White Rose University Consortium logo
University of Leeds logo University of Sheffield logo York University logo

The vulnerable body in contemporary South African literature

van Heerden, Imke (2015) The vulnerable body in contemporary South African literature. PhD thesis, University of York.

Text (PDF)
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales.

Download (1600Kb) | Preview


This thesis examines a selection of South African literary texts written in English and published after 2000, arguing that these works of literature illustrate the ways in which the exigencies of the vulnerable body – brutal violence, HIV/AIDS, and social inequality – complicate attempts to transcend discrimination in contemporary South Africa. Consequently, the study concentrates on representations of the vulnerable body that specifically destabilise fixed categories of identity, thus instantiating the literary ethics of interconnection that comprises its main focus. Each of the five chapters, “Sex”, “Skin”, “Blood”, “Taste”, and “Tongue”, considers a primary text by one South African author, foregrounding a particular body part that plays an important role in the work’s exploration of vulnerability. The thesis engages with different genres, which range from narrative non-fiction to cyberpunk, in addition to diverse and controversial subject positions such as “victim”, “coloured”, “HIV-positive”, “cool”, and “Afrikaner”. The selected texts develop new modes of understanding the body’s vulnerability in order to unsettle the binary oppositions that continue to shape post-apartheid society. Discursive strategies by which this is achieved include Margie Orford’s “counter-derivatisation” in Like Clockwork, Zoë Wicomb’s tact in Playing in the Light, Jonny Steinberg’s clash of epistemologies in Three Letter Plague, Lauren Beukes’s aesthetics of cool in Moxyland, and Antjie Krog’s vocabulary of grace in A Change of Tongue. Following Fanon’s plea, “O my body, always make me a man who questions!”, the ideal post-apartheid author would be one who draws on the body’s potential for self-definition, ambiguity, and change in spite of decades of deep-seated discrimination. The thesis ultimately concludes that sustained critical engagement with representations of the vulnerable body is vital to the project of national reconciliation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: South Africa, South African literature, post-apartheid literature, post-apartheid South Africa, vulnerability, the body, sexual violence, violence against women, rape, HIV/AIDS, class, gender, race, racism, tact, tactility, touch, subcultures, translation, Afrikaans, Margie Orford, Zoe Wicomb, Jonny Steinberg, Lauren Beukes, Antjie Krog, the novel, narrative nonfiction, science fiction, crime fiction, representation, the vulnerable body, the body in literature, identity
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.669646
Depositing User: Dr Imke van Heerden
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2015 11:16
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:33
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/10686

You do not need to contact us to get a copy of this thesis. Please use the 'Download' link(s) above to get a copy.
You can contact us about this thesis. If you need to make a general enquiry, please see the Contact us page.

Actions (repository staff only: login required)