Plagiarism and the national imaginary kathryn barbara highman

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This thesis explores debates about plagiarism in post-apartheid South Africa, focussing on two highly-publicised cases, Antje Krog’s Country of My Skull and Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness. Through close reading, and by presenting such reading as culturally meaningful rather than forensic, I argue that in each text plagiarism acts as a contestation of cultural authority and a type of symbolic violence. Each text consciously affiliates itself to a particular literary tradition, occluding those sources that trouble the limits of these traditions, and re-appropriating cultural prestige. Re-establishing context illuminates the violent transculturations that underwrite South African cultural production and how national literatures are fields of contestation, rather than organically developing, self-contained formations.

Chapter One considers the dispute between Stephen Watson and Krog over their respective poeticisations of |Xam narratives, contextualising it within a long history of appropriative white writing about indigenous peoples. Chapter Two considers Krog’s alleged plagiarisms in Country of My Skull; notes other instances of unacknowledged copying; and relates Krog’s borrowings to her use of testimony, arguing that a number of testimonies are fictionalised, and that Krog's borrowings and fictionalisations work together to lend her text a first-hand authenticity marked as specifically African. Chapter Three considers Mda’s alleged plagiarism of Jeff Peires’s The Dead Will Arise and notes how, contrary to Mda’s claim that there is no written record for the Khoikhoi stories he retells in his novel, there is one, Theophilus Hahn’s Tsuni-||Goam. Mda’s borrowings serve to reinscribe an originary Xhosa identity, relatively uninflected by Christian,colonial influence, and to affiliate his work with African orature, rather than print culture. The afterword comments on the wider cultural and ethical implications of plagiarism; the ‘counter-narratives’ that Krog and Mda’s borrowings reveal; and the relationship of their borrowings to the metaphorical ‘forging’ of a ‘new’ South Africa in post-apartheid authorship.




Author’s Declaration




Part One: Plagiarism and Competing Claims to the Country


    1. Scope of the Study


1.2 Critical Approach


1. 3 Debates about Plagiarism, Originality and Authenticity in the New South Africa


1. 4 ‘White Writing/Writing Black’: Constructing National Literatures


1.5 Cultural Translation and ‘Bad English’


Part Two: Critical Debates about Plagiarism


2.1 Cultural and Legal Contexts


2.2 Plagiarism and the Literary


2.3 Plagiarism and Romanticism


2.4. Theories of Authorship


Part Three: Chapter Outlines


3. 1 Chapter One


3.2 Chapter Two


3.3 Chapter Three


CHAPTER ONE: White Writing and the Annals of Plagiarism


Part One: ‘The Annals of Plagiarism’: Antjie Krog, Stephen Watson and the Bleek and Lloyd Collection


1. 1The Bleek and Lloyd Collection


1.2 ‘The Annals of Plagiarism’: A ‘Local, Extra-literary Tradition’


1.3 Watson’s Allegations of Plagiarism in the stars say ‘tsau’


1.4 Return of the Moon: Making It New


1.5 Storytelling as Gift, Weapon and Commodity


1.6 ‘The Narcissism of Small Differences’


Part Two: ‘The Annals of Plagiarism’: Indigenous Literatures in White Writing


2.1 Laurens van der Post’s Use of Specimens


2.2 The Kukummi in Afrikaans Literary Tradition


2.3 Khoisan Folklore and Fakelore.


2.4 Reynard the Fox


2.5 Travel Writing: Fact and Fiction


CHAPTER TWO Forging a New South Africa: The ‘Black Voice’ in

Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull


1. Hughes and Krog


2. ‘Called to Account’: Fact and Fiction


3. Anxieties of Authorship


4. Krog’s Use of TRC Testimony: Poetry and Testimony


5. Testimony, Confession and Ventriloquism


6. ‘The Shepherd and the Landscape of My Bones’ : Testimony, Poetry and National Remembrance


7. ‘The Language of the Heart’


8. ‘How Can the Deftness of Stealing Be a Mark of Honour?’


9. Forging the Self, Birthing the Nation: Krog as Volksmoeder


10. Testimony, Plagiarism and the ‘Black Voice’


CHAPTER THREE (Dis)avowals of Tradition: Forging a Useable Past

in Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness


Part One: Mda’s Use of Jeff Peires’s The Dead Will Arise


1.1 The Cattle-killing and Its Historiography


    1. Forging a ‘Useable Past’: Poesis and History in The Dead Will Arise


1.3 The Heart of Redness: Reclaiming the Past and Refiguring the Present


1.4. Twinning in The Heart of Redness


1.5 Offenburger’s Critique of Mda: History, Literature and Plagiarism


Part Two: Conjuring a ‘Folktale Dreamland’: Indigenous Cosmology in Heart


    1. Khoikhoi Cosmology


1. 2 ‘He Who Buildeth His Stories in Heaven’: The Author-God


    1. Conjuring ‘A Folktale Dreamland’: Magical Realism


1.4 ‘Fight with the Pen’: Transculturation and Writing as Weapon









I am grateful to the White Rose Foundation, the Overseas Research Students Award Scheme and the Holbeck Trust for funding this research. Many thanks are also due to various individuals. Particular thanks to David Attwell for his very generous supervision (including continuing supervision into his research leave), and to Andrew van der Vlies, who was initially a co-supervisor on this project and who has provided much valuable input. I am very grateful to Lucy Graham for encouraging me to apply to York and to tackle this topic in the first place and for offering very useful comments and suggestions at various stages during the PhD. Derek Attridge and Anna Bernard have provided helpful feedback in TAP meetings. Catherine M. Cole, Hedley Twidle and Andrew van der Vlies have generously allowed me to read their unpublished or forthcoming work. Andrew Martin, Ann Torlesse, Crystal Warren and Thomas Jeffries at the National English Literary Museum, and Natalie Skomolo at the South African National Archives, have all been extraordinarily helpful in response to various queries. Michelle Kelly and Mary Fairclough, my housemates, deserve particular thanks for their generous support, including reading draft sections of this thesis and offering very helpful comments on it. Michelle has not only read numerous drafts, but has also provided many helpful suggestions in countless conversations. Various friends who have checked references in South Africa, offered insightful comments, shared office space, directed me to useful readings, or been otherwise helpful, and who deserve particular mention include Kathy Bainbridge, Kate Compton, Ron and Priscilla Hall, Sarah Meny-Gibert, Ines Meyer, Stephanie Miller, Deborah Russell and Sam Sadian. For more general support, necessary to the PhD, thank you to my mother, Julie Aitchison, and late aunt, Kate Jagoe-Davies.


I hereby declare that this is my own work, none of which has been previously published.



This thesis takes as its focal point a set of concerns which came to prominence with a highly publicised debate about plagiarism that arose in 2006 when the late Stephen Watson, a well-established South African poet and academic, accused Antjie Krog, one of South Africa's most celebrated authors, of plagiarism in two of her books0. These concerns were aptly described at the time by academic Annie Gagiano, when she wrote that: ‘underlying the present quarrel are deeper questions concerning cultural 'ownership', cultural border crossings, cultural sharing’ (‘Just A Touch of the Cultural Trophy Hunter’). Gagiano alluded here to the fact that the squabble between Watson – an English writer – and Krog – an Afrikaans writer – concerned their respective reworkings of indigenous |Xam narratives. Gagiano mentioned too that the more important issue at stake was that of appropriation, and that appropriation could occur even when there was a meticulous crediting of sources. While, as Gaganio notes, the matter of ‘appropriation’ is larger than that of plagiarism, it is through tracing debates about plagiarism, specifically, that I wish to map some of the concerns outlined by her. While plagiarism is a contested critical term (its definition is discussed further shortly), it retains currency and power. Moreover, plagiarism allegations render debates about appropriation in a particularly concrete and intensified way, and its overlapping relationship with issues of copyright allows for consideration of the material aspects and effects of appropriation. What is more, as a subject often occluded from literary criticism, and considered outside of the literary, plagiarism helps to refocus attention on literary value.

The metaphor of ‘mapping’ used above is consciously chosen, aware as I am that this thesis does not merely relate, but inevitably participates in, struggles about meaning and representation that are intimately tied up with ideas about South Africa and what it does, or should, mean0. The two texts which form the main case studies of this thesis, both the subject of much-publicised plagiarism scandals, concern the South African past and its representation. This is a matter of happenstance rather than selection on my part – the most prominent plagiarism scandals in recent South African letters concern two arguably ‘canonical’ works of post-apartheid South Africa, Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull (1998) and Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness (2000)0, both of which are self-consciously concerned with cultural and historical legacies and their reinscription in a post-apartheid dispensation. Each of these texts forms the subject of a separate chapter. The chapters are similar in approach in that each reconsiders the given text within the context of the debate about plagiarism in which it has become inscribed. These two chapters are preceded by a chapter which differs slightly in approach: though it takes as its starting point another post-apartheid plagiarism scandal, that concerning Krog’s alleged plagiarism of Watson in her adaptation of |Xam narratives in the Bleek and Lloyd collection, it contextualises this within a longer history of white appropriations of indigenous literatures. Additionally, it focuses more on paratexts (particularly prefaces) than a re-reading of the symbolics of the text.

    1. Scope of the Study: Literary Plagiarism in Post-apartheid South Africa

I have to chosen to circumscribe this study to what might be described broadly as ‘literary’ plagiarism in post-apartheid South Africa, and to focus in-depth on two case studies, partly because of space constraints and partly for methodological reasons. I do not intend to say anything new about plagiarism per se, or make broad theoretical claims about it, but rather to reconsider key texts and debates in light of alleged plagiarism – a subject, I argue, often ignored or occluded, because it challenges deeply entrenched ideas about authorship and the literary. Plagiarism being a fraught topic, particularly when the texts at hand are contemporary, any discussion of alleged borrowings must proceed very carefully. When Krog was accused of plagiarising from the British writer Ted Hughes in Country, she vehemently denied that the contested passage was taken from Hughes. I argue that it is likely that the passage is from Hughes (via whatever conduit), and, moreover, that there are a number of passages in Country that are taken verbatim from other unacknowledged writers. Krog also copies verbatim from a 1955 essay by Claude Levi-Strauss, a 1965 essay by Pierre Bourdieu and, most substantially, from a 1965 essay by Julian Pitt-Rivers (none of whom are credited). She also appears to excerpt a number of verbatim quotes from Ian Buruma's The Wages of Guilt (1995), the English translation of his Het Loon van de Schuld (1994), the Dutch version of which Krog cites (137). Certainly, despite her referencing of the original Dutch publication, Krog's text is remarkably close to the English translation. All of this is strange, and invites re-reading, given that elsewhere she acknowledges sources scrupulously. Krog is self-reflexive about the cost of verbal articulation in Country, and constantly self-dramatises her own scrupulousness. The text is peppered with careful acknowledgements. She cites the titles and authors of books on which conversations are ‘based’, cites even unpublished works (for example, an interview with Mazisi Kunene [219]) and makes a point of acknowledging someone, Stephen Laufer, whose ‘phrasing’ she uses occasionally (280). Moreover, the appropriation of the words of others is a constant theme of her text, and one much commented on in its reception.

Given the disbelief with which Krog’s alleged borrowing from Hughes was met, and the upset it produced, it is necessary to proceed delicately and argue this carefully. Moreover, my point here is not merely to itemise borrowings for the sake of it, but, by teasing out the intertextual relationships across texts, and relating them to recurrent tropes in Country, to read as meaningful the excisions and repetitions performed. This requires slow and careful explication. I also make the claim that Krog fictionalises testimony given by testifiers before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and that there is a clear pattern between her appropriations of published sources and her fictionalisations of testimony. Again, arguing this entails careful comparative readings of various texts.

Similarly, I proceed with care in the chapter on Heart, where I suggest that contrary to Mda’s claim that there is no written record for the Khoikhoi stories he recounts in that book, there is such a record, namely Theophilus Hahn’s Tsuni-||Goam: The Supreme Being of the Khoikhoi (1881). Again, my primary assertion is not that Mda is plagiarising from Hahn, but that a consideration of the texts alongside each other allows for a productive re-reading and contextualisation of Heart and its representation of indigeneity, as well as its poetics. In all of the texts studied, the lack of acknowledgement of sources obscures material continuities which, I suggest, are pertinent to understanding the complexities of South African cultural production.

    1. Critical Approach

Clearly, the approach taken in this thesis is one that proceeds by ‘close reading’, but not on the traditional New Critical premise that a text is an autonomous object that should be interpreted solely in view of formal properties regarded as necessarily internal. Rather, close reading is deployed to trace and tease out relationships between and across texts, and attention is paid to the materiality of texts. The language of the texts is understood to be part and parcel of its materiality, language being a multi-valent social medium, constantly in flux, whose significations are not within the control of the author, but always contested and re-interpreted. For Timothy Bewes, following Deleuze and Guattari,

Materiality describes the formal elements of a literary text, but it should not be understood as a cipher for an aesthetic formalism in which specifically literary qualities are abstracted from history. On the contrary, materiality attempts to refocus critical attention on the contemporaneity of the text – on the historical event of the work itself. (52)

Both Krog and Mda are writers who see their work as doing something, as meaningful acts or interventions (and Krog explicitly invokes Deleuze’s notion of ‘becoming’ in her book Begging to be Black). Both tend to see their work as playing a part in national reconciliation and transformation.

While I trace rhetorical strategies and narratological elements such as structure and voice within the texts (noting in both Heart and Country a peculiar tendency to self-reflexive doubling), such formal elements are taken to have historical significance, and are read generically, in relation to their literary and historical contexts. Both texts are highly self-reflexive about their own forms, and are to some degree experimental, testing generic boundaries, and engaged with their own aesthetic quandaries: attempting to find aesthetic strategies commensurate to their subject matter, what might be termed an ‘appropriate’ poetics. This reading of text in relation to contexts and intertexts often produces, or reveals, a type of double narrative. While Krog’s narrative ostensibly says one thing about storytelling (that it is healing), on another level her borrowings act out a very different story. Similarly, Mda’s borrowings of white-authored narratives of the Khoikhoi and Xhosa perform a narrative of repatriation which runs alongside, but also departs from, the ostensible narrative of ancestral reclamation that forms his subject matter, suggesting that the field of South African literary production is, as David Attwell has suggested, one of ‘transculturation’ (this is discussed in further detail in Chapter Three). Following Christopher Miller’s observations about Yambo Ouologuem’s plagiarisms in his novel Bound to Violence, plagiarism might be said to enact a ‘symbolics’ (Miller 218) of the text. Strikingly, what is symbolised, or gestured to, is a broader literary history in which these texts self-consciously take their place. These texts thus self-consciously engage with questions of South African literary historiography.

The critical approach taken in this thesis is also informed by perspectives most closely associated with book history. The approach is book historical insofar as, in considering matters of plagiarism, I attend specifically to material continuities and in that historical, material and institutional contexts are basic to the interpretations offered in this thesis. As Andrew van der Vlies argues in the introduction to his forthcoming edited collection on South African book history, book history has developed from its beginnings in bibliography to a consideration of how material specificities shape readings and interpretations. Van der Vlies quotes Roger Chartier to the effect that

[r]eaders, in fact, never confront abstract, idealized texts detached from any materiality. They hold in their hands or perceive objects and forms whose structures and modalities govern their reading or hearing, and consequently the possible comprehension of the text read or heard. (1992, 50)

Van der Vlies himself offers a useful, if broad, description of approaches that might be described as book historical:

while literary criticism has always been concerned with the meanings of texts, book history is concerned with how these meanings are influenced by factors often beyond the control of authors themselves, with how they are intimately connected with (amongst other pressures) those exercised by the publishing industry, agents and editors, the ruling discourses of reviewing and the economics of bookselling and advertising, censorship or other kinds of state control or public moral or political pressure, the exigencies of popular reception, serialization or abridgement (and also educational institutionalization), by the valorizing economics of literary prize cultures and, indeed, academic study. (‘Print, Text and Books in South Africa’)

Crucially, both Heart and Country are texts aware of their own institutionality and commodification as items of sale that trade in national and ethnic identities. A book historical approach thus seems particularly appropriate to a consideration of these texts. It also seems to me that book history makes a necessarily materialist intervention into questions of South African literary historiography and ‘traditions’, or, into the impasse of the question of what might constitute a ‘South African’ literature. As Lewis Nkosi commented (albeit in 1994), literature produced in South Africa, and so often gathered under the loose rubric ‘South African’, is very far from representative of the country at large, because the conditions of production and reception have been so skewed towards white writers and readers (a legacy which persists even today, despite the intentions of publishers and policymakers otherwise) (38-40). Any discussion of ‘South African’ literature that wishes to avoid bracketing the majority of the country's populace in discussions of the ‘South African’ necessitates a consideration of the material conditions of authorship, then.

One material consideration that this thesis does not closely pursue is the question of sales and profits, although I would consider this pertinent to the questions that arise from this research. Something that has gradually emerged during the research is how the matter of literal profits and the economic is routinely sidelined and effaced from discussions of the literary. At the same time, though, in the texts considered here, figures of trade and theft recur again and again, frequently in conjunction with figures of indigenous storytelling. These scenarios hint at a ‘literary’ substrate in which questions of land, nation, narrative and property are intimately intertwined.

    1. Debates about Plagiarism, Originality and Authenticity in the ‘New’ South Africa

I have circumscribed this study mainly to plagiarism debates in post-apartheid South Africa, and have focussed on Heart and Country in particular, as it seems to me there is an overdetermined link between the plagiarisms in these texts and their investments in what might be described as the ‘forging’ of new South African identities or indeed a new South Africa. Indeed, there may be a more general connection between plagiarism and nationalist discourse (this has been touched on by academics working on debates about plagiarism in other historical contexts, and I will return to their observations in due course). By ‘nationalism’ I mean ethno-nationalism, which Walker Connor argues is nationalism proper -- that is an appeal to a common ethnic identity. As we shall see, a consideration of plagiarism in writing from South Africa suggests that it very often operates in the service of such nationalism. There are perhaps links between plagiarism, which often entails a denial of hybridity, and nationalism’s prizing of what might be termed authentic difference (a reified, and static, rather than temporal, difference – that is, an essentialism). Interestingly, Kevin Pask notes how plagiarism becomes a matter of pressing concern in the first English texts concerned with tracing a specifically national literature – Gerald Langbaine’s Momus Triumphans (1687) and An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) (728).

As has often been noted, the language of nationalism is obsessively concerned with origins and authenticity. This is evident in the governing nation-building discourse of post-apartheid South Africa, which has stressed pride in indigeneity and positioned Africa as a place of authenticity and origins (perpetuating what we shall see in Chapter One is a long, but troubled, discourse of it as such). Thus, for instance, the establishment of the ‘Origins Centre’ at the University of the Witwatersrand, and the government-sponsored launch of Baobab, a literary magazine that declares it is bringing storytelling ‘home’ to Africa, described as its birthplace0. The government has quite literally invested in the securing of a new post-national South African identity by encouraging indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) and indigenous literary production, and by conscripting writers into a specifically national framework, via the establishment of a national laureate post, literary magazines, and new literary orders and awards. Thus writers as various as Credo Mutwa and Nadine Gordimer are together designated ‘national living treasures’ who have contributed to the making of indigenous knowledge. The post-apartheid appeal to indigeneity is most clearly seen in the use of a fragment from the Bleek and Lloyd archive (an archive discussed in this thesis), in an indigenous language, as the motto for the new national coat of arms, unveiled by then President Thabo Mbeki in 2000. But while the post-apartheid government has described the promotion of IKS as crucial ‘in the face of globalisation’ (IKS Policy Document 12), its neoliberal economic policies have opened South Africa up to globalisation. There is a split here between the economic and cultural which is awkwardly gestured to, and negotiated, by Krog and Mda in their books – in which questions of ownership, profits and commodification are variously addressed and alluded to. It is also important to note that this is not the first time that such appeals to authenticity have been made – though this current appeal differs in that it is made by a democratically elected African government – there are echoes of such mobilisations in previous, colonial eras. Thus, Shane Moran notes that the Khoikhoi and San were conscripted into the ‘new’ South Africa in 1910, with the union of the colonies and republics (126).

There are a number of points of overlap between Heart and Country that appear symptomatic of their common cultural moment – their foregrounding of orality; their gendering of the nation; tropes of parthenogenesis and autochthony; and their appeal to a specifically African authenticity, or, rather, the allying of the authentic with the African. Both are English language texts, published internationally, by writers whose identities are not English South African and who promote a distinctive identity that is determinedly anticolonial. Both texts, manifestly products of a particular nationalist moment, to some degree concern themselves with nationalism as subject. The TRC, the subject of Krog’s book, was established in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, and was concerned as much with nation building as justice or truth. Krog casts herself as trying to find a new language for a new South Africa, as voicing and contributing to a new nation. Mda, too, in his book addresses matters of national heritages, memory and reconciliation, and attempts to create a new, authentically African aesthetic form appropriate to his subject and moment.

    1. White Writing/Writing Black’: Constructing National Literatures

Although the thesis has a strictly defined national scope, namely literary plagiarism in post-apartheid South Africa, part of the work done by the thesis is, I hope, the troubling of the idea of national literatures as natural formations or unproblematic critical categories. There has been much debate about what constitutes a South African literature, particularly post-1994, and whether one can identify or meaningfully discuss a distinctive South African literary tradition. Malvern van Wyk Smith, in ‘White Writing/Writing Black: The Anxiety of Non-Influence’ (1996), argues that attempts to celebrate a unified South African tradition are overly optimistic; drawing on Harold Bloom’s model of the ‘anxiety of influence’, van Wyk Smith argues that the same conduits of re-writing – and of intentional dialogue – that Bloom traces between writers within what he perceives as the canon (one comprised almost solely of male, European poets), cannot be found in South African writing. That Bloom’s theory – explicitly defined as a theory of poetry – should not be transposable to a multi-generic national field should not be surprising. There is a sense though, in which van Wyk Smith’s reaching for a theory of poetry in response to a question of how to write a national literary history is apt – for poetry is the privileged genre of nationalism, and the idea of a national literature per se is not questioned by van Wyk Smith. Bloom’s model is also suggestive in that it traces creative agons – contestations of power – that are conceived as familial (as the nation is). As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, Freud’s Oedipal model occludes all social dimensions and contexts, centring them into the family unit (Young, Colonial Desire 171); Bloom’s Oedipal model is appropriately ahistorical and ostensibly depoliticised. For van Wyk Smith, though, Bloom’s model of poetic influence is an instance of ‘genuine interextuality, of texts resonating intentionally to one another’ (75), an intertextuality not discernible across South African literatures. Bloom’s model of intertextuality (or the one ascribed to him by van Wyk Smith) is very different to that elaborated by Julia Kristeva, who first proposed the term ‘intertextuality’ and who explicates it in more nuanced terms. For Kristeva (whose theory is discussed in further detail shortly) intertextuality is neither intentional nor purely linguistic. What van Wyk Smith asserts is that South African writers do not seem to be influenced by one another, or to consciously inscribe themselves within a broad national tradition, conscious of themselves as national writers working in a common tradition, keen to define themselves in relation to one another. But South Africa, even post-1994, lacks a sense of unified nationhood; arguably, writers do work with a sense of national consciousness, but not all of those under the law of the South African state see each other as fellow citizens, feel accountable to one another, or experience what Benedict Anderson describes as a ‘sense of deep, horizontal comradeship’ (7). South African writers have not been reading each other, van Wyk asserts. In particular, white English South African writers have not been reading their national counterparts. Also, the firm link proposed between oral literature and contemporary black literary production is erroneous (74–75) (I will return to this in Chapter Three).

I suggest that Bloom’s model is inappropriate to the South African context (as David Attwell and Derek Attridge argue in their introduction to The Cambridge History of South African Literature [6]). Rather, any discussion of an ostensibly national literature is best undertaken empirically or historiographically – as a discussion of texts contingently bound by politics, place, history, with intertexts as much material and real as literary, and not necessarily intentional. All national literatures are fictive. There is no ‘authentic’ or ‘organic’ self-contained national tradition to be found – or one based on simple, linear ‘inheritances’ – anywhere. Writers respond to events and writings across national boundaries and historical periods; nevertheless, there are still valuable readings to be had from engaging with the specific political, geographical and historical contexts of a text’s articulation.

I argue that both Country and Heart are invested in ideas of national authenticity and that their plagiarisms act in the service of cultural nationalisms and as disavowals of ‘cultural translation’ (discussed in further detail shortly). If anything, close archival readings of the texts suggest that, as Pascale Casanova argues, literatures are ‘not a pure emanation of national identity; they are constructed through literary rivalries, which are always denied, and struggles, which are always international’ (36). Van Wyk Smith argues that South African writers have not been reading each other; I suggest that perhaps at times they have, but that there are vested – indeed, national – interests in disavowing and obscuring such dialogues. There is another ‘anxiety of influence’ discernible in South African writing, and one specifically bound up with national identities. While I disagree with van Wyk Smith’s idea of ‘genuine intertextuality’ as intentional, his observations about South African writers, drawing on his own extensive research, are pertinent, as is his call for archival work to establish such overlaps and intertexts. He himself notes possible ‘intertextual’ connections, usually between a South African writer and a metropolitan one, worth pursuing – but these are discounted from a national tradition or survey, because inspired by an extranational source. Arguably, tracing such connections is valuable for the way in which they show up the fallacies of a purely national tradition.

    1. Cultural Translation and ‘Bad English’

In contradistinction to a naturally bounded, self-perpetuating national literary tradition, we might propose to read South African literary production through the lens of cultural translation, or even, following Attwell, as a field of transculturation (Rewriting Modernity), with South Africa as a mobile fiction, or changing map. Cultural translation has become an increasingly frequent term to describe transnational processes of cultural exchange and transformation, and is to some degree apposite to the South African situation, with its eleven official languages. In a 1981 essay, ‘Some Problems of Writing Historiography’, Stephen Gray identified cultural translation or ‘trading’ of ‘literary forms’ as fundamental to South African writing; according to Gray, for the South African writer, ‘the basic act of writing is of carrying information across one or other socio-political barrier, literally of “trading’” (20). Gray contends that

trading of literary forms – like the lullaby, the praise-poem, the elegy, and the letter – is shown to be part of the continuing business of a shared literary system that is bigger than the sum of its parts. (20-21)

Gray’s model of ‘trade’ certainly seems apt to ‘literary’ and linguistic exchange in South Africa from the time of European incursion onwards, for, as Linda Evi Merians notes, all the early verbal exchanges Europeans had with peoples of the Cape concerned, trade, or rather exchange (47). But the scenario proposed by Gray is somewhat idealistic – not all South African writers have written with this sense of a local audience to whom it wishes to reach out. When there has been a sense, on the author’s part, of what Lewis Nkosi calls the ‘cross-border reader’, this cross-border reader is frequently a metropolitan (English-speaking) audience. Moreover, the ‘trades’ gestured to by Gray are unequal, and, taking place in a field of unequal power relations, are never simply reciprocal exchanges. In Heart there is a vignette in which the white trader, Dalton, is struck on the head by a Xhosa customer, Bhonco, an action which is explicitly figured as ‘pay back’ for Bhonco’s debt to Dalton. Arguably, Bhonco’s action allegorises what are the text’s own symbolic violences towards white-authored texts about indigenous peoples. Mda, ‘indebted’ to colonial authors for accounts of Xhosa and Khoikhoi culture, now heavily and violently transculturated, rectifies the balance sheet by appropriating a heritage denied him.

Part of the argument of this thesis is that the pressures of national authorship continue to exert a distorting influence on South African writers even after the end of apartheid, as seen in the disguised borrowings of Krog and Mda, both of whom are constructed as representative national authors. These distorting pressures of national authorship are made all the more fraught, or placed under increased strain, by the use of English by writers (Krog and Mda) who are read as in some sense representative of particular South African groups – Afrikaners and amaXhosa – who have been subject to English cultural domination. At the same time, their use of English to articulate quite particular non-English identities displays the fallacies of nationalist thinking that poses a determinate link between nation, language and people – a type of Herderian thinking recently critiqued in Bill Ashcroft’s Caliban’s Voice: The Transformation of English in Postcolonial Literatures (2009). Yet, this seemingly ‘natural’ relationship between language and nation remains an implicit assumption in both Heart and Country, and indeed is held as widespread assumption, a spectral haunting of nationalist thinking in a post-colonial world.

Krog, commenting on language politics in contemporary South Africa, resonantly suggests that ‘our national language is bad English’ (‘Literature Enables You to Examine Your Life’), English being the first-language of only a small minority of South Africans yet the default second-language of postcolonial South Africa. Arguably, South African English is ‘bad’ in another way, carrying, as Njabulo Ndebele suggested in a 1986 essay, a legacy of cultural domination that renders it far from ‘innocent’ or neutral (‘English and Social Change’ 110). Ndebele suggested that English would have to accept being changed by its users, less precious about its particulars (112). Arguably the plagiarisms in Heart and Country might be read as registering, and responding to, the historical violence of imperial English, marking their distance from it. While Krog writes of ‘bad English’ as the language of South Africa’s future, Mda, responding to Gray’s critique of his mastery of English, notes that his is an English which is deliberately subversive, affiliating itself with Xhosa culture (‘A Charge Disputed’).

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