Repetitive Poetics—When Crisis Defines a Nation’s Writing. Contemporary South African Novels

  • Elleke Boehmer


Chapter 5, ‘Repetitive poetics—when crisis defines a nation’s writing’, discusses selected post-2000 South African writings as instances of a reiterative poetics of trauma. This poetics not only compels the reader to relive the traumatic experience along with the speaker or writer, but also draws them into the difficulty of its articulation. Insisting on involvement, trauma writing works actively against the deterministic or agenda-driven strains of postcolonial critique that previous chapters also touch upon. Even so, the focus on shock and trauma as a primary instantiation of postcolonial experience in a range of post-conflict contexts suggests that, in these situations, a certain kind of symptomatic poetics is favoured over others. The discussion also explores the implications of attaching a poetics to a particular national context, that of South Africa, which is seen in exceptional terms, both as exceptionally violent and trauma-ridden, and as exceptionally suited to that poetics. The selected South African writings include, first, short non-fictional pieces by several authors, and then a group of post-2000 South African prose fictions, by Damon Galgut, Imraan Coovadia, and Sifiso Mzobe. These writings, especially their endings, are approached as pressure points that suggest what kind of future might be imaginable beyond the moment of crisis in which the present appears to be imprisoned. The chapter suggests that the ways in which these various texts invite readers to see themselves as part of a South African reality serve to move the narrative on beyond the imprisoning present moment.


South African writing Reiterative poetics Trauma Post-conflict contexts Damon Galgut Imraan Coovadia Sifiso Mzobe 

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elleke Boehmer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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