Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Remembering the Self: Fragmented Bodies, Fragmented Narratives in Marlene Van Niekerk's Triomf and Agaat

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Remembering the Self: Fragmented Bodies, Fragmented Narratives in Marlene Van Niekerk's Triomf and Agaat

Article excerpt

Summary

This article explores the significance of the motif of bodies in fragments in Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf (1999) and Agaat (2006). It argues that van Niekerk's protagonists "speak" of their trauma primarily through their wounded bodies. The correlation between corporeal and narrative fragmentation is explored to determine whether remembering (or re-membering) can prove salutary. In both Triomf and Agaat, it is only when characters are faced with the irrefutable evidence of trauma as wrought upon one another's bodies that they are forced to reckon with the truth of their familial narratives. Their fragmented bodies belie any "saving perspective" (van Niekerk 1999: 175), which might gloss over such horror. While Louise Bethlehem proposes that the scar is the "amanuensis of violence" (2006: 83), this article seeks to investigate whether there is anything potentially empowering in the revelation of scars, regardless of their origin. It considers how intimate relationships are implicated in working through the embodied experience of trauma and whether recognition might provide an alternative narrative of healing to the confessional mode. Van Niekerk's novels present neither easy solutions to the experience of trauma nor a false sense of closure. Nevertheless, the texts insist that trauma must be confronted, and that such a confrontation is possible only via the medium of the body. Finally, this piece considers whether Maurice Blanchot's account of the liberating potential of the fragment might provide pertinent insight into the absence of a coherent narrative of the healed body.

Opsomming

In hierdie artikel word die belang van die gefragmenteerde liggaam as motief in Marlene van Niekerk se Tnomf (1999) en Agaat (2006) ondersoek. Die artikel voer aan dat Van Niekerk se protagoniste primer vanuit hulle gewonde liggame van hulle trauma "praat". Die verband tussen liggaamlike en narratiewe fragmentasie word ondersoek om vas te stel of om te onthou (ook om ledemate of fragmente weer aan te heg, om te "re-member"), beskou kan word as 'n vorm van genesing. In beide Triomf en Agaat is dit eers wanneer karakters met die onmiskenbare bewyse van trauma op hulle liggame gekonfronteer word, dat hulle gedwing word om die waarheid van hulle familienarratiewe te konfronteer. Met sulke gefragmenteerde liggame is daar nie sprake van enige "reddende perspektief" (Van Niekerk 1999: 175) wat die afgryslikheid kan verbloem nie. Louise Bethlehem voer aan dat die letsel die "amanuensis van geweld" is (2006: 83), en gevolglik poog hierdie artikel omte bepaal of daar iets is wat potensieel bemagtigend is in die toon van letsels ongeag hoe hulle toegedien is. Hoe intieme verhoudinge betrek word by die verwerking van die lyflike belewenis van trauma, en of herkenning, eerder as belydenis, kan dien as 'n alternatiewe vorm van genesing word bekyk. Van Niekerk se romans bied nie 'n maklike oplossing vir die ervaring van trauma of 'n vals gevoel van afsluiting nie. Ten spyte hiervan dring die tekste daarop aan dat trauma gekonfronteer word en dat konfrontasie slegs moontlik is deur die liggaam as medium. Ten slotte bepaal hierdie artikel of Maurice Blanchot se verslag van die fragment se bevrydende potensiaal insig hierin kan bled by gebrek aan 'n samehangende narratief van die geneesde liggaam.

Marlene van Niekerk's work has been critically lauded, both domestically and internationally. However, the centrality of corporeality in her oeuvre warrants closer attention than it has thus far received in the existing scholarly literature. In this article, I explore the significance of the motif of bodies in fragments in van Niekerk's Triomf(1999) and Agaat (2006). (2) All van Niekerk's protagonists experience a degree of physical or psychological trauma; their bodies are presented as fragmented, and this mirrors their fragmented narratives of self. I will argue that the causal narrative of testimony and healing, as illustrated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), proves insufficient in attempting to understand the embodied experience of trauma and attempts at healing as represented in these texts. …

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