English in Africa - Volume 37, Issue 1, 2010
Volumes & issues
Volume 37, Issue 1, 2010
Author Mike MaraisSource: English in Africa 37 (2010)More Less
This special issue of English in Africa on whiteness studies in South Africa emanates from the colloquium, "Interrogating 'whiteness' : Literary Representations of 'race' in Africa," held in Port Elizabeth on 10 May 2008. I must thank Mary West and Jennifer Schmidt, the organisers of the colloquium, for editing the issue.
Source: English in Africa 37, pp 9 –13 (2010)More Less
The twentieth anniversary of Nelson Mandela's triumphant walk from prison was celebrated on 11 Feb. 2010. In the South African imaginary, this moment, captured in media images, has come to symbolise the transition from apartheid to democracy, a process that marked a significant shift in perspective in what it means to be a South African. Among the questions asked at the time was how ordinary white South Africans would negotiate the guilt attendant on their complicity, through their privileged social position, in Mandela's lengthy incarceration. In 2010, such questions are still relevant, and writers continue to problematise the 'power-politics' of 'race' as a category. Increasingly, too, local writers are situating understandings of 'whiteness' within the politics of globalisation.
Author Leon De KockSource: English in Africa 37, pp 15 –39 (2010)More Less
If whiteness is a condition which has historically found its (moving) focus in a dialectic with wildness - as I have proposed elsewhere - then the first point one should observe is that the term 'whiteness' as a sign should be seen as a trace and not an essence. This is a key qualification, at the outset, as it sets my project apart from any sense that it is possible easily or fully to capture and contain a category description as referentially fractured as 'whiteness.' By contrast, an acknowledgment that any installation of a referent must be regarded as provisional and potentially complicit in the process of erasure, paradoxically affords one a greater play of nuance and variation, a bigger range of potential meaning. For surely, in a context of heterogeneity as marked as that in southern Africa, the signifier 'whiteness' (along with all its proxy signifiers), despite equally persistent tropes of sameness and rock-solid marks of identity, must be regarded as a shuttling moniker, a hot potato variously juggled and differently handled, grasped, welcomed or rendered problematic across time and space. Otherwise we might find ourselves unwillingly repeating the naming game of the nineteenth, as well as the twentieth century, when the word 'Kaffir' (or 'Kafir') was similarly homogenised to the detriment, precisely, of nuance, variation and difference. The hypostasis entailed in the naming, throughout the nineteenth century, of a vast array of human specificity under the term 'Kaffir,' an act of epistemological violence against difference in the historical, cultural and ethnological sense, and against différance in the poststructuralist sense, created not only a stunted and sorry scene of intercultural embattlement along the South African 'frontier' (in my terms, the 'seam'), but it was also literally inscribed in blood, in the untold number of murders done in its name, its essentialising will to power.
Author Eugene De KlerkSource: English in Africa 37, pp 41 –62 (2010)More Less
Richard Dyer in White claims that the ideological power of American whiteness relies largely on its invisibility, on its being equated with normality and common sense and on being perceived as "non-peculiarity, the space of ordinariness" (223). Similarly, Ruth Frankenburg maintains that among the effects of race privilege on white people are their "seeming normativity, their structured invisibility" (White Women, Race Matters 6). By contrast, Melissa Steyn, in her analysis of the way in which whiteness functions post-apartheid, argues that, in the case of South Africa, white people are "acutely aware of their whiteness" (Whiteness Just Isn't What It Used To Be 163). Sarah Nuttall also contends that there is a selfconsciousness to South African whiteness. She suggests that, ironically, in seeking to limit their performance of whiteness post-apartheid (by "watching themselves being watched") South African "whites" actually reinforce the primacy of whiteness by seeing it as implying a special responsibility (121).
Author Wamuwi MbaoSource: English in Africa 37, pp 63 –75 (2010)More Less
This paper enters the dialogue on representations of white South Africa in the contemporary historical moment. It asks whether the configuration of white autobiography has shifted and altered over time, and whether certain modes of representation continue to hold a significant place in the South African culture of letters. Clearly, autobiography still occupies a prominent position in this culture : the genre is hailed as having resuscitated local narratives by narrowing the gulf between the academic study of literature and the reading habits of the 'ordinary' South African. A cursory glance at the shelves of mainstream literary outlets, such as Exclusive Books and the CNA, demonstrates the popularity of this genre - in its various forms, including those that blend fiction and life-writing, it populates the South African literature sections of these institutions. Leading this trend are novels like John Van de Ruit's Spud series, a trilogy championed in media reviews for "its popularity with both highbrow and lowbrow audiences" ("100 Young South Africans" 1).
Portraits in miniature : white English-speaking South African women in selected short stories by Nadine GordimerSource: English in Africa 37, pp 77 –91 (2010)More Less
The Mail & Guardian's supplement on race (24 Sept-1 Oct 2009) demonstrates South Africa's need for an ongoing debate on racial polarisation, as the country tries to negotiate a future in which race is no longer the dominant defining category in identity politics. A worrying trend evident in the supplement, though, is the reticence among white commentators to acknowledge the legacy of whiteness, as exemplified, for example, by Alex Dodd's confession that she is heartily sick of the topic and of the tired old positions adopted by all South Africans when it comes up in conversation (2009, 26). By contrast, Njabulo Ndebele's contribution gets close to the truth of the trauma of race in contemporary South Africa, and confirms the necessity of ongoing discussion on issues of black and white. He argues that white South Africans, largely in denial, often seem to be living a life of pretence, as they amble "from one ethical challenge to the next, doing [their] best" but nonetheless "locked in a space of anguish." Black South Africans, he continues, are no less locked in a space of anguish, but it is one in which their hopes are "constantly undermined by the persistence of a landscape of inequality and by recidivist acts of racism" (2009, 20).
"Paling by comparison?" : scopophilic desire(s) and un/settling hegemonic whiteness in Elleke Boehmer's BloodlinesAuthor M. (Jennifer) SchmidtSource: English in Africa 37, pp 93 –102 (2010)More Less
Feminist film critic E. Ann Kaplan reminds us that we are all caught up in the binarism involved in looking, and constructed through (amongst other cultural scripts) a gendered, racialized, and classed spectatorship : "The question is how to move beyond the literal fact of subject-object looking, with its necessarily objectifying implications. How can people move to an understanding of subjectivity and mutuality on the level of approaching an Other" (299). This article focuses on the role looking relations play in the gendering of post-apartheid whiteness, and analyzes the overdetermined visibility of white South African women, who historically have been positioned as the object of visual pleasure and a 'sexy' reinforcer of white privilege. Given the particular visibility of South African whiteness (see Steyn 163), I argue that the young white female subject's body becomes a site that mediates hegemonic whiteness and interrogates white privilege through her now-precarious role as a 'star' for the gaze of the dominant culture.
Responding to whiteness in contemporary South African life and literature : an interview with Njabulo S. Ndebele : interviewSource: English in Africa 37, pp 115 –124 (2010)More Less
MW : I would like to begin by asking you to respond to the sense I have that Antjie Krog is the white writer who has most profoundly and consistently negotiated white South African identity in her work. Would you like to comment? Is Antjie Krog the most important voice, in your opinion? What do you see as the value of her work in this regard?
White women writing white : identity and representation in (post-) Apartheid literatures of South Africa, Mary West : reviewAuthor Eva HunterSource: English in Africa 37, pp 125 –127 (2010)More Less
Mary West's monograph is a well-argued, scholarly and broad-ranging exploration of whiteness "as a cultural construct in contemporary white women's writing" in South Africa (3). It is a valuable addition to the relatively new field of 'whiteness studies' - an inter-disciplinary field that is framed by debates within postcolonial and postmodern theory - and follows Melissa Steyn's seminal "Whiteness Just Isn't What It Used to Be" : White Identity in a Changing South Africa.
Author Ian GlennSource: English in Africa 37, pp 129 –133 (2010)More Less
While I am of course grateful for the lengthy review by Malvern van Wyk Smith, in your last issue, of the Le Vaillant volume that I edited for the Van Riebeeck Society, I would like to correct some of the more egregious errors in the review and contest some of its claims. Some of the issues raised in the review will receive further treatment in a forthcoming critical work but, for the moment, let me simply say that, having read Van Wyk Smith's commentary, I see nothing that I would have changed in the critical apparatus or introductory material of the original volume.