Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Disabled Woman/Nation: Re-Narrating the Erasure of (Neo)colonial Violence in Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Disabled Woman/Nation: Re-Narrating the Erasure of (Neo)colonial Violence in Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions

Article excerpt

The article interrogates the erasure of violence through the use of disabled women's bodies as tropes in postcolonial African literature; it argues that the use of disabled women's bodies as symbols of the 'disabled' postcolonial nation creates a catharsis through which knowledge of the violence of (neo)colonial relations-the impact of which has been experienced as war and exploitation-is erased or suppressed. Through an application of Ato Quayson's typologies of disability representations to two contemporary African novels, the article contributes to a 'disabling' of both Postcolonial Literary Studies and to feminist anti-racist possibilities for Disability Studies by showing that disability representations in these texts serve to erase neocolonial violence. The article argues that the centrality of political catharsis in Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions presents us with a different basis for aesthetic short-circuiting than does Quayson's conceptualization of a generalized fear of contingency and death brought on by an encounter with disability. Quayson's work gives many ideas about how this short-circuiting happens, but not why it happens. The article concludes that the answer can be found in the specific histories that are being suppressed and in the political choices that arise out of these histories.

Catharsis is correction: what does it correct? Catharsis is purification: what does it purify? (Boal 29)

In this article, we interrogate the erasure of violence through the use of disabled women's bodies as tropes in postcolonial African literature. We argue that the use of disabled women's bodies as symbols of the 'disabled' postcolonial nation creates a catharsis through which knowledge of the violence of (neo) colonial relations-the impact of which has been experienced as civil war and economic exploitation-is erased or suppressed. We start from our experiences as two disabled women-one a mixed-race Luso-African-descended woman born in Canada, the other an Ibo woman born in post-Biafra Nigeria-in order to analyze two tropes that resonate with the ways our disabilities are narrated: the mixed/hybrid madwoman and the postcolonial woman amputee. Through an application of Ato Quayson's typologies of disability representations to two contemporary African novels, we aim to contribute to a 'disabling' of both Postcolonial Literary Studies and to feminist anti-racist possibilities for Disability Studies by showing that disability representations in these texts serve to erase (neo)colonial violence. Our inquiry represents a transnational feminist response to calls for the narrating of lived experiences of disability as a way forward for Disability Studies (French and Swain; Smith and Sparkes).

This inquiry is rooted in critical approaches to disability representation that emerge from the disability culture movement. Such a critical approach recognizes not only an absence of positive representations of disabled people, but also an abundance of disabled characters who serve as tropes and narrative devices in many, perhaps most, literary and oral traditions. The Angolan writer Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades (first published in Portuguese in 2001) and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (1988), set in 1960s' Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), were selected out of a larger study of representations of our own disability 'types' in colonial and postcolonial literature from and/or about Africa-women amputees, and mixed-race or culturally hybrid madwomen. Although not an amputee, the disabled teacher in Ondjaki's recently translated novel, "as everyone knew, was a cripple. She had one leg that was more delicate than the other, like a cursory sketch that fails to provide an explanation" (57). As she only appears once in the novel, and throughout this appearance she is running at top speed on one leg, we consider her narration in relation to metaphors of amputation in Africa. In Nervous Conditions, we focus on the character of Nyasha, who becomes seriously ill through dieting, purging, and the refusal of food; is eventually committed to a psychiatric institution; is introduced as having been raised and educated in England; and refers to herself as a 'hybrid'. …

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