Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

One Rainbow, One Nation, One Tongue Singing: Whiteness in Post-Apartheid Pulp fiction/Een Reenboog, Een Nasie, Een Singende Tong: Witheid in Postapartheid Pulpfiksie

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

One Rainbow, One Nation, One Tongue Singing: Whiteness in Post-Apartheid Pulp fiction/Een Reenboog, Een Nasie, Een Singende Tong: Witheid in Postapartheid Pulpfiksie

Article excerpt

Abstract

A certain brand of fiction has become popular in post-apartheid South Africa that accounts for the relative success of Susan Mann's "One tongue staging" (2005). This article seeks to examine the implications of narratives such as this in revealing the normative assumptions that might inform text and reception a decade into a new democracy. It begins with an overview of whiteness studies as a post-colonial frame of reference useful in gauging the continued hegemonic normativity of whiteness as a cultural affiliation. This is followed by an analysis of Mann's novel. I argue that it is precisely in fiction such as this--mass-produced for a white middle-class, mostly female readership both here and abroad--that there is ample evidence of the kinds of normative assumptions that whiteness studies attempts to make visible. I demonstrate that despite the writer's liberal and politically correct attempts to negotiate the politics of race, gender and class, her narrative inadvertently reinforces stereotypes that it ostensibly challenges. Thus it exhibits the discursive limits and powers of the most readily available reading matter this country has to offer.

Opsomming

Susan Mann se "One tongue singing" (2005) het sy relatiewe sukses te danke aan 'n bepaalde soort fiksie wat gewild geword het in Suid-Afrika na apartheid. Hierdie artikel is 'n poging om die implikasies van narratiewe van hierdie aard te ondersoek, veral om die normatiewe opvattings te ontbloot wat die grondslag vorm van hierdie tipe tekste en huile ontvangs 'n dekade sedert die nuwe demokrasie tot stand gekom het. Eerstens gee ek 'n oorsig van witheid ('whiteness') as studieveld wat dien as 'n postkoloniale verwysingsraamwerk vir die beoordeling van die volgehoue hegemoniese normatiwiteit van witheid as 'n kulturele verwantskap. Daarop volg 'n analise van Mann se roman. Ek voer aan dat daar juis in hierdie soort fiksie--wat op groot skaal vir die plaaslike sowel as oorsese wit middelklas, en veral vir 'n vroulike leserspubliek geproduseer word--genoegsame bewys is van die normatiewe opvattings wat witheidstudies probeer blootle. Ek toon aan dat, ten spyte van die skrywer se liberale en polities korrekte pogings om die politiek van ras, geslag en klas te beheers, die narratief onbedoeld daardie stereotipes versterk wat dit oenskynlik probeer uitdaag. Daardeur illustreer dit juis die diskursiewe beperkings en vermoe van geredelik verkrygbare leesstof in die land.

I. Introduction

In reading a representative selection of literary texts produced in contemporary South Africa by white women writers, my broader project (cf. West, 2009) examines the ways in which so-called liberal writing by white women--promoted by international and highly reputable publishing houses--is uncomfortably both consciously in support of, and unconsciously at odds with, emergent reconciliatory gestures and multicultural celebrations of "rainbow" nationhood. An examination such as this enables an assessment of the extent to which white identities continue to be characterised by a largely unconscious (and thus unexamined) set of assumptions, and a concomitant sense of entitlement that manages to hold currency, despite more than fifteen years of democracy. These assumptions are not easy to identify, and in fact often do not seem to be assumptions at all. Indeed, the very notion of normativity, resists being read as a sense of entitlement precisely, because such responses do not manifest themselves, without paying particular attention to them, other than normative. Contemporary writing emerging in South Africa is marked by a preoccupation with "race". White writing in particular, is characterised by an uneasy ambivalence, which becomes apparent when one examines the interstitial manifestations of residual liberal-humanist assumptions that are at odds with conciliatory gestures. This renders a revealing duplicity that the writers under scrutiny in my larger study, either acknowledge and investigate, or ignore and perpetuate--even at times manifesting both responses simultaneously. …

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