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  • Emerging Traditions: Toward a Postcolonial Stylistics of Black South African Fiction in English
  • Michael Chapman
Emerging Traditions: Toward a Postcolonial Stylistics of Black South African Fiction in English. By Vicki Briault Manus Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2011. xi + 308 pp. ISBN 978-0-7391-4807-5 cloth.

The title of this study requires clarification. Tradition—to follow H. I. E. Dhlomo in the 1930s—has an "African" usage: tradition lives! Such adaptability involves an oral dimension rooted in traditional African storytelling and—"postcolonial" in the subtitle enters the equation—a context of Africa and the West with South Africa somewhere in-between. Thus, the oral and the postcolonial, as in Latin America, find not stylistic consonance but, paradoxically more striking, stylistic incommensurability in magical realism, which, as Stephen Slemon has it, is most visibly operative in cultures situated at the fringes of mainstream literary traditions.

Manus's case studies, accordingly, wish to suggest that an "authentic" South African literature will emerge one day not from its white settler (Western) minority middle-class writers, but from an oral-majority black style. The term "black" (also in the subtitle) complicates Western/African binaries in the linguistic and cultural hodgepodge that is South Africa. Manus's usage of the term black, as in Black Consciousness of the 1970s, includes South African Indian and Coloured/ creolized accents, several of the latter manifesting colloquial Afrikaans influence, for Afrikaans persists in urbanized "black" speech varieties. In short, South Africa's linguistic/cultural hybridism escapes the homogeneous "African palimpsest" that Chantal Zabus (in her book of that title) identifies in West African literary works. Manus, in contrast to Zabus's West African study, finds in the South African works that she examines no "deep-level indigenization," no "textual glottophobia . . . no interlanguage or third code" (Zabus 141). Limited indigenization is ascribed to the radical separateness of apartheid history. It could be the effect, however, of multiple differences. No single African language has been codified as official; Afrikaans retains an educational and a commercial infrastructure; creolized speech varieties have their base in English or Afrikaans while English is the language of an African-majority government. Recognizing while regretting the increasing dominance of English, Manus chooses case studies in which English remains the base from which both hybridized speech patterns and African cultural references are communicated to the reader.

Manus's argument is caught at time in its own dilemma. It wishes to "localize" South African literature: to promote an emerging oral-African character over and above, I think, its big white names of international reputation (Brink, Coetzee, Fugard, Gordimer). Yet, it also wishes to enter the local into the global via the category of the postcolonial: a category, however, that increasingly reflects North Atlantic literary and theoretical priorities, priorities that recognize Coetzee et al. well before Themba, Mda, Mpe, Dangor, or Mattera, whose works of greater or lesser indigenization supply Manus with her trajectory into a "black" South African literary future. [End Page 152]

Where to in such a dilemma? Wherever, Manus's linguistically attentive study is a valuable reminder to literary critics not only to return to the language of the text, but also to take seriously the practice of translation-including, crucially, same-language translation-in a culture of daunting and challenging heterogeneity.

Michael Chapman
University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal

Works Cited

Slemon, Stephen. "Magic Realism as Postcolonial Discourse." Magic Realism: Theory, History and Continuity. Ed. Lois Parkinson Zamara and Wendy B. Faris. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 407-24. Print.
Zabus, Chantal. An African Palimpsest: Indigenization of Language in the West African Europhone Novel. 1991. 2nd enlarged ed. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. Print. [End Page 153]


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