Unavowable communities : mapping representational excess in South African literary culture, 2001-2011

Mbao, Wamuwi (2013-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis takes as its subject matter a small field of activity in South African fiction in English, a field which I provisionally title the post-transitional moment. It brings together several works of literature that were published between 2004 and 2011. In so doing, it recognises that there can be no delineation of the field except in the most tenuous of senses: as Michael Chapman asserts, such “phases of chronology are ordering conveniences rather than neatly separable entities” (South African Literature 2). In attempting to take a reading of this field, I draw on discussions of the innumerable post-transitional flows and trajectories of meaning advanced by critical scholars such as Ashraf Jamal, Sarah Nuttall, Louise Bethlehem and others. In this thesis, I trace the “enigmatic and acategorical” (Jamal, “Bullet Through the Church” 11) dimension of this field through several works by South African authors. These works are at once singular and communal in their expression: they are singular in the sense that they are unique literary events1; they are communal because they share a particular force in their writing, a force that resists thematic bestowing. The schism between these conflicting/contiguous poles forms the basis of this thesis. I examine the works of a diverse selection of South African authors, finding in them a common, if discontinuous, seam in their treatment of excess, by which I mean the irreducible surplus that always demarcates the limits of representation. I find that these works each engage a movement towards the aporetic moment opened up by their characters’ experience of the traumatic. To be sure, these particular works of literature are notable for their exploration of ideas of alterity, loss and the capacity for survival in the routines of ‘South African’ lives. I use literature as the primary site of navigation for this enquiry because, as the scholars cited above have observed, literature is often a generator of meanings and a space where complex ideas about identity are explored and played out through the medium of the everyday. I recognise here that in the post-transitional moment, literature’s affective capacity in the world of action is limited – in Simon Critchley’s terms, it is ‘almost nothing.’ My thesis seizes this almost as the site of exploration. Taking as its starting point the existential question ‘have we learnt to imagine ourselves in other ways?’ I propose a number of positions from which these post-transitional works of literature might be read. The first chapter attempts to give account of the theoretical problem that attends to the reading of that which exceeds language’s capacity to invest with meaning. I use works by Diane Awerbuck, Annelie Botes, Shaun Johnson and Kgebetli Moele to inform my argument. In the next chapter, I explicate the problem of excess via a reading of Mark Behr’s Kings of the Water (2009). I then trace the aporetic nature of Otherness as it occurs in J.M. Coetzee’s Summertime (2009), paying particular attention to the ways in which that novel performs a refusal of meaning. Finally, I read Ishtiyaq Shukri’s The Silent Minaret (2005) as a work that posits the failure of alterity as a launching point for future ethical action. The burden of this thesis, as I see it, lies in the apophastic nature of its subject matter. In embarking upon an exploration of the incommensurable, my argument is for an ethics of reading that seeks to explicate the ways in which literature works by thinking through its affective capacity the better to affirm its performative dimensions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die onderwerp van hierdie proefskrif behels ‘n klein veld in Engelse Suid-Afrikaanse fiksie wat ek voorlopig met die term “post-oorgangsmoment” sal aandui. Dit bring verskeie letterkundige werke byeen wat tussen 2004 en 2011 gepubliseer is. Hierdie kunsmatige afbakening hou rekening met Michael Chapman se stelling dat “phrases of chronology are ordering conveniences rather than neatly separable entities” (South African Writing 2). In ‘n poging om hierdie aangeduide veld te lees, put ek heelwat uit besprekings wat tans gevoer word oor die ontelbare betekenistrajekte van die post-oorgangsmoment deur kritici soos Meg Samuelson, Leon de Kock, Ashraf Jamal, Sarah Nuttall, Louise Bethlehem en andere. In hierdie proefskrif skets ek die “enigmatic and acategorical” (Jamall, “Bullet” 11) aspekte van die aangeduide veld soos dit uiting vind in verskeie werke van Suid-Afrkaanse outeurs. Hierdie werke is terselfdertyd alleenstaande en gemeenskaplik in hul uitdrukking: hulle is alleenstaande omdat hulle unieke literêre gebeurtenisse verteenwoordig en gemeenskaplik omdat hulle ‘n spesifieke impuls deel, ‘n impuls wat tematiese kategorisering teenstaan. Die kloof tussen hierdie opponderende/naburige pole vorm die grondslag van hierdie proefskrif. Ek ondersoek die werk van ‘n diverse seleksie Suid-Afrikaanse outeurs en vind ‘n gemene, dog diskontinue, soom in die manier waarop hulle oorskot hanteer, dit wil sê, die onreduseerbare surplus wat alle representasie begrens. Ek vind dat hierdie werke elkeen ‘n weg na die aporetiese moment oopskryf deur die karakters se ervarings van trauma. Hierdie letterkundige werke word ook gekenmerk deur hulle verkenning van idees soos alteriteit, verlies en die oorlewingskapasiteit in die roetines van ‘Suid-Afrikaanse’ lewens. Ek gebruik literêre werke as die primêre navorsingsveld vir hierdie ondersoek aangesien die letterkunde dikwels as ‘n genereerder van betekenis dien en as ‘n ruimte funksioneer waar komplekse idees rondom identiteit deur die medium van die alledaagse verken kan word. Ek is bewus dat die letterkunde ‘n beperkte affektiewe kapasiteit in die wêreld van handeling in die post-oorgangsmoment besit – dit is bykans niks, soos Simon Critchley dit stel. My proefskrif betrek hierdie bykans as brandpunt vir die ondersoek. Ek stel verskeie posisies voor vanwaar hierdie post-oorgang literêre werke gelees kan word deur die beantwoording van die eksistensiële vraag of ons geleer het om onsself op ander maniere te verbeel as uitgangspunt te gebruik. Die eerste hoofstuk poog om die teoretiese probleem te omskryf wat ontstaan as ‘n mens probeer om die oorskot van taal se betekenisgewende vermoë te lees. In die daaropvolgende hoofstuk belig ek die probleem van oorskot deur Mark Behr se Kings of the Water (2009) te lees. Daarna skets ek die aporetiese aard van Andersheid soos dit in JM Coetzee se Summertime (2009) voorkom, deur spesifiek ook aandag te skenk aan die maniere waarop die roman ‘n weiering van betekenis aanbied. Laastens lees ek Ishtiyaq Shukri se The Silent Minaret (2005) as ‘n werk wat die mislukking van alteriteit as ‘n beginpunt gebruik om toekomstige etiese handelings te rig. Die hooftema van hierdie proefskrif lê myns insiens in die apofastiese aard van die onderwerpsmateriaal. Deur ‘n ondersoek na die onmeetbare te onderneem, staan ek ook ‘n bevrydings-etiek van lees voor wat poog om die manier waarop literêre tekste werk te verhelder deur die affektiewe vermoë van literêre tekste te bedink.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/80124
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