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Futures Past of South African Whiteness in Nadine Gordimer’s Writing 1959-1979

Abstract

This project examines the position of the white subject in Africa. Specifically, it examines Nadine Gordimer’s exploration of the notion of whiteness and white Africanity in her fiction and prose, as well as her investigation of the oppressor’s consciousness, and her negotiation and interrogation of her own position as a white South African. In essays and speeches she intervened in debates and voiced feelings and apprehensions that concerned the futurity of whiteness in a shifting political and social context. As I argue, these interventions were made from a new emerging subject position that resulted from the social and political constraints of apartheid and colonialism, inhabiting the interstice of an old, given colonial order, and the decolonial processes of the antiracist, anti-imperial and anticolonial struggles in Africa and Europe which was bringing the colonial era to an end. Through her fiction writing she was able to shape this subject position, which lacked representation and hence existence within the dominant political discourse. Projected into her fiction, the subject position emerges as an object of knowledge within the intellectual history of South Africa.

Keywords:

Colonial/postcolonial, Racialisation/Racism/"race", Social exclusion/inclusion, Landscapes, Decolonial thinking

Description

My overarching problem arises in the anticolonial struggle after the World War Two, which involved both black and white activists in Africa as well as in Europe. This conflict brought forth a double-position for dissident whites that disagreed with the racialist system, which at the same time privileged them. How is this position treated in Nadine Gordimer’s writing? How does this complicity (or the being compromised) in being white, interfere with her identification with the land and its people? And, conversely, how is this identification with the land and its people related to her commitment to the anticolonial struggle?

• In relation to the political and social changes from the late 1950s to the end of the 1970s, how does Gordimer conceive of the possibilities for whites to act?
• What was her view of the role of whites in the struggle against apartheid, and how did it change over time?
• And lastly, how are the concepts guilt, resentment, and action coupled with the concept of whiteness in Gordimer’s writing?

These questions in turn lead to a number of methodological questions that I hope to investigate further: How do we grapple with the question of “whiteness” in our present situation? Is it possible to analyse this notion historically as a theoretically defined concept? And following this, how can it be conceptualised: as a situation, as a subjectivity, as a structure, or an ideology? Is it possible to perceive the question of whiteness outside of its contextual frame of its time and future?

Publications

Julia Willén (2018) "Vithet vs vithet". Glänta , no. 1.
Julia Willén, Andrew van der Vlies (2018) "Reading for hope: A conversation about texts and method". Safundi, Vol. 19 , pp. 357-373.
Julia Willén (2017) "Past futures lost: people power of the south as utopian concurrence", in: Contested histories from el Complejo , pp. 85-96.
Julia Willén and Stefan Jonsson (2017) "Writing history for an uncertain future: concluding remarks Austere histories in European societies", In: Austere Histories in European Societies: Social Exclusion and the Contest of Colonial Memories, eds. Stefan Jonsson and Julia Willén. London: Routledge, 182-194.
Julia Willén and Stefan Jonsson (2017) "Writing history for an uncertain future: concluding remarks Austere histories in European societies", In: Austere Histories in European Societies: Social Exclusion and the Contest of Colonial Memories, eds. Stefan Jonsson and Julia Willén. London: Routledge, 182-194.
Stefan Jonsson and Julia Willén (2017) "Introducing austere histories". In: Austere Histories in European Societies: Social Exclusion and the Contest of Colonial Memories, eds. Stefan Jonsson and Julia Willén. London: Routledge, 1–18.

2012 - 2021

Funding

REMESO

REMESO Project Leader

Julia Willén , PhD candidate

Scientifically Responsible

Anna Bredström, Senior Lecturer

Participants from REMESO

Stefan Jonsson

Participants not from REMESO

Contact for project

anna.bredstrom@liu.se


Last updated: 2021-02-03



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Last updated: 2020-05-27