Tenement : a novel manuscript plus a critical self-reflection on the process of writing.
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This dissertation has two parts. Part one is a manuscript for a novel, entitled Tenement, and part two is a critical self-reflection on the processing of writing. Tenement is a story about death, narrated from the perspective of a dead woman, and its themes are mortality, fragility, the urban environment, caring and social isolation. The narrator, who never discloses her own name, discovers her life may have ended, but not her awareness. Not immediately, anyway. For six days, she watches her own physical decomposition and the reactions of other people and creatures to this termination of life. The responses of the nonhumans who share her body and flat are intimate and oddly affirming, but those of her human neighbours less so. In the derelict tenement, full of invisible or forgotten people with nowhere else to go, there’s a stony indifference to the narrator’s death. But not to the empty apartment. In considering these reactions and the struggle for the vacant flat, the narrator reveals the world of which she was a part. Rising sea levels, illegal dumping and poverty are daily realities of life in the unnamed city in which Tenement is set. City officials may have sloughed off the areas most affected by the encroaching sea, declaring them abandoned and forcibly removing the slum dwellers, but others have returned to the area. Christened the flatlands, the zone is neither abandoned nor uninhabited. The struggle for survival is uncompromising, and the opportunities for fragility, creativity and care eroding as quickly as the land. Yet it is in death, and the new rituals that have emerged to deal with it, that the missed opportunities of individual and collective action are most evident. This, then, is part one of the dissertation. In part two, a reflexive account of the process of writing is offered. Key elements of the novel are discussed, including the use of a Möbius strip for temporal representation, along with its implications for the treatment of narrated and narrating time. The choice of narrator and the conceptualisation of her voice are explained, and the question of genre highlighted, along with the merits of African gothic and its iii contribution to postcolonial literature. Given that Tenement is a story set in a polluted, drowning city of the future, the challenges associated with focalising environment and the risks of using allegorical spaces in postcolonial novels are recognised. Tenement is juxtaposed with specific trends in contemporary South African fictional literature, and its differences and similarities considered. Finally, the contribution of empirical and desktop research to the creative writing process is highlighted, and the varied sources of influence and feedback acknowledged.