Reconciliation and its Discontents
Routledge – 2015 – 224 pages
This book explores the ways in which postapartheid literature reinvents South African mourning traditions. During the apartheid era, politics exerted a particular pressure on both funerary practices and on literature, both of which were instrumentalised as weapons in the struggle: just as funerals were turned into mass political protests, literature was pressed into service as protest literature. In the postapartheid era, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996-99) continued to press mourning into political service, particularly through the Human Rights Violations hearings in which private losses were mourned in public and immediately subsumed within a national narrative of forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite calls for the recovery of artistic freedom and literary autonomy, literature has also been subject to political pressure; writers have been expected to follow the TRC’s lead and produce a literature of national reconciliation. While a literature of reconciliation might appear to allow for more imaginative possibilities than protest literature, it is still driven by a particular politics of memory. Durrant explores the ways in which postapartheid literature has acceded to and/or resisted this politics of memory and asks what literary resistance might mean in a postapartheid context. Is it the task of literature to produce a counter-politics of memory, or is it rather to resist the demands of the political per se, to refuse to be instrumentalised in any cause?
Introduction: "Keeping alive the idea of gardening" 1. The Undertakers of Transition: The Artist as Psychopomp 2. Literature and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 3. Short-circuiting Grief: Masculinity, Combat and Isolation 4. Circuits of Grief: Women and the Mimesis of Community 5. Shifting Topographies of Loss: Becoming South Africa 6. Conclusion: Literature, Mourning and Community
Sam Durrant is a Lecturer in English at the University of Leeds.