Cosmos in London: South Africans Writing London after 1948
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Many critics have argued that Englishness was forged on the peripheries of the British Empire – that, as Simon Gikandi puts it, Englishness was “elsewhere”. In this thesis, I take this argument in another direction, and ask whether travel to London enabled South Africans not only to think about London and Englishness, but also to forge ideas about South Africanness. In order to answer this question, I explore South African representations of London from 1948 onwards. I focus on the writing of Peter Abrahams, Dan Jacobson, Todd Matshikiza, Arthur Nortje, J.M. Coetzee, Justin Cartwright, and Isthtiyaq Shukri, providing an alternative and transnational history of both South African literature and London by exploring the interface between London and South African authors across a broad timespan. My comparison of the writing of Peter Abrahams and Dan Jacobson highlights London’s role in the midst of important debates about liberalism, artistic independence and the role of the South African writer during apartheid. My study of Todd Matshikiza’s London-based writing exemplifies the layered, transhistorical counterpoint between South Africa and London that is common to many South African narratives about London. Matshikiza’s writing also includes references to other spaces – in his case, a global black imaginary – foregrounding the global resonances that are present in both London and South Africa. Arthur Nortje’s poetry about London evinces a shifting dialectic between traumatic alienation and bodily embeddedness in the city, suggesting the need to rethink how exiled South African writers have engaged with places of exile. In my study of novels by Justin Cartwright and J.M. Coetzee, I focus on the metonymic role that London plays in South African writing, and explore how writing about London enables or occludes self-reflection on the part of “white” writers. In my epilogue, I read Ishtiyaq Shukri’s The Silent Minaret (2005) in order to consider the interlinked histories of South Africa and London, but also to look forward and outwards to South African literature’s broader global reach. In this thesis, I argue that a study of South African writing in London enriches our understanding of the historical development of South African culture and identity in response to exile, and specifically in relation to one of the most important international touchstones within the South African imaginary.
AuthorsThorpe, Andrea Susan
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