Futures, Inc.: Fiction and Intellectual Property in the (South) African Renaissance

  • Matthew EatoughEmail author
Part of the New Comparisons in World Literature book series (NCWL)


This chapter examines recent South African fiction in the light of former President Thabo Mbeki’s call for an “African Renaissance.” Mbeki’s African Renaissance is often described by critics as the cultural face of a “homegrown” form of neoliberalism. And yet, the African Renaissance was driven less by the familial ideologies of Euro-American neoliberalism—entrepreneurialism, individual freedom, and so on—than by new understandings of how the future relates to economic activity. As I show, the industries that dominated post-apartheid South Africa were first and foremost concerned with packaging the future into forms that could be commodified, monetized, and turned into profits. These industries fed on the speculative frenzy that we normally associate with Euro-American neoliberalism, but funnelled these speculations towards a messianic future that was framed as the negation of an abject present day.

In order to develop a fuller understanding of this messianic temporality, I juxtapose Zakes Mda’s novel Heart of Redness with the growth of intellectual property (IP)-based ethno-enterprises in South Africa. By examining how Mda’s novel transforms Xhosa culture into a type of IP, I show how such future-oriented enterprises are not separate from cultural production, but instead adopt many of the same techniques common to contemporary fiction: the use of writing to instantiate otherwise “intangible” ideas; the marking out of culture as a realm of value anterior to the empirical world; and the tracing of nonlinear temporalities. The IP-fiction dynamic is thus a two-way process, with fiction serving as an essential component of neoliberal future-making, but also as a vehicle that can perhaps shape these neoliberal industries into new, and more utopian, forms.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York CityUSA

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