Islands under threat : heterotopia and the disintegration of the ideal in Joseph Conrad's Heart of darkness, Antjie Krog's Country of my skull and Irvan Welsh's Marabou stork nightmares

Pieterse, Annel (2005-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2005.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The stories and histories of the human race are littered with the remnants of utopia. These utopias always exist in some "far away" place, whether this place be removed in terms of time (either as a nostalgically remembered past, or an idealistically projected future), or in terms of space (as a place that one must arrive at). In our attempts to attain these utopias, we construct our worlddefinitions in accordance with our projections of these ideal places and ways of "being". Our discourses come to embody and perpetuate these ideals, which are maintained by excluding any definitions of the world that run counter to these ideals. The continued existence of utopia relies on the subjects of that utopia continuing their belief in its ideals, and not questioning its construction. Counter-discourse to utopia manifests in the same space as the original utopia and gives rise to questions that threaten the stability of the ideal. Questions challenge belief, and therefore the discourse of the ideal must neutralise those who question and challenge it. This process of neutralisation requires that more definitions be constructed within utopian discourse - definitions that allow the subjects of the discourse to objectify the questioner. However, as these new definitions arise, they create yet more counter-definitions, thereby increasing the fragmentation of the aforementioned space. A subject of any "dominant" discourse, removed from that discourse, is exposed to the questions inherent in counter-discourse. In such circumstances, the definitions of the questioner - the "other" - that have previously enabled the subject to disregard the questioner's existence and/or point of view are no longer reinforced, and the subject begins to question those definitions. Once this questioning process starts, the utopia of the subject is re-defined as dystopia, for the questioning highlights the (often violent) methods of exclusion needed to maintain that utopia. Foucault's theory of heterotopia, used as the basis for the analysis of the three texts in question, suggests a space in which several conflicting and contradictory discourses which seemingly bear no relation to each other are found grouped together. Whereas utopia sustains myth in discourse, running with the grain of language, heterotopias run against the grain, undermining the order that we create through language, because they destroy the syntax that holds words and things together. The narrators in the three texts dealt with are all subjects of dominant discourses sustained by exclusive definitions and informed by ideals that require this exclusion in order to exist. Displaced into spaces that subvert the definitions within their discourses, the narrators experience a sense of "madness", resulting from the disintegration of their perception of "order". However, through embracing and perpetuating that which challenged their established sense of identity, the narrators can regain their sense of agency, and so their narratives become vehicles for the reconstitution of the subject-status of the narrators, as well as a means of perpetuating the counter-discourse.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Utopias spikkel die landskap van menseheugenis as plekke in "lank lank gelede" of "eendag", in "n land baie ver van hier", en is dus altyd verwyderd van die huidige, óf in ruimte, óf in tyd. In ons strewe na die ideale, skep ons definisies van die wêreld wat in voeling is met hierdie idealistiese plekke en bestaanswyses. Sulke definisies sypel deur die diskoers, of taal, waarmee ons ons omgewing beskryf. Die ideale wat dan in die diskoers omvat word, word onderhou deur die uitsluiting van enige definisie wat teenstrydig is met dié in die idealistiese diskoers. Die volgehoue bestaan van utopie berus daarop dat die subjekte van daardie utopie voortdurend glo in die ideale voorgehou in en onderhou deur die diskoers, en dus nie die diskoers se konstruksie bevraagteken nie. Die manifestering van teen-diskoers in dieselfde ruimte as die utopie, gee aanleiding tot vrae wat die bestaan van die ideaal bedreig omdat geloof in die ideaal noodsaaklik is vir die ideaal se voortbestaan. Aangesien bevraagtekening dikwels geloof uitdaag en ontwrig, lei dit daartoe dat die diskoers wat die ideaal onderhou, diegene wat dit bevraagteken, neutraliseer. Hierdie neutraliseringsproses behels die vorming van nog definisies binne die diskoers wat die vraagsteller objektiveer. Die vorming van nuwe definisies loop op sy beurt uit op die vorming van teen-definisies wat bloot verdere verbrokkeling van die voorgenoemde ruimte veroorsaak. "n Subjek van die "dominante" diskoers van die utopie wat hom- /haarself buite die spergebiede van sy/haar diskoers bevind, word blootgestel aan vrae wat in teen-diskoers omvat word. In sulke omstandighede is die subjek verwyder van die versterking van daardie definisies wat die vraagsteller - die "ander" - se opinies of bestaan as nietig voorgestel het, en die subjek mag dan hierdie definisies bevraagteken. Sodra hierdie proses begin, vind "n herdefinisie van ruimte plaas, en utopie word distopie soos die vrae (soms geweldadige) uitsluitingsmetodes wat die onderhoud van die ideaal behels, aan die lig bring en, in sommige gevalle, aan die kaak stel. Hierdie tesis gebruik Foucault se teorie van "heterotopia" om die drie tekste te analiseer. Dié teorie veronderstel "n ruimte waarin die oorvleueling van verskeie teenstrydighede (diskoerse) plaasvind. Waar utopie die bestaan van fabels en diskoerse akkommodeer, ondermyn heterotopia die orde wat ons deur taal en definisie skep omdat dit die sintaks vernietig wat woorde aan konsepte koppel. Die drie vertellers is elkeen "n subjek van "n "dominante diskoers" wat onderhou word deur uitsluitende definisies in "n utopia waar die voortgesette bestaan van die ideale wat in die diskoers omvat word op eksklusiwiteit staatmaak. Omdat die vertellers verplaas is na ruimtes wat hulle eksklusiewe definisies omverwerp, vind hulle dat hulle aan "n soort waansin grens wat veroorsaak is deur die verbrokkeling van hul sin van "orde". Deur die teen-diskoers in hul stories in te bou as verteltaal, of te implementeer as die meganisme van oordrag, kan die vertellers hul "selfsin" herwin. Deur vertelling hervestig die vertellers dus hul status as subjek, en verseker hulle hul plek in die opkomende diskoers deur middel van hulle voortsetting daarvan.

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