Kelwyn Sole and Mbongiseni Buthelezi, both lecturers in the University of Cape Town‘s Department of English Language and Literature, began the third and final part of the Sunday Independent Political Novel Debate with separate reflections on the importance of the novel in post-apartheid South Africa.
Sole, author of Absent Tongues, argues that there is “still a future for political novels” and asks why this issue, which was thoroughly debated when apartheid ended, has come up again:
One approaches this topic with a certain amount of déjà vu, as questions pertaining to political literature were an area of critical debate during the struggle against apartheid.
These debates, heated though they were, vanished in the face of the unbannings of 1990 and political settlement of 1994. Post-liberation SA, it was now proclaimed by many literary commentators, had become a “normal” society where literature could pursue interest in the “ordinary” activities of its citizens. If there were to be a social area at issue at all, it was as regards the upliftment of the previously disadvantaged, especially through the prism of identity politics.
Buthelezi questions whether the concept of “the novel” hasn’t become outdated and points out that we might be missing things if we focus solely on the book. He mentions the ways in which old oral literary forms are being reinvented as a way of looking at political issues:
Literary studies in SA seems to be taking a while to work out what its project and its objects of study ought to be since the transition to democracy. In his piece “Roger Smith and the ‘genre snob’ debate”, and in the discussion the review generated on the Slipnet website, Leon de Kock, the academic and author, makes the point that some recent works, such as Sifiso Mzobe’s Young Blood, are unscrambling the categories that have become too easy for literary critics to use to classify, describe and discriminate.
He also suggests that the “field is ripe for contention and remapping”.
- Absent Tongues by Kelwyn Sole
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Photo courtesy the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative