n Journal for Language Teaching = Ijenali Yekufundzisa Lulwimi = Tydskrif vir Taalonderrig - Imagining the nation : autobiography, memoir, history or fiction in Peter Godwin's writings

Volume 43, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0259-9570



This paper locates autobiography and memoir within the broad definition and study of identity formation and narrating the nation. The validation of autobiography and memoir is to inscribe identity and project voice, through recourse to selective memory, so that the (re)positioning of the self emerges not only as interrogating the period of becoming but also revealing the fragility and elusiveness of that identity. In examining Peter Godwin's two memoirs - Mukiwa and When a crocodile eats the sun - this study insists on the elusiveness of mediated identity relative to the privileges, authority and systems of power articulated by the nation state. In narrating a genealogical self and inscribing its position relative to social, power and political spaces, autobiography and memoir insist on transitory rather than permanent identities that cumulatively shape the narrative identity. This narrative and mediated identity is crucial in its very ambivalent location relative to the nation and those that wield and regulate authority in the same nation space. What emerges is a conflicting version to the grand and authorised narratives of the nation. Mukiwa, for instance, interrogates white Rhodesia - the colonial and colonised space - its legislature and war against the black liberation movements. In this period, power and privilege reside in whiteness because of colonial appropriation. At the end of this autobiography, independence emerges to erase and sanitise the colonial disease; dissenting voices take to reconciliation and prosperity and enterprise are celebrated. In the sequel, When a crocodile eats the sun, the inexorable struggle for independence has shifted power and privilege to black majority. Peter Godwin inserts himself into the political furore of land acquisition in Zimbabwe and adopts a voice and identity whose difference with those in Mukiwa is phenomenal. This paper therefore seeks to examine the (in)consistencies of imagining self and the appropriation of identities in autobiography and memoir. It re-conceptualises the critical dimension of the selectivity of memory in scripting self and seeks to interrogate the multivalent identities that emerge. The dictum that history is scripted from the position of those in power and authority is explored to establish the dynamics of domination and subordination: the spatial, moral, social and political location of the dissident narrator relative to the constituent events of the narrative is crucial to an understanding of the veracity and historicity of autobiography.

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