Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Subversion versus Inversion: The Loss of the Carnivalesque in Janet Suzman's the Free State

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Subversion versus Inversion: The Loss of the Carnivalesque in Janet Suzman's the Free State

Article excerpt


According to Gilbert and Thompkins (1996: 5), postcolonial drama is aimed at dismantling the hierarchies and determinants that create binary oppositions in postcolonial contexts and--according to Young (2001: 4)--also actively transforming the present "out of the clutches of the past". This dismantling can, however, only occur when the inevitable ambivalence of postcolonial binaries are taken into account (Gilbert & Thompkins 1996: 6). In her text The Free State (2000a), Janet Suzman attempts to appropriate Chekhov's dismantling of power structures in The Cherry Orchard (1904) within the South African context. However, although The Free State is written against the former apartheid regime, it fails to dismantle the hierarchies within its context because it negates the vital carnivalesque subversion of Chekhov's text. Instead of subverting the hierarchies in her context, Suzman merely inverts them. In this article, the concept of the carnival as developed by Mikhail Bakhtin is used to investigate the significance of Suzman's deviation in the treatment of the hierarchies within the South African context.


Volgens Gilbert en Thompkins (1996: 5) het postkoloniale drama ten doel om die hierargiee en beslissende faktore wat binere teenstellings in postkoloniale kontekste veroorsaak, te ontbind, en Young (2001: 4) voer aan dat dit die hede aktief transformeer ["uit die kloue van die verlede"]. Hierdie ontbinding kan egter slegs plaasvind wanneer die onvermydelike ambivalensie van die binere teenstellings binne postkoloniale kontekste in ag geneem word (Gilbert & Thompkins 1996: 6). Janet Suzman poog met haar teks The Free State (2000a) om Chekhov se ontbinding van magstrukture in The Cherry Orchard (vertaal as Die kersieboord, oorspronklik in Russies gepubliseer in 1904) vir die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks toe te eien. Alhoewel The Free State teen die hegemonie van die voormalige apartheidsbestel geskryf is, slaag dit egter nie daarin om hierargiee te ontbind nie aangesien dit 'n integrale aspek van Chekhov se teks negeer, naamlik die karnavaleske ondermyning van daardie hierargiee. In plaas daarvan om die hierargiee in haar konteks te ontbind deur dit te ondermyn, keer Suzman dit bloot om. In hierdie artikel word die konsep van die karnaval soos ontwikkel deur Mikhail Bakhtin gebruik om die implikasie van hierdie afwyking in Suzman se teks binne die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks te ondersoek.

1 Introduction

Janet Suzman's drama The Free State (2000a) (1) is an appropriation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (which he wrote in 1904) (2) and is situated within the South African context. This type of response to, or rewriting of, canonised texts is often round in postcolonial literature, usually in the form of canonical counter-discourse, which entails the rewriting of a so-called classic narrative (such as Derek Walcott's Pantomime (2001), a response to Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (2001)) with the aim of dismantling the colonial discourses, power structures and social hierarchies within the text (Gilbert & Thompkins 1996: 2). In this way, the assumed imperial hierarchy in such texts is challenged. However, Suzman does not aim to dismantle Chekhov's text, but to transpose it to a context familiar to her, based on certain similarities between the two contexts. Both texts are set in the midst of social change: in 1904, Chekhov's Russia was still coming to terms with the abolition of serfdom (in 1861) and still anticipating great social and political changes (Zakharova 2006: 593). In South Africa, the year 1994 marked the end of apartheid. This corresponding end of an official, institutionalised oppression thus forms one of the similarities between the contexts on which Suzman bases her text.

There is, however, an important aspect in which Suzman's text differs from Chekhov's. In this article it is argued that if Bakhtin's notion of carnival were applicable to Chekhov's text, which involves the subversion of the contemporary hierarchical structures, then the carnivalesque would be absent from Suzman's text. …

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