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Speaking to changing contexts : reading Izibongo at the urban-rural interface.

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In this thesis I argue that recently recorded izibongo must be read as literary texts that articulate responses to the multiple forces of constraint and possibility at the urban-rural interface. I argue that when scholars transcribe and translate performance texts they release them into new contexts of reception, and that the mediation processes involved in this recontextualisation become an important part of the way in which the texts make meaning for their new 'audiences'. As such, it is imperative that analysis of print-mediated izibongo should take into account both the performance text and context as well as the intervention of literate intermediaries in the creation of a print text. I argue for maintaining a dialectic between performance textuality, which shapes the text as it is recited to a participating audience, and the textuality of transcription. We have thus to keep in mind at least two sets of receivers - those present at, and part of, the construction of the praise poem in performance, and the literate receiver, reading from a new moment and, often, a different social and cultural space. I argue that the scholar in English Studies has an important contribution to make to the recording and the study of izibongo as literary and performance texts. S/he must devise ways in which processes of translation and transcription can more adequately and creatively insist on performance textuality. The English Studies scholar must also read and write about izibongo as texts that have complex meanings and that speak to their changing contexts of reception. Such analysis necessitates attention to individual texts and requires of the critic a willingness to revise her/his learned ways of reading. There is a need in oral literary studies to challenge print-influenced academic discourses in order to make these theories more receptive to the actual ways in which many people make sense of their lives through creative expression. In this thesis I consider the ways in which contemporary postcolonial and poststructural theory might more adequately listen to what postcolonial people say about themselves and others. In this, I argue for an academic approach that privileges cultural interdiscursivity, interdisciplinary co-operation, and an attitude of respect for the different ways in which forms like izibongo construct meaning. This thesis thus has a dual focus: it examines how recently recorded praise poems address the problem of reconstructing identity at the urban-rural interface, while considering the ways in which they speak to the uncertain identity of the scholar who tries to read them. Drawn from a variety of sources, the poems comprise both official and popular praises to suggest not only the variety of the form, but also the ways in which individual and group identities speak to each other across texts. Given the importance of self-expression at the heart of the form of izibongo, I argue that scholars in English Studies must resist the possibility, both in transcription and in criticism, of eliding the individual subjects involved in mediating identity and textuality. I also suggest that English Studies has a duty to write the oral back into institutionally defined literary histories by considering how our writing and ways of reading can better accommodate oral textuality.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 2001.


Laudatory poetry, Zulu--History and criticism., Folk poetry, Zulu--History and criticism., Theses--English.