In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paulette Coetzee: Authorship and Authenticity in the Post-Post-Past

This colloquium’s call for papers is an interesting text, which offers a rich brew of ideas while simultaneously gesturing towards and avoiding what it implies and elides. The oxymoronic term, “synthetic dirt”, invites a wide play of interpretations. I will focus on polarities around (im)purity and multiplicity/singularity. These polarities – and the overlapping, blurring continuities within and around them – exist within a larger temporal framework; the brief directs us to the contemporary, the now, the new. We are called to the cutting edge, the “front-line” of culture, to witness and bring-to-being, in a manner both exciting and prosaic. (Our lived present largely comprises our shifting re-imaginings of pasts and futures; what we imagine we help make, though not quite as we please.) The colloquium’s framework is geographical as well as historical, with the slippery term “South Africa” presented as a nexus between local and global, and between (apartheid) past and (“post-post-”) possibilities.

The invitation-text posits dirt as “raw” and “human” versus cleanliness as “cooked […] synthetic”. I have simplified a complex range of associations around dirt and cleanliness as two sets of interweaving yet opposed, value-charged oppositions. On the one hand, dirt may mean evil, diseased hybridity, uncontrolled sexuality, death. Cleanliness, meanwhile, is good, healthy, uncontaminated. On the other hand, dirt may signify down-to-earth authenticity, children of the soil, honesty, fertility, acknowledged mortality, humility, humanity. These positive attributes are set against cleanliness as threatening modernity, sterility, fascism, dystopian scienticity, cyborg technology. Polarities of multiplicity/singularity in artistic composition seem to work in a similar way: multiplicity may signify communal customs, archetypal well-springs of tradition, or ultra-modern (death of the author) mixings and fragmentations; singularity may suggest (Western) individualism (as imposition/invention) and suspect grand narratives, or straightforward purity of traditional method. In all the above, one can read lingering or returning discourses associated with certain posts and their tethered pasts.

My exploration will draw on the following texts: a song recorded by Hugh Tracey, Ivan Vladislavic’s novel The Exploded View and poetry collections (recent and forthcoming, respectively) by Sonwabo Meyi and Anton Krueger.

Paulette Coetzee is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and works in the Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University. Her PhD research examines Hugh Tracey as an example of late-colonial whiteness. She has also published poetry in New Coin and Aerial and in a collection titled As Each New Year Opens (Aerial Publishing, 2006).

No comments:

Post a Comment