The Beloved and Other Monsters: Biopolitics and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation in Post-1994 South African Literature
Blackbourn, A. Veronica
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This dissertation examines the use of inter-racial relationships as emblems of political reconciliation in South African fiction from and about the transition from apartheid to democracy. Positive representations of the relationships that apartheid prohibited would seem to constitute a rejection of apartheid itself, but through an analysis of novels by Lewis DeSoto, Elleke Boehmer, Zoë Wicomb, Marlene van Niekerk, Ivan Vladislavić, and J.M. Coetzee, I argue that the trope of the redemptive inter-racial relationship in fact reinscribes what Foucault would designate a biopolitical obsession with race as a foundational construct of the nation. Chapter 2 examines an attempt to write against the legacy of apartheid by repurposing the quintessentially South African genre of the plaasroman, but Lewis DeSoto’s A Blade of Grass (2003) fails to reverse the narrative effects created by the plaasroman structure, implicated as the plaasroman is and has been in a biopolitical framework. Chapter 3 examines Elleke Boehmer’s rewriting of South African history to insist on the genealogical “truth” of the racial mixing of the country and its inhabitants, but Bloodlines (2000) yet retains the obsession with racial constructs that it seeks to dispute. Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light (2006), meanwhile, invokes genealogical “truth” as a corrective to apartheid constructions of race, but ultimately disallows the possibility of genealogical and historical narratives as correctives rather than continuations of apartheid. Chapter 4 discusses the structure of Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf (published in Afrikaans in 1994; English translation 1999) as a collage of Afrikaner nationalist narratives, narratives of trauma, and narratives of inter-racial reconciliation that is able to put powerful local tropes on display while simultaneously preventing their reinscription. Chapter 5 argues for a turn away from the bonds of affect symbolized by the inter-racial relationship as the basis of the nation in favour of an attention to justice. Readings of Ivan Vladislavić’s The Restless Supermarket (2001) and J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) substitute for the romance of the inter-racial relationship the exigencies of the South African philosophy of ubuntu and of the duty to justice posed by the figure of the monstrous neighbour.