Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Squirming White Bodies: Interracial Encounters in Anton Kannemeyer's "True Love" and Ivan Vladislavic's the Restless Supermarket

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Squirming White Bodies: Interracial Encounters in Anton Kannemeyer's "True Love" and Ivan Vladislavic's the Restless Supermarket

Article excerpt


This article explores some of the ways in which "whiteness" as a set of discourses is being revised in the post-apartheid cultural imagination. Through a reading of a comic strip by Anton Kannemeyer and of Ivan Vladislavic's novel The Restless Supermarket (2001), the article considers specifically the manner in which performances of whiteness are represented as responding to the pressures felt at the site of the post-apartheid interracial encounter. The feverishness with which discourses of white masculinity are either disavowed or aggressively reinforced (in the case of Kannemeyer and Vladislavic's texts respectively), indicate that post-apartheid revisions of (white) identity work to a variety of ends and continue to play out around uncertainties about the meanings of race. The article considers some of the strategies of translation used in moments of interracial contact, and argues that potentially ethical and responsible performances of whiteness can only take shape if the singularity of the racially and culturally coded "other" is brought to bear on the epistemological certainties of white self-imagining.


Hierdie artikel ondersoek sekere van die wyses waarop "witheid" as 'n stel diskoerse hersien word in die post-apartheid kulturele verbeelding. Deur die kritiese analise van 'n prentverhaal van Anton Kannemeyer en van Ivan Vladislavic se roman The Restless Supermarket (2001), besin die artikel spesifiek oor die manier waarop vertonings van "witheid" verteenwoordig word as reagerend op die druk wat die post-apartheid interrassige ontmoeting uitoefen. Die koorsigheid waarmee diskoerse van wit manlikheid of verloen of aggressief bevestig word (in die geval van Kannemeyer en Vladislavic se tekste onderskeidelik), dui daarop dat post-apartheid se hersienings van (wit) identiteit tot 'n verskeidenheid van doelstellings werk, en dat dit steeds uitspeel rondom onsekerhede oor die betekenisse van ras. Die artikel ondersoek sekere van die strategiee van vertaling wat gebruik word in oomblikke van inter-rassige kontak, en redeneer dat potensieel etiese en verantwoordelike vertonings van witheid slegs kan vorm aanneem as die sonderlingheid van die rassig en kultureel gekode "ander" laat geld word op die epistemologiese sekerhede van wit selfvoorstelling.


Translation is the most intimate act of reading. I surrender to the text when I translate.

(Spivak 1993: 180)

The manner in which "whiteness" as a social category is inhabited in post-apartheid South Africa is becoming an increasingly popular topic for critical discussion. (1) The heterogeneous group of people who were classified and/or self-identified as "white" during the apartheid era have been under considerable local and global pressure since the 1994 transition to distance themselves from the ideological and corporeal markers that link them with the country's shameful past. These pressures are felt, more often than not, in those moments of interracial contact in which previously unchallenged performances of whiteness are called into question. In an effort to consider some of the codes that intersect in the post-apartheid white body staged at the site of the interracial encounter, this article offers a reading of two cultural texts coming out of this era--Anton Kannemeyer's "True Love" (2001) (2) and Ivan Vladislavic's The Restless Supermarket (2001). My reading of Kannemeyer and Vladislavic considers the manner in which some of the frantic revisions of whiteness and South Africanness engendered by the political transition can be elucidated through the concept of translation. (3)

Extending the point made by Gayatri Spivak in the quotation chosen to open this article, I argue that people who engage in processes of intersubjective translation in moments of interracial and intercultural contact need to undertake careful and skilled acts of "reading". The manner in which an identity is staged at the site of the interracial encounter depends on how the culturally and racially coded identity of an "other" is interpreted, and on how these interpretations are then used to imagine and construct corresponding performances of identity. …

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