Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Haunted House, Haunted Nation: Triomf and the South African Postcolonial Gothic

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Haunted House, Haunted Nation: Triomf and the South African Postcolonial Gothic

Article excerpt


By drawing upon contemporary loci of fear and cultural anxiety, Gothic literature continually reinvents itself across international borders. This article places Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf (2004) within the context of the Gothic novel as a uniquely South African development of the postcolonial Gothic mode. In Triomf, Van Niekerk reworks the conventions common to Gothic fiction to create a literature of terror that captures the Zeitgeist of Afrikaner anxieties--the novel functions as a critique of white South Africa's civil religion of cultural dominion. Specifically, Van Niekerk deploys a hauntology of the Voortrekker tradition that questions the congruence of South Africa's mythologised past and the nation's projected postcolonial claims for the present and future; as Sophiatown's buried past rises to the surface, the Benade family find themselves haunted by the apartheid policies that constructed their suburban home--the haunted house becomes the haunted nation. To illustrate the spectral purpose at work in Triomf, I reference Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx as a framework from which to view the ideological haunting that Van Niekerk uses in her narrative. As the free elections of 1994 draw near in the novel, haunting gives way to the possibilities of a Gothic apocalypse that threatens not only the Benades, but also the self-sustaining colonial ideology that enables Afrikaner cultural and political superiority.


Gotiese letterkunde herskep sigself voortdurend oor internasionale grense heen deur te steun op kontemporere setels van vrees en kulturele angs. Hierdie artikel plaas Marlene van Niekerk se Triomf (2004) in die konteks van die Gotiese roman as 'n uniek Suid-Afrikaanse ontwikkeling van die postkoloniale Gotiese vorm. In Triomf hersien Van Niekerk die gebruike wat algemeen in Gotiese fiksie voorkom en skep sodoende 'n letterkunde van terreur wat die Zeitgeist van Afrikaner-angst vasvang--die roman is 'n resensie van wit Suid-Afrika se burgerlike geloof in kulturele oorheersing. Meer spesifiek span Van Niekerk 'n skim van die Voortrekkertradisie in wat die bestaanbaarheid van Suid-Afrika se gemitologiseerde verlede en die nasie se geprojekteerde postkoloniale aansprake op die hede en die toekoms bevraagteken. Soos Sophiatown se bedekte verlede na die oppervlak kom, word die Benade-gesin agtervolg deur die apartheidsbeleid wat hul tuiste bepaal--die spookhuis word die spooknasie. Ten einde die doel van die spookagtige in Triomf te illustreer, verwys ek na Jacques Derrida se Specters of Marx as 'n raamwerk vir die ideologies spookagtige van Van Niekerk se narratief. Wanneer die vrye verkiesing van 1994 in die roman nader kom, maak die spookagtige plek vir die moontlikhede van 'n Gotiese openbaring wat nie slegs die Benades bedreig nie, maar ook die selfonderhoudende koloniale ideologie wat die Afrikaner se kulturele en politieke meerclerwaardigheid moontlik maak.

One name for another, a part for the whole: the historic violence of Apartheid can always be treated as a metonymy.

Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx

1 Toward a South African Postcolonial Gothic

To paraphrase Karl Marx, "There is a specter haunting South Africa--the specter of apartheid." This haunting infiltrates the ideological, the political, the social; it is the past, yet it inhabits the present and promises to be a presence that shapes the future through reaction and mediation. The spectre of apartheid is Gothic in character, gesturing to the barbarity of a bygone time implicit in the term's original usage and its later artistic connotations of macabre immediacy. From its inception and through its wild divergences, the textual corpus of Gothic literature has been a repository for repressed cultural fears--here, Gothic haunting deploys itself through South African cultural productions that mine the territory of acute anxiety surrounding the ideology of apartheid policy. …

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