Performing Literariness: Literature in the Event in South Africa and the United States
Rayneard, Max James Anthony
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Rayneard, Max James Anthony
In this dissertation "literariness" is defined not merely as a quality of form by which texts are evaluated as literary, but as an immanent and critical sensibility by which reading, writing, speaking, learning, and teaching subjects within the literary humanities engage language in its immediate aesthetic (and thus also historical and ethical) aspect. This reorientation seeks to address the literary academy's overwhelming archival focus, which risks eliding literary endeavor as an embodied undertaking that inevitably reflects the historical contingency of its enactment. Literary endeavor in higher education is thus understood as a performance by which subjects enact not only the effect of literary texts upon themselves but also the contingencies of their socio-economic, national, cultural, and personal contexts. Subjects' responses to literature are seen as implicit identity claims that, inevitably constituted of biases, can be evaluated through the lens of post-positivist realism in terms of their ethical and pragmatic usefulness. Framing this reoriented literariness in terms of its enactment in higher education literature classrooms, this dissertation addresses its pedagogical, methodological, and personal implications. The events of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the literature arising from it serve as a pivotal case study. The TRC Hearings, publically broadcast and pervasive in the national discourse of the time, enacted a scenario in which South Africans confronted the implications for personal and national identities of apartheid's racial abuses. The dissertation demonstrates through close reading and anecdotal evidence how J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and Antjie Krog's Country of My Skull formally reactivate this scenario in the subject in the event of reading, while surveys of critical responses to these texts show how readers often resisted the texts' destabilizing effects. A critical account of the process that resulted in Telling, Eugene - a stage production in which U.S. military veterans tell their stories to their civilian communities - analyzes the idea of literariness in the U.S. and assesses its potential for socially engaged literary praxis.
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