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REPRESENTING DISSENSION (article first published : 2003-08-22)

Representing Dissension: Riot , Rebellion And Resistance In The South African Novel (Pretoria : Unisa Press , June 2003) by Professor Jack Kearney was recently launched by Adams Campus Bookshop and Unisa Press.

J A Kearney is an Honourary Research Associate at the University of Natal where he taught from 1970 until his retirement at the end of 1998. He has published a number of articles on South African fiction, some of which have been adapted for use in Representing Dissension. The book originated from MA courses on South African Literature, which led to growing awareness of "riot, resistance and rebellion" as a crucial topic for exploration of earlier South African English fiction.

This study seeks to explore all South African fictional representations by white writers in English related to historically recorded acts of dissidence or agitation during the period c. 1906 to c.1956.

For too long the world of political and labour issues has been regarded as not quite proper for literary criticism undertaken by liberal humanists. The author of Representing Dissension wishes to recuperate notions of an authentic liberalism in a society where this philosophy has been mocked and repudiated by both the left and the right. Thus the book investigates, from a liberal humanist perspective, ways in which writers of ficiton present particular events or phases in South African history involving sociopolitical dissidence and agitation. In doing so it seeks to develop an intimate sense of the actuality of a period by using historical material close in date to the period itself.

However, the study is not primarily intended to supplement or correct the evidence available to historians. Rather it is concerned with the degree to which writers' re-creation of particular events or historical phases may have led them to some awareness of the gap between the actual and an ideal, non-discriminatory society.

An important aspect of the author's innovative stance is his claiming of political and labour issues (represented in fiction) as legitimate areas for literary criticism from a liberal humanist perspective. He has chosen the major events of phases in South African history from c. 1906 to c.1956 which involve riot, resistance or rebellion, and which find a significant place in novels. So his scope included the Bambatha and Boer Rebellions (1906 and 1914 respectively); the mine strikes of 1913 - 1914 and 1922; the Bulhoek Massacre; the internal repercussions of World War II; the 1949 Durban Riots and the Defiance Campaign of 1952.

To ensure as close a contact as possible with the milieu in which the selected novelists wrote, the author has - wherever possible - used material from the period itself to create a sense of relevant context.

Amongst the writers discussed are Phyllis Altman, Frances Bancroft, Douglas Blackburn, Nadine Gordimer, Sarah Gertrude Millin, Alan Paton, Daphne Rooke, Laurens van der Post and Francis Brett Young. New biographical information about several authors is presented. This exploration of South African ficiton in English in the first half of the twentieth century should further the process of constructing a more comprehensive account of what engaged writers in that period.




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