Die problematiek en potensiaal van die huishoudelike ruimte in Klaaglied vir Koos (1984) deur Lettie Viljoen

Burger, Bibi (2014-12-01)

Article

OPSOMMING: Klaaglied vir Koos (1984) is Ingrid Winterbach se eerste boek, wat verskyn het onder die skrywersnaam Lettie Viljoen. Die novelle handel oor ’n naamlose vroulike verteller wie se man haar en hulle kind verlaat het om in die grensoorlog teen die apartheidsregering te veg. In die teks word die verteller se denke oor hoe sy moet optree in reaksie op haar man se vertrek, uiteengesit. Sy oorweeg dit om ook by die anti-apartheidstryd aan te sluit. Sy doen dit egter nie, omdat sy waarde heg aan haar middelklashuis en -leefwyse en die beskerming wat dit vir haar en haar kind bied. In hierdie artikel word aangevoer dat hierdie posisie ’n feministiese een is. Die huishoudelike ruimte, wat met vroulikheid geassosieer word, word naamlik binne die patriargie gesien as van minder waarde as die “manlike” openbare ruimte. Die verteller se betoog ten gunste van die huishoudelike kan dus gesien word as ’n verheerliking van tradisioneel vroulike ruimtes en aktiwiteite. Die novelle is ook wat narratiewe struktuur betref, feministies en kan beskou word as ’n tipe l’écriture féminine. Daar word in die artikel ook aandag gegee aan die beperkings van die verteller se posisie in die huis. Die novelle is nie net waardevol omdat dit beskou kan word as ’n eksperimentele feministiese teks waarin die huishoudelike teruggeëis word van die patriargie nie, maar ook omdat dit die beperkings van so ’n toe-eiening binne ’n patriargale en ekonomies onregverdige samelewing verken.

ABSTRACT: Klaaglied vir Koos (Lamentation for Koos) (1984) is Ingrid Winterbach’s first published novelette, written under the pseudonym Lettie Viljoen. It deals with a nameless female narrator whose husband has left her and their child to fight in the border war for Swapo (the South West Africa People’s Organization) and against the apartheid government. The text consists of the narrator’s consideration of how she should react to her husband’s departure. This article is focused on the feminist-aesthetic and feminist–theoretical value of Klaaglied vir Koos. This value is located primarily in the feminist manner in which traditionally “feminine” topics, such as domesticity and the body, are depicted in the text. My argument is based on Brink’s (1990) analysis of the narrative structure of Louoond (1987) by Jeanne Goosen; Stander’s (1994) review of Karolina Ferreira (1994) by Lettie Viljoen (translated as The elusive moth [2005]), in which she criticises the novel’s accessibility – she prefers the radical feminist elements of Klaaglied vir Koos; and Viljoen’s (1996) discussion of Karolina Ferreira in the article “Postcolonialism and recent women’s writing in Afrikaans”. My interpretation differs from that of these theorists in that I also focus on the limitations of the narrator’s domestic position as represented in Klaaglied vir Koos. This article consists of three parts. In the first the reasons why the narrator does not want to leave her home and join her husband are discussed. The second section deals with the feminist implications of her domestic position and the narrative structure of the novel. The limitations of the domestic sphere are set out in section three. One of the reasons that the narrator does not want to leave her home is that she feels that there are no political groups where she would feel at home. She attends meetings, but feels that for her as a middle-class white woman the antiapartheid struggle is not her own. She quotes Trotsky to the effect that the working class should take revolution into their own hands. There is also no united group of Afrikaners who are opposed to apartheid. She wishes she had an African mother who could teach her how to understand and join the oppressed of South Africa. In the absence of such an African mother she turns to Western female figures (like Patti Smith, Nina Hagen and Marianne Faithfull) for inspiration. She therefore does not share her husband’s hatred of everything Western. She also decides for a specifically maternal reason not to leave her home, namely the protection it provides for her and her child. This is in contrast to her husband, who wants to transcend the private space in order to make a political difference in the public realm. A view of the private and public as irreconcilable opposites can, however, be criticised. Young (2005:149), for instance, argues that every person needs a private home where she can re-energise and can strategise about how to act in public. For the narrator of Klaaglied vir Koos her house is such a space from which she can decide on the best ways to apply her energy in the public realm. This can be related to the feminist slogan that “the private is political” (Pratt 1981:108) – everything that the narrator does in her home also has public, political implications. The narrator’s domestic position can, therefore, be seen as subversive and empowering. In this way the novel can be contrasted with other Taurus publications from the 1980s, other literature dealing with the border war, and other Afrikaans anti-apartheid protest literature. In these literary texts the figure of the white Afrikaner housewife is usually portrayed as conservative or contra-revolutionary. This depiction is based on the traditional role of the woman in the West: she transfers ideology to the next generation, but does not play an active role in the formation of it. Traditionally the wife stays home and cares for the everyday needs of her family, while her husband goes out and represents the family in the public realm (Hollows 2006:100). The traditional patriarchal gender roles are based on, and responsible for the continual association of, the woman with the irrational and bodily, and the man with the rational and universal. Within this tradition the mental is considered more valuable than the physical. American Second Wave feminists reacted to these traditional views of the woman by negating the bodily and the irrational and insisting that the woman is (like the man) a rational autonomous being. Following the publication of Betty Friedan’s The feminine mystique (1963) they distanced themselves from the housewife and the everyday. According to Hollows (2006:102) there developed, concurrently, a more radical form of feminism which claimed that the kitchen and the domestic deserve the same respect as the public “male” space. Third Wave feminists of the 1990s were influenced by this radical feminist tradition and argue that traditionally oppressive “female” roles can be appropriated from the patriarchy (Cullen 2001). The narrator of Klaaglied vir Koos appropriates the traditionally female space of the kitchen, and domesticity in general, from the patriarchy and uses it as a subversive space in which feminist art and perspectives can be developed. In this space the immanent and bodily are celebrated, and patriarchal, racist and nationalist ideologies are challenged. The feminist value of Klaaglied vir Koos does not lie only in the domestic perspective of the novel, but also in its narrative structure. Brink (1990:34–46) and Viljoen (1995:32–45) use the theories of Teresa De Lauretis to argue that Louoond by Jeanne Goosen and Karolina Ferreira by Lettie Viljoen undermine phallocentric narrative structures. I argue that the same is true of Klaaglied vir Koos. Instead of a traditional plot, the novel consists of circular and repetitive descriptions of the narrator’s everyday domestic activities and her thoughts. Because of its focus on female embodiment and sexuality, the novel can also be considered a South African example of l’ecriture feminine. The narrator’s focus on embodiment causes her to realise the limitations of her domestic position. She is incessantly being confronted by vagrants who knock on her door and beg for food and other forms of assistance. Their bodies are depicted as a source of ethical awareness. Julia Kristeva’s (1982) work on the abject and Emmanuel Levinas’s (1969, 1987, 1998 and 2001) theories on the Other can be used to analyse the possibility of the body as a basis of the ethical. The abject are those things and people that are excluded when the boundaries of subjectivity are established. This is an inherently ethical concept, because it plays an important role in how a society functions and how people treat one another. In Klaaglied vir Koos vagrants are depicted as abject because they are excluded from society and their bodies are grotesque from being exposed to the elements. Levinas’s work deals with the ethical claim made by the gaze of the Other. Levinas sees hunger, and our other needs, as something positive, as it allows us to derive pleasure from their satisfaction. It is only through the satisfaction of her needs that an individual can become a full subject through her participation in the world. The gratification of hunger does not, however, lead only to pleasure. It also leads to an uncertainty, because while she is eating the subject realises that she is a part of the world, the world is not a part of her. In this way the external world makes a claim on the subject. This claim comes to her in the form of the Other. Because the subject can experience hunger, she can recognise hunger on the face of the Other. The presence of the Other means that the subject cannot see herself as the centre of existence. It is only through the gratification of the material needs of the Other that the subject can be spiritually fulfilled. She will, however, never be completely fulfilled as she will never be able to help the Other enough (Loughead 2007:135). The vagrants who knock on the narrator’s door represent the Other, and she realises that the walls of her house separate her from the Other in such a way that she cannot live in compassion with them. Even though she tries, she cannot ignore them either – she keeps being confronted by their claims. The narrator also fears that she is limiting herself by staying in her home – she feels that she has reached an impasse and thinks that nothing which she does inside the house can have any effect. By the end of her novel she decides that if she does not want to leave her property, she needs to change it. She invites a vagrant to come and live in her garden. As depicted in Winterbach’s next novel, Erf (1986), this is not an unproblematic decision, but by the end of Klaaglied vir Koos this seems like a fruitful decision which could lead to new insights.

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