Nadine Gordimer after apartheid : a reading strategy for the 1990s.
The aim of this study is to suggest, by selective example, a method of interpreting Gordimer's fiction from a 'post-Apartheid' perspective. My hypothesis is that Gordimer's own comments in her key lecture of 1982, "Living in the Interregnum", reflect not only her practice in the years of struggle politics, but suggest a yearning for a time beyond struggle, when the civil imaginary might again become a major subject. She claims that she has continually felt a tension in her practice as writer between her responsibility to 'national' testimony, her "necessary gesture" to the history of which she was indelibly a part, and her responsibility to the integrity of the individual experience, her "essential gesture" to novelistic truth. In arguing for a modification of what has almost become the standard political evaluation of Gordimer, my study returns the emphasis to a revindicated humanism, a critical approach that, by implication, questions the continuing appropriateness of anti-humanist ideology critique at a time in South Africa that requires reconstitutions of people's lives. The shift in reading for which I argue, in consequence, validates the 'individual' above the 'typical', the 'meditative' above the ideologically-detennined 'statement', 'showing' above 'telling'. I do not wish to deny the value of a previous decade's readings of the novels as conditioned by their specific historical context. The philosophical concept of social psychology and the stylistic accent on neo-thematism employed in this thesis are not meant to separate the personal conviction from the public demand. Rather, I intend to return attention to a contemplative field of human process and choice that, I shall suggest, has remained a constant feature of Gordimer's achievement. My return to the text does not attempt to establish textual autonomy; the act of interpretation acknowledges that meaning changes in different conditions of critical reception. My study is not a comprehensive survey of Gordimer' s oeuvre. It focuses on certain works as illustrative of the overall argument. After an Introduction of general principles, Chapter One focuses on two novels from politically ' overdetermined' times to show that even in the 'years of emergency', Gordimer's commitment to personal lives and destinies had significantly informed her national narratives. Chapter Two turns to two novels from less 'determined' times as further evidence of Gordimer' s abiding interest in the inner landscapes behind social terrains. Having proposed a critical return to the 'ordinary' concerns of the 'civil imaginary', the study concludes by suggesting that the times in the 1990s are ready for a new look at the most intensely lyrical aspects of Gordimer' s art: her short stories. The specific examples culminate, at the end of each chapter, in brief observations as to how the reading strategy might apply to other works in Gordimer's achievement, as well as to an 'interior' as opposed to an 'exterior' accent in South African fiction as a whole.