Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

Between Satire and Suture: Some Aspects of White Writing in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

Between Satire and Suture: Some Aspects of White Writing in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

The Minority Becomes a Minority

According to Deleuze and Guattari, a minority is not determined "by the smallness of [its] numbers but rather by becoming a line of fluctuation, in other words, by the gap that separates them from this or that axiom constituting a redundant majority" (1987: 469). In their view a majority is always denumerable: it is a definite or definable entity as against the infiniteness of a minority that is in constant flux. This confronts the axiomatic of the majority with the non-axiomatic of the minority which is lacking both power and a discursive position from which it can give voice to its concerns. Seen in this light, the white minority of the "old" South Africa was definitely majoritarian, whereas the numerical majority of blacks was accorded a marginalized minority status. Now, in the "new" South Africa, the tables have been turned, and it is the once-dominating white minority that is being increasingly marginalized-with the attendant problem of finding their place in the new scheme of things. This poses a constant threat to their sense of identity if we assume, in truly deconstructivist fashion, that subjectivity and its by-product, identity, are no longer located in, or produced by, a human consciousness conceived of in the old Cartesian cogito-tradition of self-generating agency; but by the subject being inscribed in certain discourses, which make it into a product of language, something that is discursively constructed:

It is indispensable to develop a theory of the subject as a decentered, detotalized agent, a subject constructed at the point of the intersection of a multiplicity of subject positions between which there exists no a priori or necessary relation and whose articulation is the result of hegemonic practices. (Laclau & Mouffe 1985: 31)

This is precisely the position of the white minority: deprived of its hegemonic status and the discourse of power underpinning this status, it is now casting about for a suitable discursive position from which to speak and thereby define its identity as South African. One of the more obvious strategies in order to achieve this is to adopt a more humble tone that is a far cry from the old discriminatory or racist discourse of mastery. Political correctness now seems a way of dealing with the way things are in a changed South Africa, which is a way of: "[c]onforming to liberal or radical opinion on social matters. Political correctness usually consists in the avoidance of the discriminatory and offensive language and behaviour associated with sexism and racism" (Rees 1994: 99).

Satire vs. Political Correctness

There is one area in South African culture in particular where political correctness reigns supreme, i.e. in the implicit assumption that the new black majority government and the political party it draws on, the African National Congress (ANC), is composed of people of immaculate reputation and proven moral worth whose sole purpose it is to serve their country and its long suffering black masses not only yearning to be free, but also wanting to better their economic situation. This has to be seen against the background of generations of white dominance with its blatant injustices that were there for everyone to see and criticise. Hence Boer-bashing has been a long-standing tradition in South Africa, from William Plomer's bitter satires of the perversions and brutalities of the white colonizers in the 1920s to the decades of black struggle literature which invariably pitted the dignified and brave black freedom fighters against the cowardly and brutal exponents of the apartheid-state. It is this total lack of semantic as well as actantial ambiguity which still largely, as well as positively, determines the worldwide perception of the New South Africa and its ruling class, especially in its incarnation of a figure as unequivocally heroic and full of integrity as Nelson Mandela.

This is definitely the world of romance, which according to Robert Scholes' definition of literary modes, "offers us superhuman types in an ideal world" (Scholes 1974: 39) where all the old injustices no longer exist. …

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