This course will introduce students to the work of some of the most important South African writers, including the Nobel Prize-winners J. M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. It will also, more generally, probe the relationship between literary form and politics, in a situation of radical transition (the shift from apartheid to democracy): a transition that now seems stalled. We will probably start by reading selections from the writing of political figures like Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko and end with reflections on the recent student protests and the resurgence of Black Consciousness. We will question whether the realist novel is a viable form when social knowledge is difficult to acquire, not only because of radical class and racial differences, but also because, in an increasingly corrupt state, knowledge is occulted and the optimistic plot for a more just future seems to have been lost. (Sound familiar?) Many of the issues raised in the course have global ramifications: hope, nostalgia, race, revolutions deferred, migration, violence, crime, city life, landownership, and environmental catastrophe. Students are likely to find that, while the writers and specific histories may be unfamiliar, they bring out, in a stark and defamiliarized form, issues that affect the US and the whose world today. The readings will, in other words, enable us to theorize contemporary global conditions from the South.
Because of the interest in the politics of genre, the works studied will be dazzlingly varied, ranging from realist fiction, to allegory, fragmentary and experimental narrative forms, detective fiction, speculative fiction, non-fiction, and, last but not least, cinema. Likely texts to be included (the list must still be winnowed): Nadine Gordimer, Something Out There, J. M. Coetzee, Life and Times of Michael K. and/or Disgrace, Jonny Steinberg, Midlands, Henk van Woerden, The Assassin, Antjie Krog, Begging to be Black, Imraan Coovadia, Tales of the Metric System, Jacob Dlamini, Native Nostalgia and/or Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, Damon Galgut, The Imposter, Ivan Vladislavic, The Exploded View and/or Double Negative, Deon Meyer, Heart of the Hunter and/or Fever, Songeziwe Mahlangu, Penumbra, Lesego Rampolokeng, Bird-Monk Seding, and Hedley Twidle, Firepool. Possible films: Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation, City Lovers, Highjack Stories, Otello Burning, and Dear Mandela. Requirements: a midterm and a final paper of about 8-10 pages.