Alienation in South African Literature

Foukara, Abderrahim (1989) Alienation in South African Literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study of alienation is centered on the process of exchange between power and knowledge primarily within the context of South African fiction as represented by Alan Paton, Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer and Ezekiel Mphahlele. Through a brief discussion of romance, it is established that the genre was deployed as a satellite of European imaginative geography at the time of colonial expansion. It is argued that the genre's vision strongly subscribed to the political project of Empire and lent itself to the task of justifying its aims and ambitions. This called for a particular process of "otherisation" whereby a perception of the Other as a radically different form of being was established. It could be said that the thrust of the romance genre as a mode of imperial perception went towards conferring legitimacy upon the treatment such 'radical difference' solicited. It had to be tamed in order to make it approximate the boundaries of the Self. Such an approximation project was carried out in the name of reason and civilisation, tenets which seem to have dominated discourse throughout that period. It is submitted that this provides an interesting example of how civil and political societies operated with each other's blessing. Such a perspective might be construed as a little platitudinous. It could be argued that, after all, the perception of the Other which the writings of Rider Haggard and John Buchan (two exponents of the genre examined In this study) offer Intimately subscribes to jingoist discourse which is so blatantly racist as to be vulgarly simplistic. In other words, the genre's perception of the Other should not be taken seriously. Contrary to this assumption, the romance genre must be recognised for what it actually is, beyond childishness and triviality, epithets commonly attached to it. In fact, such an assumption seems to be a projection of the genre Itself. In order to mystify its real nature and enhance its purity and independence from the political rationale governing it, it addresses Itself specifically to a child audience. Besides, a genre that has exerted such considerable influence on an entire subsequent fictional tradition could be described as anything but childish or trivial. Making use of the principle of knowledge and power in the context of contemporary South African fiction gives us scope for seeing the element of continuity in an entirely fresh light. There are patterns of perception of Africa, both as a geographic domain and as a human dimension, consistent enough to suggest that the romance genre as a mode of imperial perception has vigorously projected itself onto the contemporary South African fictional scene. While it had entrenched the notion of otherness as a radical difference and superposed it with imperial intervention, what has been conventionally referred to as the liberal literary tradition has mediated the same notion virtually unaltered. This is the main argument in the part of this thesis dealing with Alan Paton's fiction. By the same token, the principle of knowledge and power could be used to elucidate the element of discontinuity. Andre Brink and Nadine Gordimer seem to take cognisance of the real implications of the romance genre as a mode of cultural perception. Their writings testify to an anguish to throw into doubt the whole romantic edifice and reflect their intention to bring back into perspective the major components of colonial discourse. They both adopt narrative strategies whereby they are able to challenge the ideological tenets of political society. Thus notions of reason and civilisation are presented as forming the external gloss of a reality that has continuously been governed by manifestations of violence and chaos and dominated by visions of apocalypse. The major underlying implication in their fiction is that if such notions have ever had a raison d'etre, it has been outlived. Such radical deviations are reflective of an interesting paradox, however. It is argued that while they provide salvation for the authors concerned, giving them scope for extending the boundaries of African writing in a way that is as ingenious as challenging, they nonetheless constitute an all-consuming dilemma. On account of the continuity they objectively have to accommodate, Brink and Gordimer stand half way between joining the ranks of political society and breaking with it. The acuteness of this paradox is, however, abated when considered against the backdrop of Ezekiel Mphahlele's writing. Besides acting as a connecting bridge between the South African and the North African authors examined in this thesis, namely Kateb Yacine from Algeria and Driss Chraibi from Morocco, Mphahlele epitomises the real paradox. He seems more prone to association with Alan Paton than with any other author examined herein. His location to the text poses a real problem in that his writing, almost naturally, lapses into the fictional assumptions of the liberal tradition. His adoption of apolitical narrative strategies, it is argued, reduces the relevance of his writing to constraining limits.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: African literature, South African studies
Date of Award: 1989
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1989-78378
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 15:30
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2020 15:30

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