Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Iron Law and Colonial Desire: Legality and Criminality in Paton's Too Late the Phalarope

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Iron Law and Colonial Desire: Legality and Criminality in Paton's Too Late the Phalarope

Article excerpt


Too Late the Phalarope [1955]1971 provides an occasion to reflect on the relationship between colonialism, law and criminality. I argue that Paton indicts Afrikaner Christian nationalism by dramatising a paradox inherent in it. Afrikaner nationalism's uncompromisingly strict legality--both the normativity that regulates the behaviour of members of the Afrikaner community, and the strict enforcement of these norms--renders its members vulnerable to that which the community disavows and criminalises in the Immorality Act: the libidinal attraction to the Other manufactured by colonialism's "desiring machine". Moreover, by producing the conditions under which the "colonial desire" of the colonised--the desire for continued survival--cannot lawfully be fulfilled, colonial law is responsible for the criminality of the colonised.


Too Late the Phalarope [1955]1971 bied 'n geleentheid om na te dink oor die verhouding tussen kolonialisme, reg en misdadigheid. My argument is dat Paton die Afrikaner-nasionalisme aankla deur 'n dramatisering van die paradoks inherent daaraan. Hierdie nasionalisme word gekenmerk deur 'n streng, kompromislose klem op wet-likheid, sowel wat die normatiewe regulering van die gedrag van Afrikaners betref, as die streng toepassing van die betrokke norme. Hierdie wetlike kiem maak lede van die Afrikaanse gemeenskap ontvanklik vir juis dit wat die gemeenskap kriminali-seer terwyl dit hom daarvan distansieer: die libidinale aangetrokkenheid tot die Ander, vervaardig deur die "begeerte-masjien" van kolonialisme. Deur toestande voort te bring waaronder die "koloniale" begeerte van die gekoloniseerdes--die begeerte vir voortgesette oorlewing--nie wettiglik vervul kan word nie, is die koloniale reg bowendien verantwoordelik vir die kriminaliteit van die gekoloniseerdes.


As an upholder of the British liberal tradition, Alan Paton was a passionate and lifelong supporter of the Rule of Law (Black 1992). His understanding of the Rule of Law as a principle designed to safeguard citizens against arbitrary governance resembles the formulation of that principle by the English constitutionalist A.V. Dicey: the rights of citizens are to be determined by legal rules rather than by arbitrary decisions of state officials; no punishment is legitimate other than that resulting from the decision of a court of law, and all individuals, regardless of rank and status, are subject to the law. Paton describes the Rule of Law as "the greatest political achievement of mankind" (1987: 283).

In his first novel, Cry, the Beloved Country ([1948]1958), written immediately before the National Party's ascent to power in 1948, Paton's support for the legal system as animated by the ideal of the Rule of Law is reflected in his reverential depiction of the figure of the judge and the courtroom. Too Late the Phalarope, written between 1951 and 1952, shortly after the National Party's election victory in 1948, does not reflect a similarly respectful attitude towards the legal system. It was becoming increasingly apparent to Paton that the National Party victory had inaugurated a period that he would come to characterise as "the grave erosion of the Rule of Law" (1987: 253). His second novel reflects his growing conviction that South African law's enforcement of the norms of Afrikaner Calvinism--what he would later refer to as "the monstrosity known as Christian Nationalism" (1987: 78)--generated an opposition between the legal system on the one hand and the Rule of Law on the other. Whereas the Rule of Law was intended to protect individual liberty, Paton realised that the National Party was intent on using law as an instrument to restrict individual liberty and instantiate racist ideology as state policy.

The central focus of Too Late the Phalarope is a breach of the Immorality Act of 1927, that "fierce and pitiless" (Paton 1988: 46) law that criminalised interracial sex in an effort to forestall racial fusion that, from the perspective of the colonial, threatened to bring about the decline of European civilisation. …

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