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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Subjects of history : reading South Africa after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Dinat, Deena


“Subjects of History: Reading South Africa after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” asks how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has operated as the infrastructure through which the South African nation, its subjects, and its literature have been imagined in the post-apartheid era. I argue that the TRC worked as a nation- and subject-making project that helped embed new forms of subjection and capital accumulation within the idea of the “new” South Africa. The Commission continues to shape the possibilities for engaging with South African literature, and as such it demands a sustained critical re-reading. Chapter 1 begins with an exploration of the contemporary manifestations of the TRC’s logics and limitations. Drawing on poetry and short fiction by young writers published by the independent presses Chimurenga and Prufrock, I investigate how the 2015-2016 university student protests revealed ongoing systems of racialized subject production that are in conflict with the hegemonic “non-racial” discourses of the state. These contradictions inform my reading of the South African bildungsroman in Chapter 2. I argue that the genre and the Commission participate in the same project of subject-production; the bildungsroman offers a parallel infrastructure of development which, at times, may threaten to undermine the project of the TRC. Chapter 3 explores the TRC’s historiographic project, one that attempted to write a new national history that entered South Africa into the progressive time of capitalist modernity. I offer a reading of texts that refuse the state’s claim over temporality and recognize the radical other times that these texts create. My final chapter investigates the conditions under which “truth” could be articulated within the structures of the TRC. I ask how the demand for parrhesia was complicated by the aims of the Commission and the legacies of race that shape the post-apartheid subject. I conclude by reflecting on the South African state’s abandonment of the nation-building project and its impacts on reading contemporary South African literature in the future.

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