n English in Africa - The call of the wild : speculations on a white counterlife in South Africa

Volume 37, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



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.

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