Volume 37 Number 1

Pauline Fletcher (Ed.)

Black/White Writing: Essays on South African Literature

1993
155 pages
ISBN 0838752624
Bucknell Review

It is the fate of South African literature to be political. For better or worse, South African writers, some of whom have now acquired international reputations, have been held hostage to apartheid, which has imposed its own brutal and limiting categories even on those who oppose it. Nevertheless, as Black/White Writing: Essays on South African Literature demonstrates, writers of talent have found extraordinary diverse and creative ways of dealing with the constraints of their historical condition. In the opening essay Nadine Gordimer attempts to answer the question "For whom do you write?" as a politically committed writer, Gordimer would no doubt like to be read by the oppressed people whose cause she is forced to recognize that South African realities render illusory the cherished concept of the universality of literature. Gordimer's novels are discussed in three of the articles that follow. Nancy Bazin shows how, in dealing with the theme of interracial sex, Gordimer has become increasingly aware of the silent and largely ignored black women who forms the third point of the love triangle. Pauline Fletcher argues that behind the political stance of Gorimer's novels lies a distrust of the abstractions of even the most enlightened politics; her subtext celebrates the truth of the body. Nicholas Visser places Gordimer's July's People in its historical context and compares it with other novels of future projections by Karel Schoeman and J. M. Coetzee. Visser's overtly political and historicist study is contrasted by Sarah Heider's essay on Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K. It is perhaps fitting Coetzee, who has expressed distaste for the fate of being a South African writer, should receive attention from a critic who, while ignoring the historical context of the novel, demonstrates K's rejection of all attempts to convert his story into the accepted currencies of the social system. Many black women writers from South Africa have also attempted to resist the political imperatives imposed upon writers by apartheid. Their work has in consequence often been called apolitical, and it is only recently that is has been given the consideration it deserves. Elizabeth Taylor examines the often problematic relationship between tradition and the black writer in her discussion of the ways in which black women have had to negotiate between their desire to preserved cultural continuity and their need to resist much in their inherited culture that is oppressive for women. For writers of mixed race the relation to tradition is even more problematic, perhaps accounting for the fact that both Bessie Head and Zoe Wilcomb went into voluntary exile. Their work does not fall into the category of anti-apartheid writing, but (as Carol Sicherman and Isabella Matsikidze show) it does have a political dimension and it points in the direction that fiction might take in a post-apartheid South Africa. The volume closes with an essay by Gerald Monsman that takes the reader back to an earlier South Africa, examine Olive Schreiner's writing in the broader context of other stories from an imperialist past. Two poems by Dennis Brutus open the volume. They speak eloquently of human suffering and the desire for peace.

Contributors: Dennis Brutus, Nadine Gordimer, Nancy Topping Bazin, Pauline Fletcher, Nicholas Visser, Sarah Dove Heider, Elizabeth Taylor, Carol Sicherman, Isabella Matsikidze, and Gerald Monsman.

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