Tag Archives: marriage

The heart has spaces – the love letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker

Drawing in Ingrid's letter of 15 October 1963
In the beginning there were the women of his past, a ghost among them. André Brink had never been afraid to love. After the life-defining relationship of his youth with Ingrid Jonker, her suicide, and four divorces, at the age of 69 he had the guts to say yes to a delicate possibility.

When we met in Austria towards the end of 2004 I was terribly young, on the verge of a divorce, broken by betrayals, and almost paralysed by mistrust. Continents and cultures apart, 42 years between us, the odds staked against us could not have been higher. Yet we somehow mustered enough courage to dare the impossible and turn it into reality. For ten years, the first thing we did every morning after waking up next to each other was to smile. No matter what. Of course it hadn’t been easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. And coming to terms with our respective pasts was our greatest challenge.

André first introduced me to Ingrid in a letter on 23 December 2004:

She was a year or so older than me, and light-years older in terms of sexual experience. It was an incredible, hectic, heady, head-over-heels love of extremes, swinging wildly from ecstasy to the depths of misery; and it became just too exhausting and demanding. After two years (and several break-ups and new starts) she started a new love-affair, and then I did too (both of us, I think, grasping at possibilities of getting out of our own relationship which had become suffocating). And so it ended. She had one more mad love-affair, and committed suicide.

Coming to live with André in the South African spring of 2005, I very quickly realised that in order to know him – truly know him – I had to understand what had happened between him and Ingrid 40 years earlier. We both had to. No other woman in André’s life had left as indelible a mark on him as Ingrid. No other haunted me as much in the beginning of our relationship.

I am proud of countless things André and I have achieved together, but the one that made all else possible is the space we created in our relationship for sharing, for being painfully open with each other. André and I met at Vienna International Airport when I went to pick him up and accompany him on the train journey to Salzburg, where he was participating in a symposium I’d helped organise. On that trip we began a conversation which, literally, lasted ten years until I told him I loved him for the last time and closed his lips with a final kiss just before he died earlier this year. It was a stripping of minds and hearts. Time after time, we stood completely soul-naked in front of each other, risking everything, and eventually knowing that love would prevail, always, no matter how terrifyingly ugly the revealed truth – on both sides – was. It is the kind of knowledge which can lay any ghost to rest.

At the end of Everything I Know I Learned from TV: Philosophy for the Unrepentant Couch Potato, my favourite philosopher, Mark Rowlands, writes: “If I could repay you with a wish it would be that you find something in your life so important that without it you would not be the same person. If you’re lucky you’ll have it already.” The relationship with Ingrid was such a thing for André. He wrote in his memoir, A Fork in the Road (Harvill Secker, 2009): “On that memorable afternoon of 15 April, 1963, a group of us were gathered in the lounge of Jan Rabie’s rambling old house in Cape Town, when Ingrid walked in, barefoot and provocative, and the movement against censorship officially began, and the course of my life was changed.” Her influence permeated everything: his personal life, and, just as crucially, his writing. One only needs to look at André’s women characters, walking in Ingrid’s footprints across the pages of his novels, to comprehend what an impact their meeting had on his creativity. And they are only the most obvious example. But despite the evidence, for many years André was exceedingly reluctant to speak or write about Ingrid after her death.

At the time of our engagement in early 2006, together with Antjie Krog and Ingrid de Kok, André was working on the new translations of Ingrid Jonker’s poems which would result in the publication of Black Butterflies: Selected Poems (Human & Rousseau, 2007). It must have been during this period that he showed me his and Ingrid’s correspondence for the first time. He kept the letters in the same place as his diaries which he reread for the writing of the introduction to Black Butterflies, the first text of its kind after many years of silence. An intimate treasure and a chunk of literary history many had wondered about for decades, even back then the letters had an irresistible appeal for me. Although my grasp of the Afrikaans language and literature was shaky at this stage, I understood their importance as a key to André’s life story and to the creative and intellectual forces culminating in the literary movement of the Sestigers. We looked at them together, he told me their story, and allowed me to comment on the translations as well as on the introduction. The title for the collection followed from a suggestion I’d made. Being included felt like a form of exorcism.

I wrote in my own diary of the time: “Dear Ingrid, are you smiling at us after all?”

Continue reading: LitNet

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What I’ve learned about my brain in love

FogFor Women’s Day, my husband and I attended a special lecture-breakfast with Mark Solms at Solms Delta yesterday. We arrived in a dense fog, left bathed in sunshine. It wasn’t only the weather, but the illumination which came after the lecture entitled “The Brain In Love”.

Most of us know what love is. It’s individual and universal. The sum of all world literature is the grand story of love. Love is also science.

Scientifically speaking, it seems, there are five main observable components of love:
~ Bonding, forming attachments, pair-binding; it starts the moment you are born, first it’s the baby-carer bond which is naturally induced by opioids (love is a true addiction), then it develops into all the other attachments we form during our lifetimes; losing an attachment figure results in panic, ‘air-hunger’, withdrawal, which can shift into despair; then (if you are lucky) you let go and form other attachments.

Mark Solms with guests

Mark Solms with guests

~ Nurture and care, as opposed to the need of a child to bond; on average females (in all mammals) are more attached and caring than males.

~ Reward mechanism, also called the wanting mechanism, or the seeking system, or the basic appetite system, or optimism system – by whichever name it is dopamine-controlled; this is what makes us go out there into the world and seek fulfilment; it generates desire, doesn’t satisfy it.

~ Play, which is essential for survival; establishing the rules of engagement is crucial, it is all about finding boundaries; the 60-40% rule applies, which simply put means that none of us want to be submissive for more than 40% of the time, on average the 40% will apply to women, the 60% to men; if the 60-40% rule is upset, it usually ends in tears, fear, anger, or in the worst-case scenario in abuse.

~ Sex drive (obviously).

SunshineAll of us mammals engage in these activities. What makes humans unique is our developed pre-frontal lobe in relation to all emotional mechanisms. It is responsible for inhibition. This is our override mechanism. We can control our emotions. This is why we ‘don’t know our emotions as well as all other animals do…we are opaque to ourselves.’

Memorable quotes:
‘Love comes at you, it’s all about feeling…it’s not a cognitive business.’
‘Love matters to us.’
‘Love and randiness are not the same thing, but it comes into it.’
‘We scientists call it copulation – a simple matter.’

André's PHILIDA at the Solms-Delta Museum van de Caab

André’s PHILIDA at the Solms-Delta Museum van de Caab

‘No thinking happens during orgasm.’
‘You don’t have to give birth to your boyfriend to love him.’
‘Don’t overestimate the frontal lobes.’
On marriage: ‘I promise to be with you together forever even though I have a seeking system.’
On love: ‘It’s a complicated thing.’
(Don’t we know!)