The essay tackles a by-now ‘classic’ of ex-centric writing, A Question of Power (1974) by Bessie Head and proposes a reading of the descent into madness of its coloured protagonist Elizabeth as a devastating epic confrontation with abjection that finally leads her to a lyric celebration of ordinariness.Firstly it qualifies how the genre categories of ‘epic’ and ‘lyric’are employed in the essay. Subsequently, the notion of abjection as psychoanalytically developed by Julia Kristeva is closely applied not, as in some criticism on the novel, as atrope, though powerful (usually insisting on the border-trespassing motif), i.e. not figuratively but literally and structurally, as a hermeneuticallynecessary tool for an in-depth, admittedly tough, understanding of the nature and import of Elizabeth’s madness. Besides Kristeva’s, Frantz Fanon’s voice is called to counterpoint the argumentative texture of the essay throughout. The reasons for his cohesive presence in this analysis of A Question of Power are given – last but not least the striking affinity between Head’s and Fanon’s philosophical-existential and political vision. Abjection is physically, psychically, and socially/ideologicallymagnified and ‘practised’ in racism, being at the core of the apartheid system; yet, in Head’s novel racism is given as one, though exemplarily dehumanizing, version of Exclusive Power that feeds on the psychical, sexual, moral, and political humiliation of the ab-jected and that ‘speaks’ through the obscenity inhabiting the novel through multiple inflections. Violence and death pervade its epic scene, especially in connection with sex. The role played by language in this confrontation between abjection and “decency” is given due emphasis, and is enhanced in a Fanonian light. Elizabeth’s appeal to treasuring ordinariness – that the critic does notfail to discuss in anticipatory connection with Ndebele’s famous call to a “rediscovery of the ordinary” – involves embracing an ethic of finitude resonating with emotional and political tension and shunning any comfortable ethical self-sufficiency in favour of a lucidly disillusioned knowledge.

"Dare mother, when are you coming home?": from the epic of abjection to the lyric of ordinariness in Bessie Head's A Question of Power

ZINATO, Susanna
2013

Abstract

The essay tackles a by-now ‘classic’ of ex-centric writing, A Question of Power (1974) by Bessie Head and proposes a reading of the descent into madness of its coloured protagonist Elizabeth as a devastating epic confrontation with abjection that finally leads her to a lyric celebration of ordinariness.Firstly it qualifies how the genre categories of ‘epic’ and ‘lyric’are employed in the essay. Subsequently, the notion of abjection as psychoanalytically developed by Julia Kristeva is closely applied not, as in some criticism on the novel, as atrope, though powerful (usually insisting on the border-trespassing motif), i.e. not figuratively but literally and structurally, as a hermeneuticallynecessary tool for an in-depth, admittedly tough, understanding of the nature and import of Elizabeth’s madness. Besides Kristeva’s, Frantz Fanon’s voice is called to counterpoint the argumentative texture of the essay throughout. The reasons for his cohesive presence in this analysis of A Question of Power are given – last but not least the striking affinity between Head’s and Fanon’s philosophical-existential and political vision. Abjection is physically, psychically, and socially/ideologicallymagnified and ‘practised’ in racism, being at the core of the apartheid system; yet, in Head’s novel racism is given as one, though exemplarily dehumanizing, version of Exclusive Power that feeds on the psychical, sexual, moral, and political humiliation of the ab-jected and that ‘speaks’ through the obscenity inhabiting the novel through multiple inflections. Violence and death pervade its epic scene, especially in connection with sex. The role played by language in this confrontation between abjection and “decency” is given due emphasis, and is enhanced in a Fanonian light. Elizabeth’s appeal to treasuring ordinariness – that the critic does notfail to discuss in anticipatory connection with Ndebele’s famous call to a “rediscovery of the ordinary” – involves embracing an ethic of finitude resonating with emotional and political tension and shunning any comfortable ethical self-sufficiency in favour of a lucidly disillusioned knowledge.
1443844748
9781443844741
apartheid fiction; madness; abjection
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11562/579752
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