Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Deconstructing Empire in Joseph Conrad and Zakes Mda (1)

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Deconstructing Empire in Joseph Conrad and Zakes Mda (1)

Article excerpt


The publication of Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness in 2000, almost a century after Conrad's Heart of Darkness, is not only redolent of its precursor in a titular sense, but also in its contingent and contiguous themes. Viewed from a postcolonial/postmodern perspective, both texts may be regarded as subversive offerings which disrupt colonial configurations of subjectivity. The degree to which Conrad and Mda succeed in deconstructing empire depends on the conditions of the historical production of their respective texts. Located within a modernist sensibility, Heart of Darkness, lacking the deictic in Mda's title, captures a historical moment of existential crisis in a manner that is simultaneously disruptive of colonial subjectivity and complicit with it, although in a characteristically ambiguous and inconclusive way. Set in the next millennium, The Heart of Redness continues the task of destabilising empire begun by Conrad, but this time through a revisionist reading of history, combining elements of realism with magic. Whilst Mda's deconstruction of Western colonialism is unambiguous owing to the writer's positioning in a postapartheid South Africa, his novel sardonically problematises another brand of colonialism, that of the enriched elite in government structures.


Die publikasie van Zakes Mda se The Heart of Redness in 2000, bykans 'n eeu na Conrad se Heart of Darkness, herinner nie alleen aan sy voorganger in 'n titulere sin nie, maar ook aan sy kontingente en aanliggende temas. Vanuit 'n post-koloniale/postmoderne perspektief kan albei tekste beskou word as subversiewe aanbiedings wat koloniale konfigurasies van subjektiwiteit ontwrig. Die mate waarin Conrad en Mda daarin slaag om empire te dekonstrueer hang af van die omstandighede van die historiese produksie van hulle onderskeie tekste. Gelokaliseer in 'n modernistiese ontvanklikheid, en by gebreke aan die deiktiese in Mda se titel, gee Heart of Darkness 'n historiese moment van eksistensiele krisis weer op 'n wyse wat koloniale subjektiwiteit terselfdertyd omvergooi en ook daaraan aandadig is, ofskoon op 'n kenmerkend dubbelsinnige en onoortuigende manier. Geplaas in die volgende millennium, sit The Heart of Redness die taak voort wat deur deur Conrad begin is om empire te destabiliseer--maar hierdie keer deur 'n revisionistiese lees van geskiedenis, en deur elemente van realisme en die magiese te kombineer. Waar Mda se dekonstruksie van Westerse kolonialisme ondubbelsinnig is as gevolg van sy plasing in 'n postapartheid Suid-Afika, problematiseer sy roman sardonies 'n ander skandteken van kolonialisme, die van die verrykte elite in regeringstrukture.


As tales about Africa, Mda's The Heart of Redness and Conrad's Heart of Darkness are located at the intersections of ethical discourses that were inseparable from the European colonising project of the late nineteenth century. What links these two stories is the common theme of imperialism that provides the backdrop for the exploration of subjectivity within the context of what Mary Louise Pratt has termed "contact zones" (Pratt 1992: 4), which are social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination. Whilst Mda acknowledges his intertextual debt to Jeff Peires's The Dead Will Arise in his dedication, he does not mention Conrad's famous, if not beleaguered text at all. However, the resonances between Heart of Darkness and Mda's text are more than coincidental. J.U. Jacobs (2002: 228) discerns in Mda's title an "obvious allusion" to Conrad's text which requires that Mda be read in the light of Conrad's treatment of European colonisation of Africa. The inclusion of a deictic and a change of a morpheme results in the title The Heart of Redness, where darkness is substituted by the contingency of redness, and the deictic "the" imparts a degree of specificity that is lacking in Conrad's amorphous, all-pervasive and ominous title, Heart of Darkness. …

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