English in Africa - Volume 41, Issue 3, 2014
Volumes & issues
Volume 41, Issue 3, 2014
Author Tina SteinerSource: English in Africa 41, pp 7 –26 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/eia.v41i3.1SMore Less
In the announcement of his death in The Star on 20 June 1932, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje is celebrated as a builder of community who managed to traverse diverse communal boundaries with ease in the bid to create a South Africa in which every citizen, but especially the African, would feel enfranchised. It becomes immediately clear that the stakes of this undertaking were very high: in a country which, after the Union of 1910, introduced more and more discriminatory legislation to curtail the rights of its black population, the question of who belongs to the national family literally becomes one of fortifications, walls and exclusions. This is the paradox of the term "community" to which Jacques Derrida and John D. Caputo refer in the epigraphs to this article: while to identify as a member of a community may generate many important contributions to that community (the "promise"), it also may exclude, and exclude with fierce intensity and even violence (the "threat"), those perceived to be outsiders to that community.
Source: English in Africa 41, pp 27 –55 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/eia.v41i3.2SMore Less
How has South African literature conceived of a commonality that includes multiple relations with the phenomenal world? My essay addresses this question by tracing the representation of witchcraft and the supernatural in a selection of key South African literary texts, namely, Thomas Mofolo's Chaka, Es'kia Mphahlele's Down Second Avenue and Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to our Hillbrow. I proceed from the assumptions that a belief in occult powers is often central to local knowledge systems in South Africa, and that this belief should be acknowledged as a commonplace feature of life if one is to understand certain aspects of the social, political and, by extension, literary landscape. In this regard, I imagine the supernatural functioning like dark matter: it is an invisible factor that determines the shape of everything around it. The topic of the supernatural and witchcraft produces a kind of occulting effect, which results in silences and gaps in our understanding of the social. This occultation extends to literary studies, where the representation of the supernatural in literature receives surprisingly little attention.
Author Jean RossmannSource: English in Africa 41, pp 57 –78 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/ein.v41i32sMore Less
Marlene van Niekerk's second novel, Agaat, ends in aporia with the frame narrator, Jakkie, at a "frozen interval" (692). The closing paragraphs of the novel include a cryptic extract from a Danish poem by Nis Petersen (1897-1943) entitled "Natteregn" ("Night Rain"), which describes the culmination of a gentle breeze rising up into "fanfarer / til natten åbenbarer [. . .]" ("fanfare / until night reveals [. . .]") (692). What exactly the night will reveal remains a mystery, as Jakkie offers no revelation. He speaks of "the fantasy of a song, an alternative reply" (to the mother-daughter narrative of Milla and Agaat), and mentions an Aeolian harp and "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" (symbols of creative inspiration) (4, 8, 692). But the reader is left waiting in suspense with only his suggestions of divine afflatus, implicit in the Aeolian harp and "Natteregn" extract. In the end he offers no song or symphony. However, before Jakkie closes his eyes to fall asleep on the plane his final thoughts are "[p]lectrum and harp" (692), suggesting the possibility of creative activity, albeit "frozen" and forestalled. In this way, Agaat's ending is a prelude to Van Niekerk's third novel, Memorandum: A Story with Paintings. Jakkie's fantasies of nocturnal revelation, musical composition and exercising creative arts are realised in Memorandum, and crystallised in the final prose poem of the novel: "Passacaglia". This essay focuses on the ending of Memorandum.
Shame, divine cannibalism, and the spectacle of subaltern suffering in Ken Barris's What Kind of ChildAuthor Mike MaraisSource: English in Africa 41, pp 79 –95 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/eia.v41i3.4SMore Less
This essay examines the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of Ken Barris's portrayal of the life of a street child in What Kind of Child. Responses to literary representations of subaltern suffering are sharply divided. On the one hand, there is the commonsense view that such representations require one to imagine what the situation of other people may be like, and that, in doing so, one opens oneself to their experience of life. To the extent that representations of suffering inspire one to reflect on one's relations to others, they are salutary. On the other hand, though, such depictions, like poverty tourism, may be accused of providing a spectacle of distant suffering that one vicariously experiences from a position of privilege and then discards. So, for instance, Shyamal Sengupta describes Slumdog Millionaire as a "poverty tour" (qtd. in Magnier), and Alice Miles even accuses it of being "poverty porn". To aestheticise the suffering of impoverished people is to commodify it for the consumption and prurient pleasure of the bourgeois world. What is partly at stake here is the ethical question, harking back to Aristotle's account of tragedy, of the strange pleasure aroused by spectacles of suffering. While it may be that one's imaginative engagement with subaltern suffering renders one more sensitive to the plight of others, it may equally well be that one is entertained in the process.
Author Dirk KlopperSource: English in Africa 41, pp 97 –117 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/eia.v41i3.5SMore Less
Country is a familiar topos in South African literature, featuring in travel writing and the farm novel, in imperial romance and postcolonial narratives, as pastoral and as anti-pastoral, an uncanny presence in the landscape of modernity. A surprising number of recent South African novels present what may be called post-apartheid country narratives. I am particularly interested in the return to country in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Justin Cartwright's White Lightning, and Damon Galgut's The Impostor. Given the history of settler occupation of the land, and the literary deployment of the idea of the land both to posit and to problematize white settler identity, why these stories of a white man's return to the land in the post-apartheid period? What is the impulse behind retracing of contested ground?
Author Dan WylieSource: English in Africa 41, pp 119 –140 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/eia.v40i3.6SMore Less
Google "elephant + basenji" and you will observe a remarkable event. Every so often, on the edge of Cecil Kop Game Reserve, bordering my home town of Mutare, Zimbabwe, one of the reserve's two elephants approaches the fence of a private house. On the house side is a Basenji dog. The two animals get as close to one another as the electrified fence permits. They seem to take a great interest in each other. Neither the other elephant, nor the household's other dog, participate in the exchange; this is a communing between two unique individuals. Sometimes, the elephant lies down, and she and the dog continue staring at each other. Just what is passing between them is impossible to say, but something is going on. Curiosity at least, and a measure of trust. Albeit tentative, a new, wholly unpredictable social aggregation has come into being, neither quite wild nor tamed: feral.