South African Modernisms: City, Country, World
Apartheid was a system notorious for its attempted segregation of racial and ethnic groups: for its establishment of boundaries, walls, and prisons. And yet its liberation struggle was the most fully globalized of any 20th century, generating huge networks of international solidarity. Postapartheid South Africa, open to neoliberal forces—privatization, consumerism, tourism, migration, and the like—is also far from the “place apart,” the horrid exception or anachronism, that the country once seemed to be. Accordingly, South African literature and culture, past and present, is not to be understood solely in a narrow national context, but in terms of travelling texts and multiple audiences, the broad history of colonialism and decolonization, of modernity and globalization, and, lately, of diasporic and environmental concerns. In this course, we will study a number of major South African writers through the critical lens of the new global modernisms (as well as the debates about the new “peripheral realisms”). The syllabus will include a selection of texts that can be profitably analyzed by focusing both on their narrative temporalities and their geographies or “politics of place” (thence “country,” “city,” and “world”). We will consider a number of city novels (such as Gordimer’s A World of Strangers, Van Niekerk’s Triomf, and Vladislavic’s The Restless Supermarket, and Dlamini’s Native Nostalgia), a number of revisionist farm novels and/or texts about land and land use (such as Gordimer’s The Conservationist, Van Niekerk’s Agaat, Steinberg’s Midlands, and Galgut’s The Imposter), and a number of works that seem to range globally (such as Venter’s Trencherman, Gordimer’s The Pickup, Wicomb’s Playing in the Light, and Naude’s Alphabet of the Birds). The syllabus can still be adapted to suit seminar participants’ interest, so please feel free to email me if you’d like to provide input and make requests. Requirements: one or two formal in-class presentations (depending on class size) and a final paper of around 15 pages.