2008. English Studies in Africa 51(1): 47-64.
This article offers a reassessment of “Poetry ’74”, the literary conference held in Cape Town in 1974 at which Mike Kirkwood introduced the term “Butlerism”, thus linking Guy Butler inextricably with his critique of English South African writers continuing to act as “colonizers” under apartheid. The article attempts to show that, although Kirkwood’s paper was in some ways a timely intervention, “Butlerism” does not accurately portray Butler’s life and work; and that, more than simply having a deleterious effect on perceptions about Butler, it has skewed subsequent approaches to the history of literary studies in South Africa. This is indicative of a wider pattern in the construction of apartheid-era South African literary history/histories that has potentially negative consequences on current and future formations of the discipline of literary studies.