Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Postcolonial Ecologies and the Gaze of Animals: Reading Some Contemporary Southern African Narratives

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Postcolonial Ecologies and the Gaze of Animals: Reading Some Contemporary Southern African Narratives

Article excerpt

Summary

This essay is located within the new field of Animal Studies, and foregrounds literary representations of animals within a historicised culture, while stressing that ecologies are inseparable from politics and culture. Three southern African writers, Mda, Vera and Couto, contradict colonial discursivities about nature in their postcolonial texts. Their representations of human-animal relationships will be discussed, to some extent, in relation to Derridean conceptualising of the animal gaze and the human response to being addressed by an animal. But because Derrida has animals as "the absolute other" the writers implicitly interrogate his theorising, for he cannot acknowledge what Adams calls "relational epistemologies". African knowledges, as Mda and Vera represent them, construct such epistemologies for humans along with cattle, horses and "wild" animals. Couto, contradictorily, represents the repercussions of a breakdown of such epistemologies because of violence and poverty. Poland has humans responding to the literal animal gaze, as well as engaging extensively with African knowledges of cattle.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel val binne die veld Dierestudies, en plaas literere voorstellings van diere binne 'n gehistoriseerde kultuur, terwyl dit beklemtoon dat ekologiee onlosmaaklik van politiek en kultuur is. Drie skrywers van suidelike Afrika, Mda, Vera en Couto, weerspreek koloniale diskursiwiteit omtrent die natuur in hulle postkoloniale tekste. Hulle voorstellings van mens-dier verhoudings sal bespreek word, in 'n sekere mate, in verhouding tot die Derrideaanse konseptualisering van die dier se blik en die mens se respons daarop om deur 'n dier aangespreek te word. Maar omdat Derrida diere as die "absolute ander" daarstel, ondervra die skrywers sy teoretisering, want hy kan nie toegee vir wat Adams noem "verhoudings-epistemologiee" nie. Afrika-begrippe, soos Mda en Vera hulle voorstel, konstrueer hierdie epistemologie" vir diere tesame met beeste, perde en "wilde" diere. Couto, daarenteen, stel die reperkussies voor van 'n ineenstorting van hierdie epistemologiee as gevolg van geweld en armoede. Poland stel mense daar wat reageer op die letterlike blik van die dier, en ekstensief Afrika-begrippe van beeste aanneem.

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This paper will consider representations of human-animal relationships in some recent southern African fiction. My inquiry will be located within notions of ecologies in these same postcolonial texts: Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness (2000), Yvonne Vera's Nehanda (1993) and Mia Couto's Voices Made Night (1990). Mda and Vera foreground African engagements with nature and animals as well as African knowledges. Both writers represent ontologies as ecologically situated and implicitly question the dualistic episteme of Western metaphysics which categorises humans and other animals hegemonically. (1) Couto, on the other hand, reveals how poverty and hopelessness damage any potential for heterarchal relationships between humans and animals. References will also be made to Marguerite Poland's Recessional for Grace (2003), although the text is not, primarily, postcolonial. (2)

None of these writers idealises nature or human-animal interactions, taking cognizance of histories of ecological imperialisms and of nature's inseparability from politics and culture. Political and ethical ideologies as well as financial imperatives constitute and legislate nature and who has access to it. Humans, then, are very much part of a postcolonial ecology, unlike apartheid "conservation" which stressed the preservation of "wild" animals and locales at the expense of indigenous people (cf Steyn & Wessels 2000: 213). The literary texts under consideration all contradict a number of conceptualisations of nature which obtain within colonial discursivities: nature, including "wild" animals, as eternised and essentialised and situated beyond the realm of culture; nature as a resource, with its animals hunted to extinction; alternatively, nature as subjected to the scientific gaze with plants and animals studied and classified according to European systems. …

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