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Appears in Collections:eTheses from Faculty of Arts and Humanities legacy departments
Title: 'Interpretations in transition' : literature and political transition in Malawi and South Africa in the 1990s
Author(s): Johnson Chalamanda, Fiona Michaela
Issue Date: 2002
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: In this thesis I explore instances of literary engagement with the major transitions in national political formation in Malawi and South Africa; both countries moved from a totalitarian regime to democratic government, brought in by multi-party elections, in 1994. Most analyses of the wave of democratic transitions in Southern Africa are either historical, political or economic in their approach. The shift of political power from one constituency to another also requires another kind of study, of the impact of the political changes on lived experience through an analysis of people's creative expression. The artistic expressions of the experi nce of change are at times strikingly similar in the two countries, especially how artists imagine newness and simultaneously negotiate a past which was subject to repression. Literature is important in this political process, for it has a licence to reinterpret conventional representations and dominant narratives, often through fictionalising and creating new imaginative possibilities. I consider whether literary production in Malawi and South Africa is comparable in the light of this idea, despite the obvious differences in political configuration, geographic factors and levels of industrialisation and urbanisation, and ask whether political transition is a legitimate point of departure for interpreting literature. In the process I seek to identify similarities, and even overt influences or alliances between the literary practices in Malawi and South Africa during and since the transition. I analyse a wide variety of literary forms, some of which may transgress conventional definitions of 'literature'. Examples include the reader-contributions sent in to a newspaper's literary pages by its readers and the two historical accounts of women's experience. I discuss the porous distinction between fiction and history, realism and magic realism, as well as the subjective distinctions between formal and popular literature. The ambiguity of the title of my thesis therefore conveys the fact that the more established modes of literary interpretation are themselves also currently in transition. My intention here is not to argue what kind of literature is good or bad, valuable or trivial, but to discuss and interpret contextually the kinds of literature which are being produced and published. Chapter 1 of my thesis discussesth e work of JackM apanje and Nadine Gordimer, two 'veterans' of censorship under their respective regimes, suggesting how their writing has changed with freedom of expression. With the transition came experimentation and a wave of writing on fantastical, magical and irrational subjects. The writers discussed in Chapter 2 serve as a contrast to the engaged realism of Gordimer and to some extent, Mapanje. Steve Chimombo, Lesego Rampolokeng, Seitlhamo Motsapi and Zakes Mda convey a burlesque, transgressive style, which I discuss, drawing on Bakhtin, under the eading 'carnivalesque'. Chapter 3's emphasis on newspaper literature from Malawi reflects the importance of the form in contrast to South Africa where popular writing largely finds its main outlet in literary journals and magazines rather than in daily newspapers. Chapters 4 and 5 are related in their considerations of memory and searches for truth. In Chapter 4 Antjie Krog and Emily Mkamanga challenge the distinction between literary and factual chronicle in their woman-centred accounts of the past. The final chapter discusses two texts that are overtly literary, yet function in a mode of mourning and reflection, returning from the bustle of the present moment to a continuing, necessary reflection of the past which defines the new present. I conclude by suggesting that the comparative analysis is viable and enriching and that this study of literature from societies in transition demonstrates how poetry and fiction tell stories of history.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
English Studies
Department of English Studies

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