Resistance, Complicity and Post-colonial Politics

in Critical Survey
Author: Sue Kossew 1
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  • 1 University of New South Wales Sue.Kossew@monash.edu
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One of the most fraught and, possibly, most tricky issues, both in theory and in practice, for current literary criticism in post-apartheid South Africa is how to read and reread the texts of those now-canonical white South African writers whose reputations were made, both nationally and internationally, by their ‘writing against apartheid’, now that this particular kind of literature of resistance could be seen as passé. What is at stake here is not just a critical re-evaluation of such writers as J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and André Brink, whose voices may now be seen to be marginalised in favour of those ‘subaltern’ voices freed to speak in a post-apartheid state, but a re-situating of the very nature of their literary resistance. Inextricably tied to any such discussion is the complex nature of literary resistance itself and the debates surrounding the categorisation of ‘South African literature’ within ‘world literatures’. These debates have evolved around such questions as whether post-colonial theory and criticism have any relevance to such texts; whether ‘white’ South African literature should be regarded as part of other settler literatures (despite its obvious differences in not having just one ‘imperial centre’ and in the neo-colonial structures of apartheid); and whether even locating such a division between ‘white’ and ‘black’ writing in South Africa imposes a retrospective form of apartheid within critical practice itself. This article addresses some of these issues and considers them as part of a process of reconciling differences and moving beyond the fixed binaries that characterise both the apartheid mentality and colonialism itself.

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