Yellow and Dark-skinned People of Africa South of the Zambesi (London: Sonnenschein, 1910), 31–32. Saul Dubow provides an excellent account of the role that comparative philology played in buttressing South African notions of race in Scientific Racism in South Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 66–119.

[16] W. H. I. Bleek, A Comparative Grammar of South African Languages, Part 1: Phonology (London: Trübner, 1862), vii.

[17] Meinhof coined the term “Ur-Bantu” in his Grundriss einer Lautlehre der Bantusprachen (Introduction to the Phonology of the Bantu Languages; Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1899).

[18] H. I. E. Dhlomo, “African Drama and Poetry,” South African Outlook 1 (April 1939), 14.

[19] In Alain Badiou’s philosophical system, every new truth must “force” its way into the reigning system of knowledge. “The power of the verb to force,” explains Badiou, “indicates that since the power of a truth is that of a break, it is by violating established and circulating knowledges that a truth returns to the immediacy [l’immédiat] of the situation, or reworks that sort of portable encyclopedia from which opinions, communications and sociality draw their meaning” (Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil [New York: Verso, 2001], 70).

[20] John Guillory, “Literary Study and the Modern System of the Disciplines,” in Disciplinarity at the Fin De Siècle, ed. Amanda Anderson and Joseph Valente (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 19–43, 35.

[21] Ezra Pound, “Notes on Elizabethan Classicists,” The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot (London: Faber, 1954), 241. Pound had a vexed relationship with philology. Even though he frequently critiqued philologists, his poetry was dependent on their scholarly labors, and his attacks sometimes covered over deeper similitudes between his work and philology. For more on this relationship, see Victor P. H. Li, “Philology and Power: Ezra Pound and the Regulation of Language,” boundary 2 15, no. 1–2 (1986–1987): 187–210, and J. Mark Smith, “The Energy of Language(s): What Pound Made of Philology,” ELH 78, no. 4 (2011): 769–800.

[22] Mark Sanders provides a good abbreviated history of these efforts vis-à-vis Zulu in Learning Zulu: A Secret History of Language in South Africa (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 8–30.

[23] In this respect, it might be a good idea to think of modernism as an adjective, as Susan Stanford Friedman has suggested. See Friedman, Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 33–37.