Contemporary fictional representations of sexualities from authoritarian African contexts

Mtenje, Asante Lucy (2016-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this dissertation, I investigate the contentious subject of sexualities as represented in fiction from selected Anglophone African countries which, even post-independence, have tended to enforce authoritarian, hetero-patriarchal control. The study explores how contemporary African writers, writing in (or in relation to) repressive contexts, represent uneasy intersections between socio-cultural understandings of sexuality, gender, and desire, entailing varieties of relation such as control, reciprocity, negotiation and resistance. Allowing for some flexibility in categories, the dissertation analyses the treatment of male sexualities in novels by Helon Habila, Moses Isegawa, and Tendai Huchu; female sexualities in novels by Sefi Atta, Doreen Baingana, and Lola Shoneyin, and depictions of queer sexualities in short fiction by Monica Arac de Nyeko, Chinelo Okparanta, Stanley Onjezani Kenani, and Beatrice Lamwaka. All of these writers, in their respective contexts, offer fictional representations that unevenly subvert hegemonic sexual norms and discourses, even while they also draw on received ways of making sense of gendered and sexual identities. The thesis argues that such ambiguities attest to the complexity of understanding and representing sexualities in Africa, and that fiction, precisely because of its capacity to engage uncertainty, comprises an important mode of mediating repressive socio-political and cultural norms, showing the potential for fiction as a space which engages risky, even taboo, topics. The fictional texts studied make a varied case against the common assumption of a restrictive, monolithic, supposedly proper “African sexuality” that authoritarian governments attempt to reinforce. I argue that through the narrative spaces of fiction, contemporary African authors highlight the tensions and contradictions which shape sexualities, with regimes of sexual knowledge being always in a process of relational negotiation, even in coercive socio-political contexts.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie verhandeling ondersoek ek die omstrede onderwerp van seksualiteite soos uitgebeeld in die fiksie van geselekteerde Engelssprekende Afrika-lande, lande wat, selfs na onafhanklikwording, geneig is tot outoritêre, hetero-patriargale beheer. Die ondersoek bekyk die mate waartoe eietydse Afrika-skrywers, wat inskryf teen (of in verhouding tot) onderdrukkende kontekste, ‘n ongemaklike wisselwerking daarstel tussen maatskaplik-kulturele opvattings van seksualiteit, geslagtelikheid en begeerte, wat ‘n verskeidenheid van verhoudings omvat, soos byvoorbeeld beheer, wederkerigheid, onderhandeling en weerstand. Met voorsiening vir ‘n mate van buigsaamheid van kategorieë, analiseer die verhandeling die uitbeelding van manlike seksualiteite in romans deur Helon Habila, Moses Isegawa en Tendai Huchu; vroulike seksualiteite in romans deur Sefi Atta, Doreen Baingana en Lola Sheneyin; en uitbeeldings van aweregse (‘queer’) seksualiteite in kort fiksie deur Monica Arac de Nyeko, Chinelo Okparanta, Stanley Onjezani Kenani en Beatrice Lamwaka. Al hierdie skrywers, in hulle onderskeie kontekste, bied fiktiewe uitbeeldings wat op oneweredige wyse hegemoniese seksuele norms en gespreksvorme ondergrawe, selfs terwyl hulle put uit gevestigde wyses van omgaan met geslagtelik-bepaalde en seksuele identiteite. Die tesis argumenteer dat sulke ambivalensies dui op die komplekse taak om seksualiteite in Afrika te verstaan en uit te beeld, en dat fiksie, juis as gevolg van sy vermoë om met onsekerheid om te gaan,’n belangrike modus verteenwoordig van die bemiddeling van onderdrukkende maatskaplik-politiese en kulturele norme: hierdeur word dit duidelik hoe fiksie ‘n ruimte kan bied waarbinne riskante, selfs taboe-onderwerpe aangespreek kan word.Die fiktiewe tekste wat bespreek word, maak ‘n genuanseerde saak uit teen die algemene veronderstelling van ‘n beperkende, monolitiese, kwansuis aangewese ‘Afrika-seksualtiteit’ wat outoritêre regerings sou poog om af te dwing. Ek argumenteer dat eietydse Afrika-skrywers deur middel van die narratiewe ruimtes van fiksie die spannings en teenstrydighede onderliggend aan seksualiteit belig, met die kaders van seksuele kennis voortdurend gewikkel in ‘n proses van onderlinge onderhandeling, selfs in onverdraagsame maatskaplik-politiese omgewings.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100221
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