South African memoirs in a decade of transition : Athol Fugard's Cousins (1994), J.M. Coetzee's Boyhood (1997), and Breyten Breytenbach's Dog Heart (1999)

Roux, Christine Ann (2002) South African memoirs in a decade of transition : Athol Fugard's Cousins (1994), J.M. Coetzee's Boyhood (1997), and Breyten Breytenbach's Dog Heart (1999). Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




This thesis examines three South African memoirs using M. M. Bakhtin’s theories of the dialogical relationship in language and literature. By offering an alternative to a postmodern or multicultural interpretation of autobiographies, Bakhtin’s precepts, that define a dialogic, help to reframe a way of discussing memoirs and avoiding dead-ends previously arrived at by essayists in James Olney’s 1980 collection. Bakhtin’s ideas discussed here, which include the “once-occurrent moment”, “architectonic contraposition”, ”emotional-volitional tone”, “alibi”, “non-alibi”, and “centripetal” and “centrifugal” force, help to rebuild a discussion based on temporary and evolving self truth rather than fiction, the postmodern interpretation, or confession, the new-age secular spiritualism based on multicultural and politically correct standards. For this, each author’s memoir had to be examined separately and a conclusion was arrived at through inductive analysis. Rather than try to find similar characteristics, I focused on what made each memoir different and unique. Janet Varner Gunn’s Autobiography: Toward A Poetics of Experience (1982) refocused the debate over autobiography on process. The question, what steps did each author take toward writing about himself, led the discussion to an examination of the priorities each author exemplified. Beginning with Fugard who emphasized spatial, concrete, and sensory detail to help him contain his emotional life, the thesis moves on to an examination of Coetzee’s sense of justice. From the physical and intellectual world follows Breytenbach’s spiritual space-making. In each memoir, control of space is evident on different levels of experience. Articulating space inevitably leads to a discussion of boundaries. Here, Charles Taylor’s emphasis on the modern self’s need to articulate a horizon or a framework is helpful in generalizing the effect of the autobiographical process. The conclusion reached is that autobiography is inherently centrifugal: it moves away from the center of cultural thinking because its “truth” bolsters itself on dialogical process which does not depend on a fixed authority but rather on communicative exchange. As an example of exchange, autobiography’s central truth is that it returns to a “unique point of origin”, namely the self, only to reconnect to the other in a potentially eternal exchange of responsiveness moving away from the center.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:J.M. Coetzee, Boyhood, Athol Fugard, Cousins, Breyten Breytenbach, Dog heart, Autobiography.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
ID Code:2253
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:23 Nov 2011 06:59
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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