Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The Individuated Collective Utterance: Lack, Law and Desire in the Autobiographies of Ellen Kuzwayo and Sindiwe Magona

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The Individuated Collective Utterance: Lack, Law and Desire in the Autobiographies of Ellen Kuzwayo and Sindiwe Magona

Article excerpt

"Minors" are heroines.

Ellen Kuzwayo, Call Me Woman (1995: 243)

A multiplicity is only in the AND, which does not have the same nature as the elements, the sets or even their relations. While it may come about between just two, it nevertheless sends dualism off course.

Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues (1987: 57)

In the autobiographical representation of Ellen Kuzwayo's Call Me Woman (1985) and Sindiwe Magona's Forced to Grow (1992), two women traverse a critical gap and/or site of collocation of the "I" of the self and other women, such that the individual experience becomes textually populated with bodies and ideas that project desire in collective utterances and connected fluxes of womanhood. Defined as such, the crisis of representation is also about managing or acting on the individual's articulation of an expressive cause of utterance within an assemblage of women: instead of "speaking for" other women, in which situation Jill Arnott and Catherine Belsey have argued that the subject status of the subaltern woman is denied altogether (Arnott 1996: 85), "[o]ne must, on the contrary, speak with, write with. With the world, with a part of the world, with people" (Deleuze & Parnet 1987: 52). Only then, I aver, does the collective utterance of the individual writer enter into an assemblage of the abstract machine of struggle and resistance in the townships of Soweto and Guguletu.

Political in nature, collective in its individual utterance, and written in the major language of English, that crisis in Kuzwayo's Call Me Woman and Magona's Forced to Grow qualifies itself as what Deleuze & Guattari have called a "minor literature" (Deleuze & Guattari 1986: 12). A minor literature speaks with women to a political agenda, and remains collective in its enunciation in the major language. Voices of and visions of Guguletu and Soweto townships are heard, received and transculturated (2) into and from an English major language for autobiography that takes stock of the complex lives of the authors. To be able to transculturate to and fro, or even to reconfigure the subject of cultural discourse, requires addressing the gap between Vertreten and Darstellung as a "crisis" between two components of the autobiographer's semiotic regime. Deleuze explains the first two components as follows:

A general semiotic regime should therefore have a first component which is generative; but it would simply be a matter of showing how an actual assemblage brings into play several regimes of pure signs or several abstract machines, putting them into play in another's mechanisms. A second component would be transformational; but now it would be a question of showing how one pure regime of signs can be translated into another, with what transformations, what unassimilable residues, what variations and innovations.

(Deleuze & Parnet 1987: 52)

This means that when Kuzwayo and Magona slip from individual to collective and manage the "crisis" through a strong coefficient of deterritorialisation of the major language, they are unleashing the heterogenous flux of writing the woman's utterance as part of a rhizomatic machine of women's struggles. Sam Raditlhalo frames this deterritorialisation of the "crisis" of individuation of collective agency as integral to what he terms "the African conception of self and community, and thus the self-conceptualisation of Africans ..." (Raditlhalo 2009: 35). Kuzwayo, for example, recalls that being chosen to play the role of the Skokiaan Queen alongside Sidney Poitier in the film version of Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country absorbed her completely but, notably, allowed her and two fellow actresses to make a mark for themselves: "Winnie Ramatlo, Albertina Temba (the lady playing the leading role in the film) and I were a threesome from the Youth Club Association ... we made a mark for ourselves, for the youth clubs and, above all, for black womanhood" (Kuzwayo 1985: 143). …

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