“The weight of my skeleton is my only honesty” : language and the speaking body in Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat

Levinrad, Ester (2010-03)

Thesis (MA (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis proposes a detailed study of the novel Agaat by South African author Marlene van Niekerk (first published 2004). A particular focus throughout is on constructions of identity and subjectivity, and the novel is considered as writing within and against both the Realist tradition as well as the South African genre of the plaasroman and/or farm novel. The translation of the novel into English by Michiel Heyns (published 2006) is used as primary text, which furthermore raises questions of language and interpretation already implicit in the narrative, questions which provide a compelling filter for reading the novel in its entirety. In the Introduction, I briefly delineate the novel’s storyline. This serves to introduce the novel’s thematic concerns and outlines the linguistic complexities which emerge as a result of the novel’s structure. An exposition on Realism in the novel follows, where I suggest how a consideration of the Realist tradition might be useful in exploring the mimetic effect in Agaat. Next the appearance and history of the plaasroman and farm novel in South African literature is considered. In Chapter One, the novel’s structural elements are examined in greater detail, through a close analysis of the five different narrative voices of the novel. I suggest that the novel is an elaborate study of identity and subjectivity which simultaneously uproots questions of voice and authorship. While the subject matter of the novel and the attention to details of farming and the physical environment makes it seem a near-historical record and places Agaat within the genre of the plaasroman, the effect of the different voices of the novel is to undercut fundamentally any stable narrative authority. Agaat is nevertheless an incredible compendium of the nitty-gritty of life. In Chapter Two I explore the manner in which the body and the self are located within a very particular landscape and setting. How and for what purpose is subjectivity and identity refracted and articulated through metaphors of space and the experiences of place? In the course of a close reading of the novel, I draw on broadly post-structuralist conceptions of language, as well as South African critics’ writing on the genre of the plaasroman. The third and final chapter examines the novel Agaat in translation. Agaat is a deeply literary novel, drawing on a remarkably wide lexicon of cultural references, suffused with questions of interpretation and a compelling and complex inquiry of language. The English translation by Michiel Heyns remains a novel of and about Afrikaans. Quite how this is achieved raises questions of translation pertaining both to the ‘postcolonial’, if one reads South Africa as such, and to the specifically local. To this end, a brief context to translation and language politics within the ‘postcolonial’ and South Africa is considered, before engaging in a closer examination of the techniques by which Agaat was translated from Afrikaans into English. I conclude with remarks regarding the success of the translation into English and suggest that the translation is masterful but that its most striking characteristics depend on a local South African reader.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis behels ‘n noukeurige studie van die roman Agaat (2004) deur die Suid- Afrikaanse skrywer Marlene van Niekerk. Die klem val deurgaans op die konstruksie van identiteit en subjektwiteit, en die roman word beskou as ‘n reaksie teen, maar ook ‘n uitbouing van die tradisies van Realisme en die Suid-Afrikaanse plaasroman/“farm novel”. Die primêre teks vir hierdie ondersoek is Michiel Heyns se Engelse vertaling van die roman (2006), wat verdere vrae rondom taal en interpretasie laat ontstaan. Sodanige vrae is alreeds implisiet in die narratief gesetel en verskaf ‘n indringende lens waardeur die roman in sy geheel gelees kan word. In die Inleiding gee ek ‘n kort oorsig van die verhaalloop, wat ook dien as ‘n bekendstelling van die roman se temas en die linguistieke kompleksiteite wat ontstaan as ‘n gevolg van die roman se struktuur. ‘n Beskrywing van Realisme in die roman volg, waarin ek suggereer dat ‘n beskouing van die tradisie van Realisme nuttig kan wees vir ‘n verkenning van die mimetiese effek in Agaat. Volgende word die verskyning en geskiedenis van die plaasroman en “farm novel” in Suid-Afrikaanse literatuur bekyk. In Hoofstuk Een word die strukturele elemente van die roman in groter detail beskou deur middel van ‘n noukeurige analise van die vyf verskillende narratiewe stemme in die roman. Ek stel voor dat die roman ‘n verwikkelde studie van identiteit en subjektwiteit is, wat terselfdetyd ook sekere vrae rondom stem en outeurskap ontbloot. Die onderwerp van die roman en die aandag wat dit skenk aan noukeurige beskrywings van boerdery en die landelike omgewing skep die indruk van ‘n historiese rekord en situeer Agaat in die genre van die plaasroman, maar die effek van die verskillende stemme is dat enige stabiele narratiewe outoriteit op deurslaggewende wyse ondermyn word. Desondanks bly Agaat ‘n indrukwekkende kompendium van die materiële aspekte van die lewe. In Hoofstuk Twee verken ek die manier waarop die liggaam en die self gesetel is binne ‘n baie spesifieke landskap en ligging. Hoe en om watter rede word subjektiwiteit en identiteit versplinter en geartikuleer deur middel van metafore van spasie en die ervaring van plek? Deur die loop van ‘n noukeurige lees van die roman betrek ek breedvoerig sekere post-strukturele gedagtes oor taal, asook Suid-Afrikaanse kritici se beskouings oor die genre van die plaasroman. Die derde en laaste hoofstuk ondersoek die roman Agaat in vertaling. Agaat is ‘n diep literêre roman. Dit betrek ‘n merkwaardige verskeidenheid kulturele verwysings en is deurspek met vrae rondom interpretasie en ‘n indringende en komplekse ondersoek na die aard van taal. Michiel Heyns se Engelse vertaling bly ‘n roman oor Afrikaans. Presies hoe dít bewerkstellig word opper sekere vrae oor vertaling wat verwys na die “postkoloniale”, as mens Suid-Afrika in hierdie lig sou beskou, en ook na die spesifiek plaaslike. Daarom word ‘n opsommende konteks van vertaling en taalpolitiek in die “postkoloniale” en in Suid-Afrika belig, voordat die tegniek waardeur Agaat van Afrikaans na Engels vertaal is, van naderby bekyk word. Ek sluit af met opmerkings oor die sukses van die vertaling na Engels en stel voor dat die vertaling meesterlik is, maar dat die mees treffende aspekte daarvan ‘n plaaslike, Suid-Afrikaanse leser vereis.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/4369
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