Building new selves: identity, “Passing,” and intertextuality in Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light

Posted in Africa, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, South Africa on 2018-04-13 23:53Z by Steven

Building new selves: identity, “Passing,” and intertextuality in Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light

Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies
Published online: 2018-04-03
DOI: 10.1080/17533171.2018.1453977

David Hoegberg, Associate Professor of English; Africana Studies
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis

This article examines Zoë Wicomb’s wide-ranging use of intertextuality in the novel Playing in the Light to explore the links between identity construction and postcolonial authorship. Focusing on the characters as intertextual agents, I argue that the three coloured women on whom the novel focuses – Helen, Marion, and Brenda – use texts in distinctive ways that illuminate their struggles to position themselves in South Africa’s complex and changing racial landscape. Racial “passing” is one form of a larger pattern in the novel of the use of citation and imitation to achieve specific ends. By embedding the citations of Helen and Marion within the citation-rich narrative of Brenda, Wicomb lays bare the mechanisms of identity construction within a work that stages and highlights its own intertextual practices.

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Playing in the Light: A Novel

Posted in Africa, Books, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, South Africa on 2017-05-05 16:04Z by Steven

Playing in the Light: A Novel

The New Press
November 2007
224 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-59558-221-8

Zoë Wicomb, Emeritus Professor
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom

Set in a beautifully rendered 1990s Cape Town, Zoë Wicomb’s celebrated novel revolves around Marion Campbell, who runs a travel agency but hates traveling, and who, in post-apartheid society, must negotiate the complexities of a knotty relationship with Brenda, her first black employee. As Alison McCulloch noted in the New York Times, “Wicomb deftly explores the ghastly soup of racism in all its unglory—denial, tradition, habit, stupidity, fear—and manages to do so without moralizing or becoming formulaic.”

Caught in the narrow world of private interests and self-advancement, Marion eschews national politics until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission throws up information that brings into question not only her family’s past but her identity and her rightful place in contemporary South African society. “Stylistically nuanced and psychologically astute” (Kirkus), Playing in the Light is as powerful in its depiction of Marion’s personal journey as it is in its depiction of South Africa’s bizarre, brutal history.

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Playing in the dark/ playing in the light: Coloured identity in the novels of Zoë Wicomb

Posted in Africa, Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa, Women on 2011-12-01 04:13Z by Steven

Playing in the dark/ playing in the light: Coloured identity in the novels of Zoë Wicomb

Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa
Volume 20, Issue 1, 2008
pages 1-15
DOI: 10.1080/1013929X.2008.9678286

J. U. Jacobs, Senior Professor of English and Fellow
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Zoë Wicomb’s three fictional works—You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (1987), David’s Story (2000) and Playing in the Light (2006)—all engage with the question of a South African ‘coloured’ identity both under apartheid with its racialised discourse of black and white, and in the context of the post apartheid language of multiculturalism and creolisation. This essay examines the representation of ‘colouredness’ in Wicomb’s writing in terms of the two different conceptions of cultural identity that Stuart Hall has defined: an essential cultural identity based on a single, shared culture, and the recognition that cultural identity is based not only on points of similarity, but also on critical points of deep and significant difference and of separate histories of rupture and discontinuity. The politics of South African ‘coloured’ identity in Wicomb’s works reveals a tension between, on the one hand, acceptance of the complex discourse of colouredness with all its historical discontinuities, and, on the other, the desire for a more cohesive sense of cultural identity, drawn from a collective narrative of the past. In David’s Story the possibility of an essential cultural identity as an alternative to the unstable coloured one is considered with reference to the history of the Griqua ‘nation’ in the nineteenth century. And in Playing in the Light the alternative to colouredness is examined with reference to those coloured people under apartheid who were light enough to pass for white and crossed over, reinventing themselves as white South Africans. The essay approaches coloured identity through the lens of postcolonial diaspora theory, and more specifically, diasporic chaos theory.

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‘You Can Get Lost in Cape Town’: Transculturation and Dislocation in Zoë Wicomb’s Literary Works

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa, Women on 2010-12-10 16:32Z by Steven

‘You Can Get Lost in Cape Town’: Transculturation and Dislocation in Zoë Wicomb’s Literary Works

Afroeuropa: Journal of Afroeuropean Studies
Volume 2, Number 3 (2008)
10 pages

María Jesús López Sánchez-Vizcaíno, Professor of English
University of Córdoba

In Zoë Wicomb’s novels and short stories, main characters tend to share Wicomb’s coloured condition—mixed-race identity as defined by South African apartheid legislation—and her diasporic experience as a South African living in Scotland. Transculturation, dislocation and inbetweenness emerge as central notions for the experience of many of Wicomb’s characters, who often occupy an ambivalent and fluid space in which different cultural worlds and identities come into conflict and negotiation.

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Empire’s progeny: The representation of mixed race characters in twentieth century South African and Caribbean literature

Posted in Africa, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa on 2010-08-06 00:44Z by Steven

Empire’s progeny: The representation of mixed race characters in twentieth century South African and Caribbean literature

355 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3249543

Kathleen A. Koljian
University of Connecticut

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut, 2006.

This dissertation is an examination of the portrayal of mixed race characters in South African and Caribbean literature. Through a close reading of the works of representative Caribbean [Derek Walcott, Michelle Cliff, and Jamaica Kincaid] and South African authors, [Bessie Head, Zoe Wicomb, and Zakes Mda] my dissertation will construct a more valid paradigm for the understanding of mixed-race characters and the ways in which authors from the Caribbean and South Africa typically deploy racially mixed characters to challenge the social order imposed during colonial domination. These authors emphasize the nuanced and hierarchical conceptualizations of racialized identity in South Africa and the Caribbean. Their narratives stand in marked contrast to contemporary models of ‘hybridity’ promulgated by prominent post-colonial critics such as Homi Bhabha and his adherents. In this dissertation, I hope to provide a more historically and culturally situated paradigm for understanding narrative portrayals of mixed race characters as an alternative to contemporary theories of ‘hybridity’. Current paradigms within post-colonial theory are compromised by their lack of historical and cultural specificity. In failing to take into account specific and long-standing attitudes toward racial identity prevalent in particular colonized cultures, these critics founder in attempts to define the significance of the racially mixed character in postcolonial literature. Bhabha, for example, fails to recognize that the formation of racialized identity within the Caribbean and South Africa is not imagined in simple binary terms but within a distinctly articulated racial hierarchy. Furthermore, Bhabha does not acknowledge the evolution of attitudes and ideas that have shaped the construction and understanding of mixed-race identity. After a brief survey of the scientific discourse of race in the colonial era, and a representative sampling of key thematic elements and tropes in early colonial literature to demonstrate the intersection of race theory and literature, close readings of individual narratives will demonstrate the limitations of current models of ‘hybridity’ and illuminate the ways in which individual authors and texts are constructed within (and sometimes constrained by) long-standing and pervasive discourses of racialized identity.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Empire’s Progeny
  • “A Small Corner of the Earth”: Bessie Head
  • “Colouring the Truth”: Zoe Wicomb
  • Birthing the Rainbow Nation: Zakes Mda’s Madonna of Excelsior
  • The “Mulatto of Style”: Derek Walcott’s Carribean Aesthetics
  • “Only Sadness Comes from Mixture”: Clare Savage’s Matrilineal Quest
  • Xeula and Oya: Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiography of My Mother
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

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