A textual analysis of Jonny Steinberg's 'The Number' : exploring narrative decisions

Rennie, Gillian Mary (2013-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study attempts to explore aspects of the textual representation of Magadien Wentzel, the main character of The Number, a work of literary journalism by Jonny Steinberg. It sets out to respond to the following two central research questions: Firstly, what narrative decisions does Jonny Steinberg make in the text of The Number to convey aspects of the reality he experienced in relation to his main character, Magadien Wentzel; and secondly, what effect do these decisions have on the reader? As literary journalism is a genre with fluid boundaries and therefore various definitions, the thesis first presents the challenge of definition and lays out a broad history of the genre in its attempt to situate The Number as a work of social documentary and of literary journalism in South Africa. Taking realism as its theoretical point of departure, this study aligns itself with the view that there exists an independent, extra-textual real-world and that knowledge of this real-world can be produced and shared. In doing so, realism presents itself as a literary form associated with art that cannot turn away from harsh aspects of human existence – a characteristic mirrored by Steinberg’s (and thus his character’s) major themes. By means of a textual analysis which seeks to interpret aspects of Steinberg’s narrative decisions in his text, this study uses tools of literary realism, namely the empirical effect and the character effect, in its exploration. This research, conducted within the qualitative research paradigm, is informed in particular by the assumption that there exists an implicit communicative contract between author and reader which leads to narrative trust, seen as an indispensable quality to the non-fictional reading experience. In the case of Steinberg and The Number, this study finds that the writer’s representation of a particular reality relies to an important degree on the level of trust he is able to inspire in a reader. This is pertinent because, being factual, non-fiction demands that a reader not only imagine a world other than their own, but that they believe it too. One of the ways in which Steinberg enables a reader to trust his representation of his particular reality is by overtly placing his literary and authorial concerns alongside his reportage of Magadien Wentzel, the main character of The Number. This distinctive narrative approach results in a modification of the reader’s traditional contract with the writer, forged by the text between them, to one in which the text unites the reader with both Steinberg as narrator and Magadien Wentzel as character.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie poog om aspekte van die tekstuele voorstelling van Magadien Wentzel, die hoofkarakter in The Number, 'n werk van literêre joernalistiek deur Jonny Steinberg, te verken. Dit probeer om die volgende twee sentrale navorsingsvrae te beantwoord: Eerstens, watter narratiewe besluite neem Jonny Steinberg in die teks van The Number om aspekte van die werklikheid wat hy ervaar het met betrekking tot sy hoofkarakter, Magadien Wentzel, oor te dra, en tweedens, watter effek het dit op die leser? Aangesien literêre joernalistiek 'n genre is met vloeibare grense en daarom verskeie definisies, probeer die tesis eerstens die uitdaging van definisie te beantwoord. Daarmee lê dit ook 'n breë basis van die geskiedenis van die genre in sy poging om The Number te situeer as 'n sosiale dokumentêr en as literêre joernalistiek in Suid-Afrika. Met realisme as teoretiese vertrekpunt, vereenselwig hierdie studie hom daarmee dat 'n onafhanklike, ekstra-tekstuele regte wêreld bestaan, en dat kennis van dié “regte wêreld” geskep en gedeel kan word. So representeer realisme hom as 'n literêre vorm wat verband hou met die kunste, en wat sigself nie kan afwend van die harde aspekte van die menslike bestaan nie – 'n kenmerk wat deur Steinberg se hooftemas – en daarom ook dié van sy hoofkarakter – weerspieël word. Deur middel van 'n tekstuele analise wat poog om aspekte van Steinberg se narratiewe besluite in sy teks te interpreteer, gebruik hierdie studie aspekte van literêre realisme, naamlik die empiriese effek en die karakter-effek, in sy ondersoek. Hierdie navorsing, wat binne die kwalitatiewe navorsingsparadigma uitgevoer is, is veral geïnformeer deur die aanname dat daar 'n implisiete kommunikatiewe kontrak tussen die skrywer en die leser bestaan wat lei tot narratiewe vertroue, gesien as 'n onmisbare element van die nie-fiksie-leeservaring. In die geval van Steinberg en The Number het hierdie studie bevind dat die skrywer se voorstelling van 'n bepaalde werklikheid tot 'n belangrike mate berus op die vlak van vertroue wat hy by die leser genereer. Dit is belangrik, want synde feitelik, vereis nie-fiksie dat 'n leser nie net 'n wêreld anders as hul eie voorstel nie, maar dat hulle ook daarin kan glo. Een van die maniere waarop Steinberg 'n leser in staat stel om sy voorstelling van sy besondere werklikheid te vertrou, is deur die plasing van sy literêre en outeursbesorgdheid direk langs sy reportage van Magadien Wentzel, die hoofkarakter in The Number. Hierdie unieke narratiewe aanslag het ’n modifikasie van die leser se tradisionele kontrak met die skrywer tot gevolg, ’n kontrak wat gewoonlik deur die teks tussen hulle gesmee is, en wat verander in een waarin die teks die leser met beide Steinberg as verteller en Magadien Wentzel as karakter verenig het.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/79987
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