The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies

By Christian Mair | Go to book overview

"That's all out of shape"
Language and Racism in South African Drama1

Haike Frank University of Freiburg

ABSTRACT

This essay examines discussions about language in plays by South African
dramatists Athol Fugard (Blood Knot and 'Master Harold' … and the boys)
and Susan Pam–Grant (Curl up and Dye) and analyses forms of language
use and word play by characters from various racial backgrounds. Language
competence proves to be an important element in the oppressed group's
increasing conscientization. By contrasting racist and condescending lan-
guage use with the honest language of oppressed individuals, these plays
suggest that a creative, multilingual dialogue in opposition to the monolithic
and monolingual discourse of apartheid is a powerful medium for anti-
apartheid agency.

JACQUES DERRIDA, in his essay "Racism's Last Word," makes us aware of the power of language when he comments on the term and concept of 'apartheid'. He asserts that the word 'apartheid' isolates 'being apart' in a kind of essence or hypothesis and connotes "quasi-ontological segregation" (1985: 292). Thus, he argues that segregation is defined as natural and that the term 'apartheid' itself is inclined towards racism. Derrida concludes:

there's no racism without a language. The point is not that acts of racial
violence are only words but rather that they have to have a word. Even though
it offers the excuse of blood, color, birth – or, rather, because it uses this
naturalist and sometimes creationist discourse – racism always betrays the
perversion of a man, the 'talking animal'. It institutes, declares, writes,

1 A line spoken by the character Zachariah in Blood Knot (Fugard 1987: 74).

-305-

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