The silence at the interface : culture and narrative in selected twentieth-century Southern African novels in English.
The primary intention of this study is to establish the theoretical significance of silence within the sphere of the twentieth-century Southern African novel in English. Clearly a feature of recent writing, silence is less overtly thematised in earlier work. Since relatively little critical and theoretical attention has been paid to silence as a positive phenomenon, however, modes of reading it are sought within the broader sphere of the social sciences, and specifically its tradition of social constructionism. Care is taken to address the pressures of the local context, identified in terms of the postcolonial paradigm as relating to language and to culture. A deliberate theoretical innovation is the renunciation of the trope of penetration in favour of the notion of an interface between intact language-culture systems, given an understanding of culture as existing between subjects in relations of power. Fictional narrative which addresses cross-culturality is thus read as a process of cultural translation, and the volitional deployment of silence as an act of resistance to its power. The significance of language is registered in the use of speech-act theory, in the insistence on meaning as generated in spatially and temporally situated conversation, and in the exploration of the influence of pronominal relations on identity. Emerging from my investigation is a recognition of the measure offered by silence of the autonomy of character as subject, and a corresponding recognition of the constitutive capacity of the reader to site the power of narration amongst the polyphonic voices within the culture of the text. The postcolonial paradigm indicates the need for a regional rather than a national perspective; thus the interfaces considered in the case studies include, in Plaatje's Mhudi, orality and literacy, tribal membership and non-sectarianism, Tswana and English; in Paton's Too Late the Phalarope the private domain and apartheid as public hegemonic discourse, narration as possession, and the tragic as structuring textual relations; and in Head's Maru the constitution of a postcolonial identity that resists and transcends the discursive hostility of racism, and the dislocation, displacement and alienation of exilic refuge from apartheid.