Representations of slave subjectivity in post-apartheid fiction : the 'Sideways Glance'

Geustyn, Maria Elizabeth (2013-12)

Thesis (MA)-- Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Over the past three decades in South Africa, the documentation of slave history at the Cape Colony by historians has burgeoned. Congruently, interest in the history of slavery has increased in South African letters and culture. Here, literature is often employed in order to imaginatively represent the subjective view-point and experiences of slaves, as official records contained in historiography and the archive often exclude such interiority. This thesis is a study of the representations of slave subjectivity in two novels: Rayda Jacobs’s The Slave Book (1998) and Unconfessed (2007) by Yvette Christiansë. Its task is to investigate and traverse the multitude of readings made possible in these literary representations, and then to challenge such readings by juxtaposing the representational strategies of the two novels. Both primary texts are works of historical fiction that, in different ways, draw on the archive and historiography in order to grant historical plausibility to their narratives. Engaging with the distinct methods with which they approach and interpret such historical information, I adopt the terms “glimpsing” and “reading sideways”. Throughout this study, I engage each of these methods in order to demonstrate the value, and limits, of each technique in its engagement with the complexities of representing slave subjectivity in the wake of its (predominant) occlusion from historical and official data. Chapter One presents a brief overview of the emergence of the slave past in historiography and public spaces. Following Pumla Gqola’s statement that “slave memory [has] increase[d] in visibility in post-apartheid South Africa”, I move to a discussion of the theoretical perspectives on (re)memory as employed by writers of fiction that exemplify “a higher, more fraught level of activity to the past than simply identifying and recording it ” (“Slaves” 8) . In turn, I identify the imperative archival silence places on authors to write about slaves, and the relevance of genre in this undertaking. Specifically, I consider the romantic and tragic historical fiction genres as they are utilised by Jacobs and Christiansë in approaching representations of slave subjectivity, and how this influences emplotment. Chapter One concludes with a brief exposition of the literary representations offered by Unconfessed and The Slave Book. Chapter Two presents a detailed study of Rayda Jacobs’s The Slave Book as a novel of historical fiction. Jacobs takes up a methodology of “glimpsing” at the slave past through the representations available in historiography. I trace the moments at which the text seeks to convey slave subjectivity, within and without historical discourses, through such “glimpses”, and show how they are employed to establish a focus on interiority and to humanise slave characters. Chapter Three focuses on Yvette Christiansë’s Unconfessed and explores its explicit engagement with silences surrounding the protagonist Sila van den Kaap’s historical presence in the Cape Town Archives. I read Christiansë’s representation of these silences as “acts of looking sideways” at the discursive practices inherent in the historical documentation of slave voices that enact her resistance to “filling” these silences with detailed narrative. I argue that the various forms of silence in the narrative allow for a deeper understanding of the injustices and oppression suffered by Sila van den Kaap, and that it is these silences, ironically, which grant her voice. Chapter Four presents a comparison of the novels and their respective representational techniques of “glimpsing” versus “looking sideways”. While the distinct efficacy and implication of each approach is critically evaluated, both are ultimately found to make an invaluable addition to the literary exploration of slave subjectivity as attention is drawn to the interiority of each text’s characters.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Oor die afgelope drie dekades, het die dokumentasie wat opgelewer is deur historici in Suid- Afrika met betrekking tot die slawe in die Kaapkolonie floreer. Ooreenstemmend, het belangstelling in die geskiedenis van die slawe in die gebied van kultuur en letterkunde toegeneem. In hierdie konteks, word literatuur dikwels in diens geneem om op ‘n verbeeldingsryke manier die subjektiewe standpunt en die bestaan van die slawe te verteenwoording, wat vroeër in amptelike rekords dikwels sodanige innerlikheid uitsluit. Hierdie tesis is 'n studie van die voorstellings van slaaf subjektiwiteit in twee romans: Rayda Jacobs se The Slave Book (1998) en Unconfessed (2007) deur Yvette Christiansë. Dit beoog verder om ondersoek in te stel na die menigte lesings in literêre voorstellings en sodanige lesings uit te daag deur die vergelyking van die twee betrokke tekste. Ek neem die "skramse” en "sywaartse" sienings as metodiek vir die eien en interpretasie van argief-materiaal in die twee tekste. Deurgaans in hierdie studie gebruik ek hierdie metodieke op hulle beurt ten einde die waarde van elke tegniek te demonstreer, in terme van die voorstellingshandeling wat elk gebruik om slaaf subjektiwiteit te verteenwoordig. In Hoofstuk Een, word teoretiese perspektiewe oor ‘herinnering’ soos dit bestaan as gevolg van, en ten spyte van, die argief, beskryf en ontleed. In my oorsig van die rol en doel van die argief sowel as die onthou van 'n slaaf verlede in die hedendaagse Suid-Afrika, word benaderings wat in verskeie velde onderneem is om slawerny en sy slagoffers uit te beeld, ook in ag geneem. Ek identifiseer die noodsaaklikheid wat “stiltes” in die argief op skrywers plaas om oor slawe te skryf, asook die relevansie van die genre in hierdie onderneming. Ek kyk spesifiek na die romantiese en historiese fiksie genres soos hulle deur Jacobs en Christiansë gebruik word in hul voorstellings van slaaf subjektiwiteit, en hoe dit voorstellingshandeling beïnvloed. Hoofstuk Een word afgesluit met 'n kort uiteensetting van die literêre voorstellings, soos uitgebeeld in The Slave Book en Unconfessed. Hoofstuk Twee is 'n ondersoek na die funksie van Rayda Jacobs se The Slave Book as 'n historiese fiksie-roman. Jacobs se roman bepeins die geskiedenis van slawerny deur die voorstellingshandeling van ‘n "skramse kyk”. Ek ondersoek die waarde van die romanse wat in die roman opgeneem word, sowel as Jacobs se gebruik van historiografie om haar verhaal te ondersteun. Hoofstuk Drie fokus op Yvette Christiansë se Unconfessed en die wyse waarop die slaaf karakter as protagonis die stiltes as gemarginaliseerde aan die leser kommunikeer, en daaropvolgend, die wyse waarop die historiese figuur, ten spyte van die stiltes in die argief, kommunikeer. Hierdie metodiek bestempel ek as die "sywaartse kyk". Ek argumenteer dat die stiltes in die roman ‘n leemte laat vir 'n dieper begrip van die onreg en onderdrukking wat deur die protagonis gely word, en dat, ironies genoeg, dit hierdie stiltes is wat aan haar ‘n “stem” gee. Hoofstuk Vier is 'n vergelyking tussen die romans en hul doeltreffendheid. Altwee tekste, van ewe belang nagaande die bevordering van subjektiwiteit van slawe tydens die Kaapkolonie, beslaan elk 'n ander benadering tot die argief en geskiedenis self. Dit is met hierdie perspektiewe waarmee hierdie studie omgaan. Beide tekste vorm ‘n waardevolle toevoeging tot die literêre verkenning van slaaf subjektiwiteit deurdat aandag op die innerlikheid van elke teks se protagoniste gevestig word. Verder, deurdat die tekste met historiografie en die argief omgaan, spreek hulle diskursiewe kwessies rakende slaaf subjektiwiteit en die voorstellings daarvan aan.

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