Waiting for silence: or, the autobiography of metafiction in some recent South African novels

Literature is fundamentally propositional and provisional; what marks postmodernist writing is that it is especially and self-consciously so; and what marks South African postmodernist writing is that it is obsessively, agonisingly, elegiacally aware of its own propositional and provisional status. The view that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ is a disconcerting thought for the writer ‘in a state of emergency’. It is a condition that should logically drive every concerned South African writer to silence. But the passion to tell what happened will always remain at least as strong as the constraint to keep quiet. This paper reexamines the dictum that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’. This dictum, it seems, has to be renegotiated, and in a number of recent South African novels the metafictional strategies of postmodernism are invoked as the means to do so. The author analyses five novels (by A. Brink, J.M. Coetzee, N. Gordimer, R. Rive, and K. Schoeman) which are set in the simultaneously exploding and collapsing world of late 1980s South Africa. In this context, the disruptive, transgressive, deconstructive strategies of poststructuralism and postmodernism hold obvious procedural and thematic attractions for an oppositional writer. Bibliogr.

Title: Waiting for silence: or, the autobiography of metafiction in some recent South African novels
Author: Van Wyk Smith, M.
Year: 1991
Periodical: Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa
Volume: 3
Issue: 1
Pages: 91-104
Language: English
Geographic term: South Africa
Subject: novels
Abstract: Literature is fundamentally propositional and provisional; what marks postmodernist writing is that it is especially and self-consciously so; and what marks South African postmodernist writing is that it is obsessively, agonisingly, elegiacally aware of its own propositional and provisional status. The view that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ is a disconcerting thought for the writer ‘in a state of emergency’. It is a condition that should logically drive every concerned South African writer to silence. But the passion to tell what happened will always remain at least as strong as the constraint to keep quiet. This paper reexamines the dictum that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’. This dictum, it seems, has to be renegotiated, and in a number of recent South African novels the metafictional strategies of postmodernism are invoked as the means to do so. The author analyses five novels (by A. Brink, J.M. Coetzee, N. Gordimer, R. Rive, and K. Schoeman) which are set in the simultaneously exploding and collapsing world of late 1980s South Africa. In this context, the disruptive, transgressive, deconstructive strategies of poststructuralism and postmodernism hold obvious procedural and thematic attractions for an oppositional writer. Bibliogr.