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The Ballistic Bard: Postcolonial Fictions, and: Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, and J.M. Coetzee (review)

From: MFS Modern Fiction Studies
Volume 43, Number 2, Summer 1997
pp. 530-534 | 10.1353/mfs.1997.0033

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Modern Fiction Studies 43.2 (1997) 530-534

Book Review

The Ballistic Bard: Postcolonial Fictions

Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, and J. M. Coetzee

Africa, Asia, and Japan

Judie Newman. The Ballistic Bard: Postcolonial Fictions. London: Arnold, 1995. xii + 202 pp.

Rosemary Jane Jolly. Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, and J. M. Coetzee. Athens: Ohio UP, 1996. xvii + 179 pp.

Drawing "where useful" on insights from literary theory and related discourses, The Ballistic Bard proffers readings of several postcolonial narratives, "proceed[ing] upon the assumption that postcolonial fictions are themselves 'theoretical' in their counter-readings of master narratives." Conscious of the potential complicities that attend struggle against dominance, Newman distances postcolonialism ("a sociopolitical identity") from postmodernism ("a style") and takes some apparently calculated risks in broaching her postcolonial material primarily through a consideration of intertextual revision. Thus, for instance, negotiating intertextuality more as an articulation of sociopolitical identity than as a "stylistic" predilection of postmodern parody, Newton engages the ideology of style obliquely: following the terrain her object fictions must pursue, she steers her account between "surrender to the so-called universal norms" of Eurocentric writing and submission to the potential for "parochialism, inverse racism, or indigenist obscurantism" a nationalist quest might embrace. Newman not only considers how postcolonial fictions intertextually revise "the fictions of influential predecessors in order to deconstruct conventional images of the postcolonial situation," but also engages a reconsideration of interdiscursive relations among fictional and other formulations, consciously trying to avoid binary patterns of thought that might perpetuate or inversely replicate orthodox configurations of centrality and marginality.

Thus exploiting the achronological or even anachronistic possibilities sometimes enabled by intertextual reconsideration, Newman predictably invites her reader to reread Jane Eyre through the "postdated prequel" of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. Less predictably, Newman's reading of Wide Sargasso Sea as a feminist and deconstructively revisionist "mother text" enjoining readers "to envisage Victorian Britain as dependent upon her colonies" is informed by a discourse on the zombie as figured in folklore and film. Indeed, the zombie material comes to ground an interesting account not only of the perplexed ending of Rhys's novel but also of the ends to which Rhys puts Brontë's text: demonstrating the zombie as "a figure with a special autobiographical significance for Rhys," Newton argues that "England has already 'zombified' Jean Rhys, who came back from the dead only when 'dug up' by another writer who wanted to use her work. What better revenge then, on Rhys's part, than to dig up Charlotte Brontë, to make her novel serve Rhys's purposes?"

Likewise, in subsequent chapters which invite the reader to reassess, say, George Bernard Shaw by way of Buchi Emecheta's The Rape of Shavi or to participate in a reworking of E. M. Forster "in the light of [the] postcolonial hindsight" afforded by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Anita Desai, it is often not so much the direct intertextual exploration of a precursory literary text but the less familiar and sometimes engagingly oblique jump Newton makes to some related autobiographical detail or to some plausibly parallel non-literary discourse that invigorates her readings: discourses on sati and on trauma are invoked to supplement an account of how Jhabvala uses Forster's Hill of Devi and Passage to India, for instance, while journalistic accounts of an Asian serial killer commingle with commentary on conventions of literary gothic in a reading of Jhabvala's Three Continents. And a chapter on V. S. Naipaul's Guerrillas considering Naipaul's use of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is supplemented not only by Naipaul's essays on Trinidad and Argentina but also by Irving Goffman's sociological concept of frame analysis. A consideration of chaos theory subsequently frames Newton's reading of Bharati Mukherjee's fictive challenge to Naipaul, a "postcolonial" challenge Newton ties without equivocation to "[Mukherjee's] postmodern valorisation of the transformation of language from mimetic representation of a world of objects to a sign system generating its own significances through a series of relational differences" (emphasis added).

Perhaps the distance Newton initially sketches between postmodernism and the...

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