n Acta Academica - The Cambridge Companion to Nelson Mandela, Rita Barnard (Ed.) : book review

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0587-2405


That Nelson Mandela has become an overdetermined signifier is axiomatic. Many scholars sensitive to the risks that inhere wherever this occurs have already pointed to the dangers posed by a diluted, provincial, and glossed-over framing of Mandela. Melissa Steyn and Don Foster (2008), for example, have illustrated how his moral standing has even been appropriated in white resistance discourse, and used in rhetoric aimed at delegitimising restitution efforts. One consequence has been that writers from numerous disciplines and perspectives have devoted much attention to uncovering and describing the man behind established representations and narratives. As this book, edited by Rita Barnard, reiterates at several key junctions, such attempts have often only reified the exceptionality and extraordinariness of Nelson Mandela. One of the reasons for this difficulty relates, as Barnard observes in the introduction, to the way his standing is often conceptualised as a politics of the sublime : "something that exceeds and transcends the structures, constraints, and ordinariness of the present" (Barnard, 2014 : 3).

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