Entanglement is powerful and persuasive, passionate and perceptive.

This is a major contribution to contemporary literary and cultural studies. While steeped in the rich particularities and trajectories of change in postapartheid urban existence, it addresses the most urgent questions of global cultural and political formations. Sarah Nuttall offers her readers new critical vocabularies with which to grasp the fictions of self-making, the politics and aesthetics of consumption, and the new and terrifying technologies of the sexualised body. Casting off the limited frameworks of postcolonial theory, Entanglement is concerned instead with a politics of the emergent in the Postcolony. Hazel Carby, Yale University, New Haven

Sarah Nuttall’s book is a welcome addition to South African literary and cultural studies, taking us in new directions beyond the apartheid and even standard post-apartheid models. Moving through a variety of settings and moments both textual and non-textual, it is prepared to take risks in matters ranging from the ‘citiness’ of Johannesburg, to the recombinatory qualities of style, to the larger implications of violence in South Africa. Sometimes provocative, always thoughtful, never less than deeply engaged, and ultimately quite personal, its series of explorations allow Nuttall to shed the light of her lively intelligence on some of the intriguing, troubling, energising, and always complex manifestations of what will now come under her definition of ‘entanglement’ in an evolving South African world. Stephen Clingman, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Other books edited or co-edited by Sarah Nuttall Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia (Routledge, 1996) Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa (Oxford University Press, 1998) Senses of Culture: South African Culture Studies (Oxford University Press, 2000) Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics (Duke University Press/ Kwela Books, 2006) At Risk: Writing On and Over the Edge of South Africa (Jonathan Ball, 2007) Johannesburg – The Elusive Metropolis (Duke University Press/Wits University Press, 2008)

The manuscript for this book, Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-Apartheid, won the University of the Witwatersrand Research Committee Publication Award in 2008.

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Entanglement

Entanglement
Literary and cultural reflections on post-apartheid

Sarah Nuttall

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Wits University Press 1 Jan Smuts Avenue Johannesburg South Africa http://witspress.wits.ac.za

Copyright © Sarah Nuttall 2009 First published 2009 ISBN:978-1-86814-476-1

Earlier versions of chapters in this book have appeared in the following publications: ‘Entanglement’ as ‘City Forms and Writing the ‘Now’ in South Africa’ in the Journal of Southern African Studies (2004), ‘Literary City’ in Johannesburg – The Elusive Metropolis, edited by Sarah Nuttall and Achille Mbembe (2008), ‘Secrets and Lies’ as ‘Subjectivities of Whiteness’ in African Studies Review (2001), Self-Styling as ‘Stylizing the Self: The Y Generation in Rosebank, Johannesburg’ in Public Culture (2004) and ‘Girl Bodies’ in Social Text (2004). All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and the copyright holder. Cover image adapted from the painting Lasso by Penny Siopis, 2007. Edited by Pat Tucker Indexed by Margaret Ramsay Cover design and typesetting by Crazy Cat Designs Printing and binding by Paarl Print

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Entanglement

Contents
Acknowledgements Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 Entanglement Literary City Secrets and Lies Surface and Underneath Self-Styling Girl Bodies Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index vii 1 17 33 58 83 108 132 151 161 175 192

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Acknowledgements

Frequently, in the writing of a book, a small group of people become one’s interlocutors. Those people have been Isabel Hofmeyr, CherylAnn Michael, Rita Barnard and Achille Mbembe. My thanks go to Isabel for understanding from the start what I was trying to do, and edging me closer to it; Cheryl-Ann, for being my best and sternest critic; Rita, for her suggestions and support; and Achille, for always being willing to talk through with me points of difficulty in the making of my arguments. More than this, I thank each of them for the inspiration I have drawn from their own work, which is evident from the writing that follows. Then there is a second circle of people with whom I have discussed my ideas, drawn from theirs, and regarded as sounding boards and shape shifters in my own thinking. These include my colleagues at WISER, with whom, in the deepest and most daily of ways, I have been in conversation, agreement and disagreement. Deborah Posel has made all of that possible by imagining into being an intellectual space, WISER, and by drawing together a group of people with vii
Acknowledgements

whom I have been able to have interdisciplinary, provisional, at times heretical, conversations. My years at WISER have given me room to try out ideas, to experiment, to speak my mind and to feel at ease and supported by my colleagues in a way that is hard to imagine to the same degree anywhere else. I thank Deborah too for the inspiration of her own work. Jon Hyslop’s work has been very important in helping me think through questions of race, urban culture and the making of the present in relation to the past. Irma du Plessis, Tom Odhiambo and Robert Muponde, through their writing and their conversation, have caused me to constantly rethink the way I see the world. Liz Gunner has inspired me in numerous ways, including through her work, and Liz McGregor has taught me a great deal about how to shape a more public voice for academic work. Ivor Chipkin, Liz Walker, Marks Chabedi and Nthabiseng Motsemme shared my early years at WISER and I am grateful to all of them for their insights and their writing. Ashlee Neser, Michael Titlestad and Pamila Gupta are all hugely valued colleagues with whom I can talk about anything I happen to be working on. Lara Allen has been a close friend and a valuable intellectual interlocutor. I am grateful to Graeme Reid and Julia Hornberger for their writing, their humour, their comradeship. Beyond WISER, I thank the following people, with all of whom I have been in conversation during the years it has taken to produce this book: Mark Sanders, Penny Siopis, Hazel Carby, Elleke Boehmer, Jean Comaroff, John Comaroff, Mark Gevisser, Lindsay Bremner, Abdoumaliq Simone, Carol Breckenridge, Arjun Appadurai, Rob Nixon, Vron Ware, Paul Gilroy, Louise Bethlehem, Stefan Helgesson, Meg Samuelson, Ian Baucomb, Eric Worby, Rehana Vally, Emmanuelle Gille, Tawana Kupe, David Goldberg, Philomena Essed and David Attwell. Finally, in a fourth circle, I thank people who have influenced me in more implicit ways, sometimes in direct exchange, or though reading their work, or simply through knowing them. They are Juan Obarrio, Livio Sansone, Dominique Malaquais, Peter Geschiere, Ena Jansen, Jennifer Wenzel, Annie Gagiano, David Bunn, Jane Taylor, Carolyn Hamilton, Dan Ojwang, John Matshikiza, Njabulo Ndebele, Louise Meintjies, Karin Barber, Michiel Heyns, Michelle Adler, Denise Newman, Colin Richards, Grace Musila, Leon de Kock, Natasha Distiller, Pumla Gqola, Sue van Zyl, Khosi Xaba, Justice Malala, and Fred Khumalo. viii
Entanglement

My PhD students, including Robert Muponde, Grace Khunou, the late Phaswane Mpe, Kgamadi Kometsi, John Montgomery, Zethu Matebeni, Cobi Labuschagne and Syned Mthatiwa, have been a pleasure to work with, and it has been very meaningful to me to be contributing to producing the next generation of young academics in South African universities. I am very grateful to Veronica Klipp, Estelle Jobson and Melanie Pequeux at Wits University Press for their openness, efficiency and generosity during the months of this book’s production. Circling outside the work of this book, but lodged deeply in my heart, are Jean and Jolyon, James, Simone, Alice and Zoë. Achille, Léa and Aniel occupy, like music, a place beyond words and are my love.

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Acknowledgements

Introduction

Entanglement is a condition of being twisted together or entwined, involved with; it speaks of an intimacy gained, even if it was resisted, or ignored or uninvited. It is a term which may gesture towards a relationship or set of social relationships that is complicated, ensnaring, in a tangle, but which also implies a human foldedness.1 It works with difference and sameness but also with their limits, their predicaments, their moments of complication. It is a concept I find deeply suggestive for the kinds of arguments I want to make in relation to the post-apartheid present, in particular its literary and cultural formations. So often the story of post-apartheid has been told within the register of difference – frequently for good reason, but often, too, ignoring the intricate overlaps that mark the present and, at times, and in important ways, the past, as well. Entanglement is an idea that has been explored by scholars in anthropology, history, sociology and literary studies, although always briefly and in passing rather than as a structuring concept in their work. I want to draw it from the wings and place it where we can see it more clearly, and 1
Introduction

consider that it might speak with a tongue more fertile than we had imagined, with nuances often uncaught or left latent in what may constitute a critical underneath, or sub-terrain. In the South African context which I will examine here, the term carries perhaps its most profound possibilities in relation to race – racial entanglement – but it brings with it, too, other registers, ways of being, modes of identity-making and of material life. Below I outline six ways in which the term has been interpreted, explicitly or implicitly, by others. I spend some time on this, since these are complex ideas, ideas which signal a number of important intellectual pathways forged in recent years in African studies and beyond. Thereafter, I explain how I think of the term, bringing to it my own inflections, and explaining why it is an appropriate structuring idea for the book as a whole. The first rubric under which the term has been used is in relation to a process of historical entanglement. As early as 1957 the liberal historian, C W de Kiewiet (1957), suggested that the deepest truth of South African history, and one often elided by later historians, is that the more dispossession occurred the more blacks and whites depended on each other. There was an intricate entanglement on the earliest colonial frontiers: accompanying whites’ search for land was the process of acquiring labour and, in this process, whites became dependent on blacks, and blacks on whites. Precisely as this dependency grew, so whites tried to preserve their difference through ideology – racism. The implications of De Kiewiet’s argument (p 48) that ‘the conflict of black and white was fed more by their similarities than by their differences’ is that the emergence and articulation of racial difference was, in this context, a symptom of loss (loss of independence through increasing dependence on black labour) – but a loss that most whites on the early frontier refused to embrace. Much more recently, Carolyn Hamilton (1998) has argued that categories and institutions forged under colonial rule should not be viewed as the wholesale creation of white authorities but as the result of ‘the complex historical entanglement of indigenous and colonial concepts’ (pp 3-4). By focusing on how disparate concerns were drawn together and, over time, became entangled, this approach enables us to elucidate the diverse and shifting interests that fuelled colonial politics, and to reveal that it was never simply about colonial subjugation and anti-colonial resistance. 2

Entanglement

Rather, it entailed the uneven mixing and reformulation of local and imperial concerns. Lynn Thomas’s (2003) work is part of a growing literature, mainly focused on medicine and domesticity, that analyses the history of the body in Africa as a story of wide-ranging struggles over wealth, health and power – and how such struggles connected and combined the material and the moral, the indigenous and the imperial, the intimate and the global. Thomas’s work on reproduction and the politics of the womb in Kenya emphasises entanglement as against two earlier approaches to the topic: the first, she shows, is the ‘breakdown of tradition’ approach, which sees colonialism as a clash of two radically different worldviews, one African and one European, resulting in the ultimate triumph of the latter (such arguments resonate with social scientific theories of ‘modernisation’). The second emphasises the power of colonial discourses and categories, largely at the expense of exploring the impact of colonialism on its subjects, and the perspectives and experiences of colonial subjects (pp 17-19). Isabel Hofmeyr (2004), in her work on the history of the book, argues that rigid distinctions between ‘metropole’ and ‘colony’ are increasingly misleading. Unravelling the simplifying dualisms of ‘centre/periphery’ and ‘colonised/coloniser’ Hofmeyr weaves, instead, an imaginary structured by circuits, layering, webs, overlapping fields and transnational networks. Texts, like identities, do not, she argues (p 30), travel one way – from centre to periphery, for instance – but in ‘bits and pieces’ and through many media, transforming in many settings and places, and convening numerous different publics at different points in what Appadurai (1986) has referred to as their ‘social lives’. Hofmeyr is interested in diasporic histories, moving between Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States, and her work constitutes a web versus an avowedly national intellectual formation. Hofmeyr’s web, carrying with it the notion of interlacing, an intricacy of pattern or circumstance, a membrane that connects, is an entanglement of historical space and time. If she looks at shared fields of discourse and exchange, at ‘intellectual convergences’ (p 17), she also considers the conditions under which such formations are rejected, terminated or evaporate, becoming ‘meaningless or unintelligible’ (p 15). In this case, modes of translatability and entanglement become short-lived, spectral. 3
Introduction

The second major rubric invoking the term is temporal. Achille Mbembe (2001, p 14) has written about the time of entanglement, arguing that, as an age, the postcolony ‘encloses multiple durées made up of discontinuities, reversals, inertias, and swings that overlay one another, interpenetrate one another: an entanglement’. Mbembe argues that there is no way to give a plausible account of the time of entanglement without asserting three postulates: firstly, that this time is ‘not a series but an interlocking of presents, pasts and futures that retain their depths of other presents, pasts and futures, each age bearing, altering and maintaining the previous ones’. Secondly, that it is made up of ‘disturbances, of a bundle of unforeseen events’. Thirdly, that close attention to ‘its real patterns of ebbs and flows shows that this time is not irreversible’ (and thus calls into question the hypothesis of stability and rupture underpinning social theory) (p 16). To focus on the time of entanglement, Mbembe shows, is to repudiate not only linear models but the ignorance that they maintain and the extremism to which they have repeatedly given rise. Research on Africa has ‘assimilated all non-linearity to chaos’ and ‘underestimated the fact that one characteristic of African societies over the long durée has been that they follow a great variety of temporal trajectories and a wide range of swings only reducible to an analysis in terms of convergent or divergent evolution at the cost of an extraordinary impoverishment of reality’ (p 17)2. Jennifer Wenzel’s work (2009) also contributes to a theory of entanglement in its temporal dimensions. She traces the afterlives of anticolonial millenarian movements as they are revived and revised in later nationalist struggles, with a particular focus on the Xhosa cattle-killing in South Africa. In seeking to understand literary and cultural texts as sites in which the unrealised visions of anti-colonial projects continue to assert their power, she rethinks the notion of failure by working with ideas of ‘unfailure’ to examine the tension between hope and despair, the refusal ‘to forget what has never been’ of which these movements speak. Wenzel explores ways of thinking about failure other than falsity, fraudulence or finality – that is, in terms of historical logics other than decisive failure as a dead end. Failure, she suggests, might involve a more complex temporality, and the afterlife of failed prophecy might take forms other than a representation of failure. It may be read, for instance, in terms of a ‘utopian surplus’ that sees in failed prophecy unrealised 4

Entanglement

dreams that might aid in the imagining of contemporary desires for liberation. Thus Wenzel proposes an ethics of retrospection that would maintain a radical openness to the past and its visions of the future. Literary scholars have attended to a rubric of entanglement in terms of two formulations in particular: ideas of the seam, and of complicity. Leon de Kock (2004) proposes that we read the South African cultural field according to a configuration of ‘the seam’. He takes the notion of the ‘seam’ initially from Noel Mostert, author of Frontiers (1993), who writes that ‘if there is a hemispheric seam to the world, between Occident and Orient, then it must lie along the eastern seaboard of Africa’ (p xv). While the seam remains embedded in the topos of the frontier, De Kock draws it into his analysis to mark ‘the representational dimension of cross-border contact’ (p 12). For De Kock the seam is the place where difference and sameness are hitched together – where they are brought to self-awareness, denied, or displaced into third terms: ‘a place of simultaneous convergence and divergence, the seam is the paradox qualifying any attempt to imagine organicism or unity’ (p 12). De Kock gives a poststructuralist spin to Mostert’s historical account, grounding its tropes within the discourse of postcolonial theory. He does so to mount a reading of race and difference in South Africa – especially the deconstruction of a system of white superiority as a political and epistemological ground. The configuration of the seam remains, in his reading, embedded in the idea of the frontier, as do contemporary race relations in South Africa. Suggesting that the post-apartheid present is engaged in an attempt to suppress difference, he professes an ‘ingrained weariness’ with ‘unitary representation’ (p 20). It is striking that the greatest subtlety of De Kock’s analysis is reserved for the past (such as his reading of Sol Plaatje’s simulation of sameness within the colonial project in order to achieve the objective of political equality, in a terrain he well understood to be riven with difference), and his bibliography attests to only a minimal engagement with the sources of the ‘now’. What De Kock characterises as the recurrent ‘crisis of inscription’ that defines South African writing, Michael Titlestad (2004a) wants to consider as improvising at the seam. Titlestad writes about the ways in which jazz music and reportage have been used in South Africa to construct identities that diverge from the fixed subjectivities constructed in terms of apartheid 5
Introduction

fantasies of social hierarchy. Jazz, because of both its history and its cultural associations, writes Titlestad, is persistently ‘a music at the seam’ (p 111). The theoretical import of the notion of ‘complicity’ as a means of approaching the South African cultural archive has been given powerful expression by Mark Sanders (2002). Sanders argues that apartheid and its aftermath occasion the question of complicity, both in terms of glaring instances of collaboration or accommodation – in which he is less interested – and via a conception of resistance and collaboration as interrelated, as problems worth exploring without either simply ‘accusing or excusing’ the parties involved (p x). Sanders works from the premise that both apartheid’s opponents and its dissenting adherents found themselves implicated in its thinking and practices. He therefore argues that we cannot understand apartheid and its aftermath by focusing on apartness alone, we must also track interventions, marked by degrees of affirmation and disavowal, in a continuum of what he calls ‘human foldedness’. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) stages the question of complicity, he shows, by employing a vocabulary that generalises ethico-political responsibility (referring, for instance, to the ‘little perpetrator’ in each of us). Literature, too, he argues, stages the drama of the ‘little perpetrator’ in the self, calling upon a reader to assume responsibility for an other in the name of a generalised ‘foldedness in human-being’ (p 210). Sanders employs a reading strategy which calls upon the reader to ‘acknowledge one’s occupation by the other, in its more and less aversive forms’ (p 210) – a strategy which draws out what is both most ‘troubling’ and most ‘enabling’ about human being(s) (p 18). Sanders argues that this manner of reading applies equally to texts we are accustomed to thinking of as ‘black resistance texts’. The question of complicity as a context for assuming responsibility is integral to black intellectual life and to the tasks that have faced black intellectuals, he argues, a point he goes on to demonstrate in readings of the work of Sol Plaatje, Bloke Modisane, A C Jordan and others. Such a reading strategy is one that is profoundly consonant with Sanders’s overall argument, in that it refuses in itself the stance of being ‘merely oppositional’. It has no choice but to project itself ‘beyond apartheid’. Sanders suggests a theory and a practice which are beyond apartness as such. 6

Entanglement

Sanders’s work draws on a complex interleaving of post-TRC debates in South Africa and debates in international scholarship about a reconstituted ethics. The TRC gave rise to, and publicly brought into being, the relation of self to other as an ethical basis for the post-apartheid polity. The focus globally on ethics in literary studies and other disciplines has been reinvigorated by Foucault’s revaluation of the category of the self, conceiving of the care of the self as an ethical project, combined with the emergence of Emmanuel Levinas as a model for literary-ethical inquiry. Whereas previously ethics was seen as a ‘master discourse’ that presumed a universal humanism and an ideal, autonomous and sovereign subject, and became a target of critique (the critique of humanism was the exposé of ethics), work drawing on Foucault and Levinas attempts to do ethics ‘otherwise’ (Garber et al 2000).3 Such work nevertheless leaves us with further questions about who accords a greater humanity, or ethical sensitivity, to whom, and the limits of that gesture. Sanders’s notion of complicity in its wide (rather than punitive) sense enables us to begin the work of thinking at the limits of apartness. The fourth rubric I want to consider is an entanglement of people and things. Although Tim Burke (1996) does not use this particular term he argues that Marx’s definition of commodity fetishism does not leave sufficient room for the complexity of relations between things and people, nor for the imaginative possibilities and unexpected consequences of commodification, or the intricate emotional and intellectual investments made by individuals within commodity culture. Bill Brown (2003) has argued that cultural theory and literary criticism require a comparably new idiom, beginning with the effort to think with or through the physical object world, the effort to establish a genuine sense of things that comprise the stage on which human action, including the action of thought, unfolds. He concedes a new historicist desire to ‘make contact with the real’4 but more than this, he wishes to locate an approach which reads ‘like a grittier, materialist phenomenology of everyday life, a result that might somehow arrest language’s wish, as described by Michael Serrès (1987, p 111), that “the whole world … derive from language”’.5 Brown tells a tale of possession – of being possessed by possessions – and suggests that this amounts to ‘something stranger’ (p 5) than the history of a culture of consumption. It is not just a case of the way commodity relations come to saturate everyday 7
Introduction

life but the human investment in the physical object world and the mutual constitution, or entanglement, of human subject and inanimate object. He aims to sacrifice the clarity of thinking about things as objects of consumption in order to see how our relation to things cannot be explained by the cultural logic of capitalism. He makes the case for a kind of possession that is irreducible to ownership (p 13). This is a relatively new field of work that has only just begun to surface, but one I want to bear in mind in relation to several of the chapters which follow. While each of the four rubrics of entanglement explored above takes us a considerable way towards a critique of an over-emphasis on difference in much of the scholarship produced within African and postcolonial studies in recent decades, none of them considers the new frontier of DNA research. The fifth rubric worth consideration here has to do with the implications of the DNA signature. New attention has been paid globally and in postapartheid South Africa to the fact that tracing the ‘maternal’ and ‘paternal’ genetic lines visible on each individual’s X and Y chromosomes allows scientists to generate ‘ancestral maps’ charting the geographical location of ancestors closer to us in time. Identities suggested by ancestral DNA signatures undercut the rigid conceptions of racial identity in which both colonial rule and apartheid were based. Kerry Bystrom (2007) has reported in her work how renowned satirist PieterDirk Uys, classified as white under apartheid, learned that he had a maternal line African gene. His response was: ‘That’s really nice. So I’m an African. No people with black skin can point a finger at me.’ With his typically sharp sense of irony and wit, Uys, as Bystrom points out, ‘puts his finger on what is simultaneously wonderful and troubling about the ways in which “African” identity can be expanded through genetic and familial mapping’. This new version of the evolutionary family story both provides biological legitimation for racial equality and opens up ways to conceptualise a non-racial South African identity. On the other hand, as Bystrom points out, there is a way in which, as Uys’s comment forces us to consider, the project of defining a broadly inclusive genetic South African identity risks effacing the divisions entrenched, and legislated for, by apartheid. Entanglement, as suggested within this discourse, is both productive and reductive. The DNA debate does the work of de-familiarisation: it has the ability, as Bystrom writes, to ‘render the familiar strange and the strange familiar’. 8

Entanglement

This brings me to the final rubric I want to consider here, one which has been implicit in some of what has been discussed above but which requires explicit elucidation, and that is the notion of racial entanglement. In the late 1970s Eduard Glissant, reflecting on the issue of race, identity and belonging in the Caribbean (1992), used the term entanglement to refer to the ‘point of difficulty’ of creolised beginnings. ‘We must return,’ he wrote, ‘to the point from which we started, not a return to the longing for origins, to some immutable state of Being, but a return to the point of entanglement, from which we were forcefully turned away; that is where we must ultimately put to work the forces of creolization, or perish (p 26).6 Globally the 1990s gave rise to a new focus on race and ethnicity, falling largely within two contending lines of thought. The first strand, widely known as critical race studies, paid renewed attention to racism and identity. It focused on ‘hidden, invisible forms of racist expression and well-established patterns of racist exclusion that remain unaddressed and uncompensated for, structurally marking opportunities and access, patterns of income and wealth, privilege and relative power’ (Essed & Goldberg 2002, p 4). ‘Critical race studies’ finds institutional racism, patterns of racial exclusion, and structurally marked patterns of access as prevalent as before, if not more so. Such work draws on the writings of Du Bois, Fanon, Carmichael, Gramsci, Davis, Carby and Roediger, among many others, to articulate the nature of racial hegemony in the contemporary world, but especially in the United States. A second, contrasting, strand of race studies approached the contemporary question of race in a manner which takes us closer to the idea of entanglement. For Paul Gilroy (2000) racial markers are not immutable in time and space. Gilroy, like a number of writers before him, including Fanon and Said, has argued for a humanism conceived explicitly as a response to the sufferings that racism and ‘race thinking’ have wrought. He argues that in the 21st century race politics and anti-racist laws have not created an equal society and that what is needed in response is a re-articulation of an anti-racist vision – as a politics in itself. In his view, the most valuable resources for the elaboration of such a humanism derive from ‘a principled, cross-cultural approach to the history and literature of extreme situations in which the boundaries of what it means to be human were being negotiated and tested minute by minute, day by day’ (p 87). 9
Introduction

In more recent work, Gilroy (2004) has drawn on the resources of a vibrant and complex ‘multiculture’ in both Britain and the United States to reveal an alternative discourse of race already at work in contemporary life. In their work on whiteness, Vron Ware and Les Back challenge a discourse of ‘separate worlds’, which, in their view, structures so much contemporary thinking about race (especially in the United States), finding it to be a ‘bleak formula’, a prepackaged view of the world which suggests that ‘how you look largely determines how you see’ (p 17). What difference does it make, they ask, when people in societies structured according to racial dominance turn away from the privilege inherent in whiteness? Or when the anti-race act is performed, by whom, and in whose company? John Hartigan (1999) argues that public debate and scholarly discussion on the subject of race are burdened by allegorical tendencies (he writes about the United States, but much of what he says refers directly to South Africa too). Abstract racial figures, he writes, ‘dominate our thinking, each condensing the specificities of peoples’ lives into strictly delimited categories – “whites and blacks” to name the most obvious’. Given the national stage on which the dramas of race unfold, certain broad readings of racial groups across the country are warranted, Hartigan concedes. But as such spectacles ‘come to represent the meaning of race relations, they obscure the many complex encounters, exchanges and avoidances that constitute the persistent significance of race in the United States’ (p 3). On the one hand, social researchers grapple with the enduring effect of racism and rely on the figures of ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ to do this; on the other, they argue, unconvincingly, it seems, that races are mere social constructs. ‘How are we to effect a change in Americans’ tendency to view social life through a lens of “black and white” when we rely upon and reproduce the same categories in our analyses and critiques of the way race matters in this country?,’ he asks (p 3). The argument here is that we can loosen the powerful hold of the cultural figures of ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ by challenging the economy of meaning they maintain. That is, by grasping the instances and situations in which the significance of race spills out of the routinised confines of these absolute figures, we can begin to rethink the institutionalisation of racial difference and similarity. In South African literary and cultural scholarship there has been, since the mid-1990s, a departure from earlier work in which race was largely 10

Entanglement

left unproblematised and was treated as a given category in which difference was essentialised. Such work had focused, like the anti-apartheid movement itself, on fighting legalised and institutionalised racism rather than on analysing the making of racial identity per se. In more recent work, however, there has been an insistence on race in order to deconstruct it (Steyn 2001; Distiller & Steyn 2004; Erasmus 2001; Ebrahim-Vally 2001). Thus Distiller & Steyn, in their book Under Construction: ‘Race’ and Identity in South Africa Today, aim to address the ‘need for a vocabulary of race in South Africa today’ (p 2) and to ‘challenge the artificiality of “whiteness” and “blackness” and to explore the implications of an insistence on policing their boundaries and borders’ (p 7). Significantly, the first South African academic conference dedicated to the issue of race took place only in 2001, co-hosted by the newly formed Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) and the Wits History Workshop, and entitled ‘The Burden of Race’. These, then, are some of the ways in which the term entanglement has been used by scholars, or indirectly suggested in their work. I draw strongly on them in the chapters that follow. Although I frame them in my own analytical grammar, each carries traces of the above articulation by other scholars. Entanglement offers, for me, a rubric in terms of which we can begin to meet the challenge of the ‘after apartheid’. It is a means by which to draw into our analyses those sites in which what was once thought of as separate – identities, spaces, histories – come together or find points of intersection in unexpected ways. It is an idea which signals largely unexplored terrains of mutuality, wrought from a common, though often coercive and confrontational, experience. It enables a complex temporality of past, present and future; one which points away from a time of resistance towards a more ambivalent moment in which the time of potential, both latent and actively surfacing in South Africa, exists in complex tandem with new kinds of closure and opposition. It also signals a move away from an apartheid optic and temporal lens towards one which reifies neither the past nor the exceptionality of South African life. A focus on entanglement in part speaks to the need for a utopian horizon, while always being profoundly mindful of what is actually going on. Such a horizon carries particular weight in societies which confront the precariousness of life, crime, poverty, AIDS and violence on a daily basis; 11
Introduction

it suggests the importance, too, of holding ‘heretical conversations’ in order to question and even, at times, dislodge or supersede the tropes and analytical foci which quickly harden into conventions of how we read the ‘now’. So, too, reading through entanglement makes it necessary to find registers for writing about South Africa that enable properly trans-national conversations. Entanglement, as I use it in the chapters which follow, enables us to work with the idea that the more racial boundaries are erected and legislated the more we have to look for the transgressions without which everyday life for oppressor and oppressed would have been impossible. It helps us, too, to find a method of reading which is about a set of relations, some of them conscious but many of them unconscious, which occur between people who most of the time try to define themselves as different. Entanglement, furthermore, returns us to a concept of the human where we do not necessarily expect to find it. It enables an interrogation, imperatively, of the counter-racist and the work of desegregation. Since the chapters which follow take up these issues from the vantage point of South Africa they enable a conversation with preoccupations in contemporary humanities scholarship elsewhere, and reveal aspects of what South Africa can contribute to global debates about identity, power and race. Entanglement provides a suggestive way to draw together these theoretical threads. It is an idea I draw on throughout the book, without underestimating, I hope, what makes people different, how they think they are different (even when they might not be), and how difference has a charged and volatile history in this country. The first chapter seeks a defamiliarising way of reading the historical and contemporary South African cultural archive by employing a lens of entanglement. One of the aspects the chapter explores is the possibilities and limits of an Anglicised and Africanised category of the creole. Within the larger rubric of entanglement it places a specific emphasis on how to come to terms with a legacy of violence in a society based on inequality, drawing on creolisation’s own origins within the historical experience of slavery and its aftermath. It goes on to re-examine, in the light of this initial discussion, regional variations and the implications for how we read race and class in South Africa. The chapter moves away from what Hofmeyr (2005) has referred to as the ‘hydraulic models of domination and resistance’ traversing neo-Marxist 12

Entanglement

and nationalist accounts towards a project of making ‘the ambiguous networks and trajectories of the postcolonial state legible’ (p 130). It looks for analytical formations which increasingly inscribe South African life into a body of work done elsewhere on the continent, especially Mbembe’s (1993) idea that oppressor and oppressed do not inhabit incommensurate spheres: rather, that they share the same episteme. It moves across disciplines, searching for disturbances, fluctuations, oscillations in conventional accounts, looking for configurations of space, identity, race and class usually left unexpressed, and dormant. In Chapter Two, entitled ‘Literary City’, I write about ways in which Johannesburg is emerging in recent city fiction. I explore, that is, notions of entanglement from the vantage point of city life and city forms, of the making of citiness in writing. ‘Citiness’ refers to modes of being and acting in the city as city and it encompasses histories of violence, loss and xenophobia as well as those of experimentation and desegregation. My aim in the chapter is to explore the modes of metropolitan life – the ‘infrastructures’ – which come to light in contemporary fiction of the city. These infrastructures include the street, the café, the suburb and the campus – assemblages of citiness in which fictional life worlds intersect with the actual, material rebuilding of the post-apartheid city. I explore some of the figures to which these urban infrastructures give rise: the stranger, the aging white man, the suburban socialite, the hustler. Of particular interest is what the metropolitan form can offer, via its fictional texts, in relation to the remaking of race. To what kinds of separation and connectedness does it give rise? In what ways, if at all, does it exceed the metaphors of race and the binaries to which it gives rise and how, as Helgesson (2006) puts it, do characters move through and across long-established representational regimes? Citiness in Johannesburg, I argue, is an intricate entanglement of éclat and sombreness, light and darkness, comprehension and bewilderment, polis and necropolis, desegregation and resegregation. In Chapter Three I focus on autobiographies and related narratives of the self written by whites from the mid-1990s onwards, a period which, in my view, marks a major shift in the ways in which whiteness began to be looked at as the embeddedness of race in the legal and political fabric of South Africa started to crack. 13
Introduction

The chapter, entitled ‘Secrets and Lies’, develops a set of arguments around, on the one hand, looking and watching, modes which appear to inhabit certain versions of ‘unofficial’ whiteness (the act of watching others watching the self, for instance) but on the other, and more predominantly, around the secrets and sometimes the lies, which inhabit the negotiation of whiteness. In almost all the bodies of work considered confronting one’s whiteness is also confronting one’s secret life, including the untruths – latent, blatant, imminent, potent – that inhabit the white self. The chapter aims to offer an alternative route through the South African archive of whiteness by attending to what I have called its ‘unofficial’ versions, within a context of long-held racist assumptions and practices. Thus it considers some of the resources available in South African society to crack open the discourses of whiteness, and therefore blackness, in the context of ‘the now’. It also aims to show the complexity of these unofficial versions, revealing their largely under-researched duplicity, uncertainty, vulnerability: their secret life. Chapter Four, ‘Surface and Underneath’, is written in two parts. It takes as its defining idea the notion of Johannesburg as a city with a surface and an underneath. The early part of the chapter explores this concept, suggesting its historical, psychic and hermeneutic dimensions. In broad terms, we might consider this a city in which the ‘surfaces’ of a highly developed industrialised capitalist economy and its attendant set of media cultures are entangled with a subliminal memory of life below the surface – a history of labour repression based on a racial hierarchy; of alienation, but also of insurrection. If the surface and underneath are part of the historical and psychic life of the city they also finds expression in its literary and cultural formations. The first section focuses on Ivan Vladislavi ’s account of living in Johannesburg, Portrait with Keys (2006), and then on two texts by young black South African writers, both published in 2007, which both focus on the concept of the ‘coconut’. The ‘coconut’, a pervasive shorthand for a person who is ‘black on the outside but white on the inside’, also relies on the metaphor of a surface and an underneath and tells us something important about current framings of cross-racial life in the city. In the second part I consider a series of paintings by Johannesburg artist Penny Siopis, known as the Pinky Pinky series. While her work has been read 14

Entanglement

almost exclusively within the register of trauma, I argue that the series reveals a new capaciousness in her figuring of urban life and the desires it produces. Siopis turns her attention to the surface as a painterly and analytical space, and the series suggests the emergence, if tentative, of a more horizontal or spliced mode of reading. Chapter Five tries to capture something of the immense coincidence, so tangible in Johannesburg at present, between the end of apartheid and the rise of new media culture and cultures of consumption. The chapter, called ‘Self-Styling’, aims to show how we might take the surface more seriously in our analyses of contemporary cultural form even where contemporary youth media cultural forms in Johannesburg still signal to and cite the underneath of an apartheid past. In the first part I explore the rise of a youth cultural form widely known as ‘Y Culture’. Y Culture, also known as loxion kulcha, is an emergent youth culture in Johannesburg which moves across various media forms and generates a ‘compositional remixing’ that signals an emergent politics of style, shifting the emphasis away from an earlier era’s resistance politics. It is a culture of the hip bucolic which works across a series of surfaces in order to produce enigmatic and divergent styles of self-making. In the second part I consider a recent set of advertisements that have appeared on billboards and in magazines in the wake of Y Culture, showing how they simultaneously engage with and push in unexpected directions one of the most striking aspects of Y/ loxion culture, an attempt to reread race in the city. In analysing the advertisements I consider ways in which commodity images, and the market itself, produce re-imaginings of race in the city. How to read these commodified versions of entanglement (which are embedded in a much longer history of consumption and its media forms in this country) and what they can tell us about the remaking, or otherwise, of race in the city, is a question the chapter works with in its concluding section. Chapter Six – ‘Girl Bodies’ – turns to issues of sexuality, and, in particular, to child rape. The chapter draws on an anecdote of a kind: an image, accompanied by a short text in a newspaper, to consider a subject left largely aside in earlier chapters: the question of gender and sexuality in the making of South Africa’s political transition, and of the violence which has emerged, somewhat spectacularly, into the post-apartheid public sphere. 7 15
Introduction

My account, which is written in the first person, focuses on the manufacture of anti-rape devices for girls and women – new technologies of the sexualised body. Through the telling of a story I explore how technology itself assigns changing meanings to the domains of the public and the private. I draw out, in the chapter, common interest – and trust in technology – among women from different race and ethnic groups – black and white, Tswana and Afrikaner. I explore sets of fantasies about technological solutions in relation to the body which are currently circulating globally but which take on radically local inflections. The chapter considers forms of re-segregation in a wider context of desegregation, and how re-segregation can be based on cross-racial complicities of a kind in a ‘post-racist’ context. In this chapter I subject a notion of entanglement to its limits, while also examining its most disturbing connotations. Examining the concept from the perspective of its outer edges helps to strengthen our understanding of how it works, where it can be useful, and what aporias we need to be alert to. The chapters draw on a range of critical and writerly vocabularies. They include that which lies dormant in our analysis most of the time, that which offers a singular versus a general view, and the force of the anecdotal, a register of the unexpected in critical orthodoxies. In doing so, they capture something, I hope, of the complex trajectories of change in South Africa, at the level of content but also of form. In what follows I have wanted to speak about the politics of change as well as the ideas and experiences of self which underlie the social; the potential of metropolitan life as well as its foreclosures; the life of the body as well as the mind; cultures of the city as well as feudal imaginaries of the heartland; legacies, as well as contemporary practices, of racial and sexual violence. Put differently, this book explores ways we find of living together, of occupying the city, secrets we keep or tell, the life of the body, our desire for things, the darkness of sex.

Entanglement

16

Entanglement
C H

1
A P T

E

R

Since the political transition in 1994 South African literary and cultural criticism has bifurcated into two distinctive bodies of work. Two dominant responses have emerged, that is, in relation to the dynamics of political change in the country. The first bifurcation is an idiom produced by critics both inside and outside the country, which could be characterised as neo-Marxist in inflection. Here, the dominant critical impulse has been to assert continuity with the past, producing a critique based on reiteration and return, and an argument in the name of that which has not changed in the country. Such critics employ categories of race, class, domination and resistance in much the same way as critics had done in the decade or so before. Thus, for example, Herman Wasserman and Shaun Jacobs (2003) acknowledge that ‘certain social configurations have started to shift’ but emphasise that the issues of hegemony, resistance and race that marked an earlier critical idiom need to remain at the centre of our critical investigations and that ‘the reaffirmation of the same identities that in the past were discriminated against require our ongoing critical recognition’. Barbara Harlow and David Attwell (2000, p 2) refer 17
Entanglement

to South Africa as ‘a society whose underlying social relations or even attitudes remain substantially unchanged’. Yet, by the time they were writing, South Africa’s black middle class, for example, emerged for the first time as larger than its white middle class, a statistic which contests a stasis in the social structure of South Africa and suggests the emergence of new kinds of imaginaries and practices in the country. Certainly, by the late 1990s neither recent South African fiction nor popular culture suggested social stasis. Such readings were, to be sure, born in part of what we could refer to as an ethical oppositionality which seeks to register the ongoing ‘agony of the social’ – the continuing inequalities and suffering of many in South Africa since its political transition. This position resonated with a body of work produced during this period by a number of largely ex-South African critics based in the United States and Britain – even while these critics pushed its critical registers somewhat further. In a 2004 special issue of The South Atlantic Quarterly, entitled ‘After the Thrill is Gone’ and edited by Rita Barnard and Grant Farred, readings of the contemporary South African moment by Neil Lazarus, Grant Farred, Shaun Irlam and others constituted what we could call a narrative of political loss or melancholia. Loss is expressed in various idioms, chief amongst which is the loss of politics itself – or at least a form of resistance based on mass politics. Thus Neil Lazarus argues that the idea that South Africa is a nation at all is the perpetration of a violence; Grant Farred invokes a disgruntled, historically-enfranchised white subject and a discontented black subject and looks for an oppositional place, the zone of what he calls the ‘not yet political’; while Shaun Irlam finds that ‘the New South Africa has ushered in an era of identity mongering and separate development on a scale that South Africa’s old bosses incessantly promoted at an ideological level’. Grant Farred’s work, in particular, relies on that of Carl Schmitt. Politics, for Schmitt, involves friends and enemies, which means at the very least the centrality of those who are with you and those against whom you struggle. People will, according to Schmitt, only be responsible for who they are if the reality of death and conflict remain present. This, then, constitutes the first critical moment adopted by literary scholars in response to the demise of apartheid and to its aftermath – a political and critical mode which I have characterised as one of reiteration 18

Entanglement

and return. A second critical moment approaches the prognostics of change in terms of a representational shift, according to a more future-inflected politics. In order to approach an as yet nameless present, scholars have tried to propose and shape expanded critical vocabularies. Among them are Leon de Kock, who argues for a notion of ‘the seam’ (an idea he draws from Noel Mostert’s book Frontiers) to denote the place where difference and sameness are hitched together – where they are brought to selfawareness, denied, or displaced into third terms; Michael Titlestad, who, analysing jazz representation in literature and reportage, concerns himself with forms of epistemological itinerancy, with ‘transverse drifts through a set of theoretical possibilities’; Mark Sanders’s notion of complicity as marking the limits of a theory of ‘apartness’ and Isabel Hofmeyr, whose interest is in tracking the ‘post-resistance’ formations which traverse neoMarxist and nationalist accounts of literary and cultural work in this country. Precursors of these critical positions include my argument with CherylAnn Michael (2000), that South African studies have, for a long time, been overdetermined by the reality of apartheid – as if, in the historical trajectory of the country, apartheid was inevitable in terms of both its origins and its consequences; as if everything led to it and everything flows as a consequence of it. We worked from the idea that other historical possibilities were out there, and are evolving now, in the aftermath of that oppressive system. That there are continuities between the apartheid past and the present we fully acknowledged. Apartheid social engineering did and still does work to fix spaces that are difficult to break down in the present. There is no question about this. But, we contended, there are also enough configurations in various spheres of contemporary South African life to warrant new kinds of explorations and tools of analysis. To confine these configurations to a lens of ‘difference’ embedded squarely in the apartheid past misses the complexity and contemporaneity of their formations. Jolly and Attridge (1998) have argued for a syncretic analytical practice, suggesting that the problem lies in ‘our fixation on difference’, in its ‘fetishization’ (p 3) Likewise, Elleke Boehmer (1998) has shown that cultural form was used ‘as a front for other kinds of communication – for political imperatives, for the telling of history, for informing the world about apartheid’, with the result that it has been shaped by circumstance, rather than actively doing the work of shaping its material; that it is 19
Entanglement

hesitant about what Boehmer calls ‘form-giving’ (p 53). Rita Barnard, in her work on South African literature, has long displayed an interest in ‘new possibilities of transcending the Manichean opposition of coloniser and colonised and of moving towards a new culturally-hybrid democracy’ (2006). Critics working within the second moment outlined above have worked in large part with the historical archive. This is important since a theory of the present requires that we work out how we relate to the past and its remainders. Besides, these critics work in such a way that we can draw on their theoretical paradigms in the present. Nevertheless, what we need now is a critical approach which can draw present and past more fully together within a compelling analytical lens. Our critical archive, in other words, remains somewhat bifurcated in this temporal sense. In what follows I try to elaborate on the notion of entanglement, which I broached in the Introduction, as it might apply to specific instances in the historical and contemporary South African archive. Entanglement, as I use the term here, is intended less to imply that we contest that forms of separation and difference do still occur, materially and epistemologically, than to draw into our analyses critical attention to those sites and spaces in which what was once thought of as separate – identities, spaces, histories – come together or find points of intersection in unexpected ways. There are several ways of doing this. One of these is to revisit, in the aftermath of official segregation, the concept of segregated space in socio-historical terms and use this as a methodological device for reading the post-apartheid situation; the second is to undertake a sustained reading of the present, or the ‘now’, as I have referred to it here, in order to supersede interpretative models based on configurations of the past. In what follows I try to draw on both analytic possibilities. This chapter consists of three parts – fragments, possible registers, or, as I will indicate, methods of reading – as a way of approaching the issues set out above. The first part considers how a theory of entanglement might draw on aspects of a rich body of international work on creolité to raise important questions seldom asked of the South African cultural archive. The second considers regional variations in how we might approach such a body of work locally, and the third looks at conceptions of race and class in the light of the foregoing analysis. The chapter concludes by considering a series of inflections we might give to a notion of entanglement based on 20

Entanglement

the material considered, and on the ways in which entanglement speaks to the work of desegregation, both as theoretical undertaking and as political praxis.

On creolisation
One of my interests in reading the ‘now’ in South Africa has been to consider how scholarly work done elsewhere on creolité might be deployed in the context of contemporary South Africa, specifically in relation to how to come to terms with a legacy of violence in a society based on inequality. The assumption, made most often by Marxist critics, has been that processes of creolisation are devoid of conflict – in other words, that these processes are not grounded in materialities and therefore that the use of the term as a theoretical tool results in the sidelining of the more crucial issues of class struggles, social hierarchies and inequalities. In the context of South Africa theorists have tended to be uncomfortable with debates about creolisation. Two of the major reasons for this have been, first, the presupposition that ‘creolisation’ is tantamount to ‘colouredness’ as a biological and cultural construct and second, the apartheid state’s construction of colouredness as a political buffer between blacks and whites, and the interpellation of ‘colouredness’ as neither black nor white (according to an ideology of racial purity), a notion that was both racist and suspect. Zoë Wicomb (1998), Zimitri Erasmus (2001) and Desirée Lewis (2001) have all written about ‘colouredness’ as having been constructed and experienced as a residual, supplementary identity ‘in-between’ whiteness and blackness and interpellated in relation to registers of respectability and (sexualised) shame. Erasmus, in the introduction to her edited collection Coloured by History, Shaped by Place, argues, however, that ‘colouredness must be understood as a creolised cultural identity’. Coloured identities are distinguished not merely by the fact of borrowing per se, she argues, ‘but by cultural borrowing and creation under very specific conditions of creolisation’ (p 16). For Erasmus creolisation refers to ‘cultural creativity under conditions of marginality’ and she draws on Edouard Glissant’s notion of ‘entanglement’ to elucidate her use of the term. In particular she makes use of Glissant’s notion that diversion – turning away 21
Entanglement

from the pain and difficulty of creolised beginnings – needs to be complemented by reversion – a return to the point of entanglement, the point of difficulty (p 24). It seems to me that a ‘creolité hypothesis’ might be applied to aspects of the South African cultural archive proposed as one set of questions among others in relation to the shaping of racial and cultural identity in South Africa and might offer a programme of possibility in relation to neglected questions, a point of interrogation directed towards a richly complex and extremely conflictual history. What many critics of the concept of ‘creolisation’ tend to overlook is precisely that the notion was born out of the historical experience of slavery and its aftermath. In his pioneering study Singing the Master (1992) Roger Abrahams shows how the emergence of a typically African-American vernacular culture was the result of a dual legacy, a syncretic formation that was itself part of the events that brought together slave and master in the plantations of the Americas. Focusing on slave dancing practices Abrahams examines a context in which planters encouraged the display of what they recognised to be slaves’ ‘different set[s] of cultural practices’, while slaves came to recognise in the obligatory play and performance ‘an opportunity for cultural invention and social commentary’. Abrahams’s overwhelming impression of life on the plantation, he writes, is ‘that the representations of two cultures lived cheek to jowl for a matter of centuries, entertaining each other, subtly imitating each other in selective ways, but never fully comprehending the extent and meaning of these differences’ (p xxiv). It goes without saying that this coming together happens in a context of a deep loss: loss of a home, loss of rights and political status, and overall terror (Hartman 1997). When considered historically, then, creolisation relates to the worst that society is capable of – the maintenance of human beings in the shadow of life and death. Yet even within this most violent of systems (and possibly because of it, where violence itself gives rise to the fractures and cracks that let the other in) cultural traffic occurs – mutual mimicries, mutabilities. The notion itself, therefore, does not foreclose possibilities of resistance, nor does it deny the material fact of subjection. It signals a register of actions and performances that may be embodied in a multiplicity of repertoires. In this sense creolisation is, first and foremost, a practice. 22

Entanglement

Although Michel-Rolph Trouillot (2002), in his work on creolisation, treats historical situations which come from the Caribbean slave plantation, he writes that ‘this treatment may be useful to historically oriented cultural anthropologists and linguists in general, inasmuch as it directly faces the issue of our management of the historical record’1 (p 190). For the majority of enslaved Africans and African Americans prior to the mid-nineteenth century, creolisation did not happen away from the plantation system but within it, writes Trouillot. This creation was possible because slaves found fertile ground in the interstices of the system, in the latitude provided by the inherent contradictions between the system and specific plantations. On some plantations, Trouillot shows, slaves were allowed to grow their own food and, at times, to sell portions of what they harvested. This practice was instituted by owners to enhance their own profits, since they did not have to pay for the slaves’ food. Eventually, however, these practices, which at first emerged because they provided concrete advantages to particular owners, went against the logic of the plantation system. Time used on the provision grounds was also slavecontrolled time to a large extent. It was time to ‘create culture’ knowingly or unknowingly ... Time indeed to develop modes of thought and codes of behavior that were to survive plantation slavery itself (p 203). Trouillot writes about social time and social space seized within the system and turned against it; about the ability to stretch margins and circumvent borderlines which lay at the heart of African American cultural practices in the New World. If slavery and the creolisation it produced were crucial to early modernity they were also central to the formation of diasporic communities. The articulation of race to space and motion is an integral part of even recent Marxist-inflected readings of early modern forms of racial identity-making. Some of these readings focus on the intercultural and transnational formations of the Atlantic world (Gilroy 1993; Linebaugh & Rediker 2000). This Atlantic world is peopled by workers: sailors, pirates, commoners, prostitutes, strikers, insurrectionists. Here, the sea is not a frontier one crosses, it is a shifting space between fixed places which it connects. This is a geography of worldliness, which could be opposed to the geographies of particularism and nationalism. It is worth noting here how relatively few theorists have explored these geographies, although the work of John Thompson (1992), Veit Erlmann 23
Entanglement

(1991) and Rob Nixon (1994) has been important in this regard. One critique of these readings is that South Africa, or the Cape at least, in fact looked to the Indian Ocean, as Robert Shell (1994) and Patrick Harries (2000) have suggested and which my own work with Françoise Vergès and Abdoumaliq Simone (2004) has explored.2 Given its tri-centric location between the Indian and Atlantic worlds as well as the land mass of the African interior, further readings of this space from an outer-national vantage point is likely to reinforce a creolité hypothesis. Trouillot and others provide a reading of creolisation firmly located within paradigms of violence and mobility, spatiality and circulation, and it must also be on such terms, though with its own historical specificities, that any use of the notion in South Africa could be made. South Africa can be characterised as a country born out of processes of mobility, the boundaries of which have constantly been reinvented over time, through war, dislocation and dispossession (the Mfecane, European colonialism, the Great Trek and labour migrancy, for instance). A multiplicity of forms of subjugation has emerged as a result of this, not all of which are class based. Here we might refer to the Mfecane as a series of violent encounters leading to lines of exchange and fusion; or to the mutual borrowings in the realm of domesticity between ‘servant’ and ‘mistress’ (of which Judith Coullie, in her book The Closest of Strangers (2004, p 2) remarks ‘…notwithstanding this utter separateness (and even somehow enabled by it), it was common for women to experience long-term mutual dependencies … the relationship was indeed the very closest, though the strict limits of intimacy … were rarely breached’)3; or to long-distance lines of connection in the mines between workers from South Africa and those who come from elsewhere on the continent and beyond, a transcontinental mixing which shaped worker identities and ideologies in South Africa in ways that have yet to be written about, although Harries (1994) and Coplan (1994) have begun this work, if still within circumscribed geographical limits. Deborah Posel (2001) has pointed in her work to the vagaries of racial definition on which the apartheid state relied – a ‘common sense’ approach to who belonged to which race, based firmly within the materialities of everyday life. Rather than strict legal definitions, apartheid enforcers relied on such measures as the infamous pencil test, the idea that someone’s 24

Entanglement

race was to be decided according to ‘what was generally accepted’ [as white or black or coloured] or ‘the environment and dress of the person concerned’ (pp 102-5). These ‘common sense’ definitions were then fixed and bureaucratised by the state. They were also definitions which, once the apartheid straitjacket was broken, appear to have remained internalised. Yet how people actually thought about themselves, and the interstitial manoeuvres they were able to make within this ‘common sense’ bureaucracy of race, remain to be researched in a properly microscopic way. There is, perhaps, a further point to be made here, and that is in relation to the work of cultural theory itself. While social scientists seek a view of the social ‘whole’ and thus often repeat the apartheid metanarrative or prism of race in their interpretation of the social, cultural theory finds itself freer to ask questions left unasked, to inhabit zones, even of the past, that refute the master trope and give life to interstitial narratives that speak to the whole in defamiliarising ways. Any deployment of aspects of the work on creolité coming from scholars such as Trouillot, Gilroy, and Linebaugh and Rediker would need to involve readings hardly yet undertaken of South Africa’s relationship to other spaces, aiming to open South Africa’s readings of itself to new boundaries. As I have emphasised above, in general the resources of such a hypothesis can only be put to work if the term is given a particular inflection, and that is its violence. Indeed, given a properly historical reading, both in South Africa and elsewhere, creolisation carries with it a particularly vivid sense (compared to, say, notions of hybridity and syncretism) of the cruelty that processes of mixing have involved. While we have, to date, undertaken few readings of the intimacies, across race and class, that have long characterised a deeply segregated society – that is, the often unexpected points of intersection and practical knowledge of the other wrought from a common, though often mutually coercive and confrontational experience – we might equally remark, using the South African case as a powerful moment in a wider global history of race, that intimacy does not necessarily exclude violation. Intimacy is not always a happy process. On the contrary, it may often be another name for tyranny. This all being said, my own intellectual preoccupation is less with the term ‘creolisation’ than with a way of thinking, a method of reading, the possibility of a different cartography. 25
Entanglement

Regional variations
In the light of the available historical and ethnographic material it might be argued that such a method of reading relies on the history of the Cape. Although this may be so, such an approach can be usefully applied to other regions of the country. Consider, for example, the density of the circulation of workers through urban sites of production in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Southern, Central and Eastern Africa over centuries. Consider, too, the transnational cultures of the mines, of which we still know so little. Do we believe that there was no cross-cultural interaction; that South Africans took nothing from other African migrant workers in inventing an urban vernacular culture they now claim as their own? Or that the Indian presence in Natal had no influence on ways of being black, or white? As for the political culture of the Bantustans, it surely cannot be unearthed without mapping the imitations by local potentates of their white masters’ culture of power. Conversely, the practices of apartheid tyrants cannot be grasped without paying attention to the various ways in which they subtly mimicked, in selective ways, their victims, while at the same time denying their common humanity. More substantial, though, is the evidence already gathered, by historians in particular, about the flexibility of racial boundaries on the Witwatersrand in the years directly preceding apartheid. Jon Hyslop (1995), in his work on white working-class women and the invention of apartheid, shows how the newfound independence of the Afrikaner female working class on the Rand threatened patriarchal relations in white society, and how Nationalist government hysteria about ‘mixed marriages’ played an important role in re-establishing gender hierarchies. In urban slums Afrikaans-speaking poor whites were frequently not demonstrating the instinctive aversion, socially or sexually, to racial mixing proclaimed by government racial ideology. Hyslop shows that these whites would by no means automatically identify as ‘Afrikaners’ so allegiance to Afrikaner nationalism had constantly to be created (see also Van Onselen 1982). One of the most distinctive features of Johannesburg’s built environment in the inter-war years was the existence of a large belt of slums that spread from the western suburbs across the city centre to the suburbs in the east. Eddie Koch’s work (1983) shows how resistance to the clearance of the

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slums gave rise to a series of conflicts and tensions which delayed the implementation of segregation and allowed the culture of the slum yards to grow and thrive. The extent of the permeability of racial boundaries at this time again reveals the amount of work it took to put and keep apartheid in place. The degree to which rural paternalism contained egalitarian elements has been debated in relation to Van Onselen’s The Seed is Mine (1996). Interesting, too, in this context is the existence of hybrid border communities: John Dunn’s people, and Coenraad de Buys and his descendants, the Griquas, in particular, symbolise what Mostert (1993, p 237) calls ‘a lost route of Afrikaner history’. Of De Buys Mostert writes: ‘on the one hand he represented the interracial intimacy and familiarity, on the other the ruthless self-interest, peremptory will and desire and brutality, of relations between those forerunning Boers and the indigenous inhabitants’ (p 238). George Frederickson, in his book White Supremacy (1981), suggests that the Cape really was different. He shows that the main external source of attitudes to race mixture in the early Cape Colony was the precedents deriving from the Dutch experience in Indonesia, where the trend was to encourage intermarriage in an effort to superimpose on the native social order a new caste of Dutch Christians. The Dutch, not particularly committed to racial purity, preferred to legalise Dutch-speaking Christianised ‘mixed-race’ people, though the British would later try to impose a clearer basis of stratification on what they saw as this racial chaos. Frederickson argues in his comparative study that it is, in fact, the United States, not South Africa, in which historically-white supremacists enjoyed the luxury of a racial exclusiveness that is unparalleled in the annals of racial inequality (p 135). The work of Vivian Bickford-Smith et al (1999) on Cape Town’s history has tended to de-romanticise the city’s story but still contains much material suggesting that Cape Town was much less racially bounded than other areas of South Africa. But the point I am pursuing here has less to do with the porousness or otherwise of racial boundaries than with the idea that the more such boundaries are erected and legislated the more the observer has to look for the petty transgressions without which everyday life for both the ‘master’ and the ‘slave’ would be impossible. Racial segregation, that is, can only work if, somewhere else, the 27
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entanglements, denied precisely to safeguard the official fiction, are also taking place. The larger question is, therefore, how to find a method of reading the social which is about mutual entanglements, some of them conscious but most of them unconscious, which occur between people who most of the time try to define themselves as different. The more they try to do this the more the critic must be suspicious of their talk of uniqueness and difference. Such claims, we might well suggest, repress, at least at times, precisely what draws together, what links, the oppressor and the oppressed, black, white and coloured. In respect of all the above, then, it would not make sense to confine our understanding of creolité to the Cape past.4

Race and class
Once we take on board a way of reading which is based on mutual entanglements we are obliged to think of race, class and power differently. In particular, we have to confront what it is that older paradigms are not able to show us. Beginning with race we might first note that the South African academy and beyond has produced many examples of carefully argued work on race and power in this country. Moreover, there is a selfawareness, from within these very traditions, of the limits of dominant approaches (see Hamilton 1997 and Hyslop 2002a&b). In asking how to locate the ‘now’, the contemporary, in South Africa, we have to ask the question when and how race matters. Here we might reflect on the fact that race appears to be hardening in the public political realm precisely as legalised racism has been abolished. One early example of this was the public correspondence between South African President Thabo Mbeki and the leader of the Opposition, Tony Leon, in 2000. Mbeki accused Leon of publishing ‘hysterical estimates’ of HIV/Aids sufferers in South Africa and of ‘making wild and insulting claims’, along with the international community, about the African origins of HIV. Leon averred that it was ‘a fundamental mistake and profoundly misguided to associate matters of race with the Aids crisis’ and accused Mbeki of using ‘tactics of moral blackmail or demonisation’.5 Since 1994, moreover, what used to be called ‘non-racialism’ is seldom heard in political discourse. This silence is closely related to the fact that while under apartheid racial discrimination was crucial to the twin issues 28

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of work and wealth, in the post-apartheid period the politics of black empowerment plays an important role in shifting institutional power politics. This hardening is taking place at the same time as more choices are becoming available in terms of racial identification, especially in the sphere of culture. The pragmatics of a ‘cross-over culture’ are now expressed through other vehicles, in particular through powerful new media cultures and the market (see Nuttall 2004). There is, as yet, only the beginning of new work and theorisation of these ‘post-racist’ configurations which reinvigorate the political utopias of these terms. Extraordinary ethnographies are emerging from scholars such as Nadine Dolby (2001), Tanya Farber (2002) and Mpolokeng Bogatsu (2003). In relation to studies of class in South Africa emphasis has been oriented towards the working class, while fewer studies have focused on peasant or rural culture or, one might add, on middle-class migrant and city cultures.6 How can we re-imagine its usages? Where is class located? If popular culture increasingly replaces neighbourhood and family as dominant sites for the making of identity, how class-bound is it? As I show in my work on Y or loxion culture (2004) remarkably similar processes of identity-making, especially in the realm of popular culture, emerge between ‘working’ and ‘lower middle-class’ school children in Durban and ‘middleclass’ teenagers in Johannesburg. What kinds of imperfect meshings occur between the micro and the macro, the complexity of people’s lives and the sometimes abstract and general categories we use to describe them? How do technological change, new forms of power, demographic upheavals, urban growth, challenge to stable identities, bureaucratic expansion and deepening market relations affect the making of social lives and the construction and deployment of class identities? Tim Burke’s (1996) work suggests that class – perhaps not class formations exactly, but relations of economic and social power – needs to be thought about far less mechanistically than it has been to date. In his study of commodity culture in Zimbabwe Burke shows the complexity of ‘proletarianisation’ in a colonial context, and even of the day-to-day living out of poverty and privilege. Questions of class will need to be posed in a context in which not only has South Africa changed, so has capitalism. Jean and John Comaroff ’s (2001) work on ‘millennial capitalism’ suggests that the new South African nation state is not only new in itself but operates 29
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in a new world: it must achieve modernity in a post-modern world and a world of ‘casino capitalism’. This is an historically new situation, both internally and internationally. Production as it was known before is increasingly being replaced by provision of services and the capacity to control space, time and the flow of money through speculation. Speculation is not only practised by the middle classes: poor people, too, frequently participate in high-risk investments such as the lottery. In higher echelons, dealing in stocks and bonds whose rise and fall is governed by chance results in new cultures of circulation – the culturally inflected paths along which objects, people and ideas move All this points to new temporalities or velocities of the social. James Campbell (2002) has written how, given South Africa’s elaborate tradition of labour repression, scholars have focused their attention on production, leaving consumption as something of an ‘historical orphan’. South African theorists have yet to give an adequate account of these new configurations of the political economy of culture. For this reason it is more important than ever to pay attention to those archives still at times undervalued and, in any case, under-written by historians and anthropologists in South Africa. As Chapter Two will show, one of these archives is that of the city – and the literary – itself. Above I have considered the analytic resources of an Anglicised and Africanised form of creolisation for a theory of entanglement. In doing so, I have aimed to de-familiarise some of the more routine readings of South African culture. This may not in itself strike the reader as a useful approach. But given the political evidence of substantial change in this country it seems more than apposite to revisit our analytic barometers and yardsticks to find out where they require active redefinition. ******* The force-line of this chapter has been the notion of theorising the now. The theoretical parameters I sought are grounded in the realities of conflict, violence, social hierarchy and inequality. They take account too, however, of the making of race identity in terms of cultural traffic – mutabilities within a system of violence which acknowledge the material fact of subjection and registers of action and performance embedded in processes 30

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of mobility and lines of exchange. In the preceding pages I have been interested in pursuing the entanglements that occur precisely within contexts of racial segregation and its aftermath, transgressions of the racial order which may take various syncretic forms, at times including a certain racial porousness. I have sought to offer a method of reading the social through the mutual entanglements between people who, most of the time, might define themselves as different, and which receive little attention from those who study them. A theory of entanglement can be linked in important ways to a notion of desegregation. One could argue that the system of racial segregation in the political, social and cultural structure of the country paradoxically led to forms of knowledge production and cultural critique that mirrored, if only metaphorically, the sociopolitical structure, provoking, ultimately, a form of segregated theory. Segregated theory is theory premised on categories of race difference, oppression versus resistance, and perpetrators versus victims – master dualisms which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission magnified, and aimed, in the longer term, to end. This was an intricate and often local process which also intersected with, and was influenced by, studies in postcolonial theory which placed a great deal of emphasis on difference. Difference was invoked as a political resource in struggles against imperial drives to homogenise and universalise identity and politics. Difference, then, was a strategic tool against imperial definitions of the universal, and an attempt by those who were the subjugated subjects of imperial rule to maintain an authenticity from which they could articulate claims to selfhood. After 1994 a space opened up for critical theory to develop ways of reading the contemporary that no longer relied wholly on ‘segregated theory’. After living – and thinking – within a system of legislated difference for so long, that is, it became possible to rethink the absoluteness of difference as a theoretical category and, by extension, the assumption that a lens of difference must be assumed to be essential to any post-colonial project. This is despite the fact that many studies of South African culture after 1994 have dispensed with notions of the inter-racial imaginary and the limits of apartness. The focus in recent decades, both in South Africa and internationally, has been on the black subject and the white subject as more or less discrete 31
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objects of study, and work that focuses on points of connections or similarities or affinities between people, hardly exists. The work of cultural theory remains crucially tied to the work of redress, and the desegregations explored here depend for their ethical weight on the multiple material desegregations which must ensue from this kind of theorising. Such work must necessarily be open to the shifting formations of the present even as racism continues and even when, as Gilroy (2004, p 131) remarks, ‘the crude, dualistic architecture of racial discourse stubbornly militates against their appearance’. It is to these formations that our critical judgement must necessarily be alive.

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