Self, life and writing in selected South African autobiographical texts.
Coullie, Judith Lutge.
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Autobiographical writing acquired increasing importance during the apartheid period, with greater numbers of autobiographical texts being published by a more representative range of South Africans across race, class and gender categories. This thesis analyzes the implications of shifts in autobiographical production, in English, during the years 1948-1994 through the examination of selected texts. The readings are informed by poststructuralism, modified by information about indigenous black South African cultural practices, as well as by input supplied by some of the autobiographical texts themselves. This theoretical approach may be referred to as a "pratique de metissage" (Glissant). The texts selected for close reading are from a field of over 120 autobiographical texts. They were chosen for their ability to illustrate important trends in South African autobiographical writing, specifically with regard to the three constituent parts of autobiography: autos, bios, and graphe. The chapter dealing with the depiction of self interrogates the hierarchized discourses of male-biased humanism in Roy Campbell's Light on a Dark Horse (1951). In Ellen Kuzwayo's Call Me Woman (1985) I analyze the melding of the conceptual frameworks of indigenous black cultures and Western individualism by which the autobiographical subject is defined. Breyten Breytenbach's The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (1984) is read as an exploration of the postmodernist decentred self. In the chapter focusing on the portrayal of life experiences, I examine the ways in which the narrator of Albert Luthuli's Let My People Go (1962) seeks to secure the reader's approval of his version of recent South African history; while the analysis of the sub-genre referred to here as worker autobiography is principally concerned with the politics of life-writing. In Chapter 5, I look at how Godfrey Moloi's My Life: Volume One (1987) uses the discourses of popular American movies of the 40s and 50s in order to validate a self victimized by racism, and also at the ways in which Lyndall Gordon's Shared Lives (1992) probes the limits and possibilities of biography through autobiographical speculation. In general, apartheid autobiography moves away from individualism to contribute, through various means, to social and political change.