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Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning

J.M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison

Sam Durrant

Publication Year: 2004

Sam Durrant’s powerfully original book compares the ways in which the novels of J. M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison memorialize the traumatic histories of racial oppression that continue to haunt our postcolonial era. The works examined bear witness to the colonization of the New World, U.S. slavery, and South African apartheid, histories founded on a violent denial of the humanity of the other that had traumatic consequences for both perpetrators and victims. Working at the borders of psychoanalysis and deconstruction, and drawing inspiration from recent work on the Holocaust, Durrant rethinks Freud’s opposition between mourning and melancholia at the level of the collective and rearticulates the postcolonial project as an inconsolable labor of remembrance.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Explorations in Postcolonial Studies

Title page, Copyright page

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pp. ix

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INTRODUCTION: Specters of Colonialism

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pp. 1-22

Postcolonial narrative, structured by a tension between the oppressive memory of the past and the liberatory promise of the future, is necessarily involved in a work of mourning. Its principal task is to engender a consciousness of the unjust foundations of the present and to open up the possibility of a just future, what Morrison’s fugitive slave conceives of as “some kind of tomorrow...

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CHAPTER ONE: Speechless before Apartheid: J. M. Coetzee’s Inconsolable Works of Mourning

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pp. 23-51

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in line with the basic Freudian insight that we are destined to repeat that which we fail to work through, was set up “to establish the truth in relation to past events as well as the motives for and circumstances in which gross violations of human rights occurred, and to make the findings known in order to prevent a repetition of such acts in future...

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CHAPTER TWO: Rites of Communion: Wilson Harris’s Hosting of History

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pp. 53-77

Wilson Harris’s prolific fictional output is best understood as a repeated rite of memorialization. Inviting us to consume the past as sacrament or “universal morsel,” his work leads us to acknowledge our implication in the violence and oppression that constitute the history of modernity. His work strives to bring into being a new “corpus of sensibility” (“History, Fable and Myth” 27)...

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CHAPTER THREE: Keeping It in the Family: Passing on Racial Memory in the Novels of Toni Morrison

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pp. 79-109

Toni Morrison suggests that her determination to make her readers “remember the want” is part of what defines her writing as black. Although some degree of working through takes place within her novels, enabling individuals to come to terms with their personal histories, a racial memory of an “ungovernable” loss (122) prevents her novels from offering closure. Throughout her work, and especially in Beloved...

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CONCLUSION: Some Kind of Community

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pp. 111-117

I began by asking whether it was possible to found community on a recognition of our infinite difference. Giorgio Agamben’s dream of a community that would not be dependent on the affirmation of identity or sameness is echoed by Jean-Luc Nancy’s vision of a “community of others,” a community perhaps only truly realizable in death: “Community...


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pp. 119-127

Works Cited

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pp. 129-137


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pp. 139-142

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459454
Print-ISBN-10: 0791459454

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series, Explorations in Postcolonial Studies

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Subject Headings

  • Morrison, Toni -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Coetzee, J. M., -- 1940- -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Narration (Rhetoric) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Apartheid in literature.
  • Guyana -- In literature.
  • Slavery in literature.
  • Blacks in literature.
  • Grief in literature.
  • Harris, Wilson -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • South Africa -- In literature.
  • Postcolonialism in literature.
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