Contributor Gill, Jo, Bibliography Includes bibliographical references and index. Plath, Sexton, Berryman, Lowell, Ginsberg and the gendered poetics of the 'real' - Elizabeth Gregory-- 'To feel with a human stranger': Adrienne Rich's post-holocaust confession and the limits of identification-- Ann Keniston"-- 'Your Story.
Nielsen Book Data Publisher's Summary A comprehensive and scholarly account of this popular and influential genre, the essays in this collection explore confessional literature from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, and include the writing of John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Helen Fielding. Drawing on a wide range of examples, the contributors to this volume evaluate and critique conventional readings of confessionalism. Orthodox, humanist notions of the literary act of confession and its assumed relationship to truth, authority and subjectivity are challenged, and in their place a range of new critical perspectives and practices are adopted.
Orthodox, humanist notions of the literary act of confession and its assumed relationship to truth, authority and subjectivity are challenged, and in their place a range of new critical perspectives and practices are adopted. Modern Confessional Writing develops and tests new theoretically-informed views on what confessional writing is, how it functions, and what it means to both writer and reader. When read from these new perspectives modern confessional writing is liberated from the misconception that it provides a kind of easy authorial release and readerly catharsis, and is instead read as a discursive, self-reflexive, sophisticated and demanding genre.
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We become guilty by association. We are made party to unwelcome insights and unexpected truths, and as readers we are forced to admit at the very least to our own voyeurism, our scopophilia. The recognition in Birthday Letters of the importance of the audience is accompanied by an equal and opposite sense of its inherent problems. Other confessional poets have conceded the same difficulties. Both poems display a deep ambivalence about the ethics of this kind of self-exploitation and specifically about the reification and commodification of the confession.
As Foucault insists of the model of confession which has historically pertained: What the subject concedes is that he cannot know or recover the truth that he seeks. Such a truth, it transpires, is generated only in the process of being spoken and, crucially, audited. In such a context, who owns the story? Again and again Birthday Letters points to the disjunction between memory and its representation, truth and confession: The collection is forced to accept that truth is only ever textual.
And we create multiple new truths for the reading in our own writing. More importantly, he cannot access the elusive truth of his own experience other than by a process of reading and interpreting disparate signs from the past. Rather, his contact must be mediated by a text; in that poem by a captioned photo which he may or may not have really seen but which figures in his memory as first evidence of her existence.
He is both subject and object of his own confession. The form of the letter is instrumental in confirming this split. Janet Altman characterises letter writing thus: The speaker works, then, as his own confessor in an act of self-witnessing propelled by his construction of himself the Ted Hughes of the poems as a dramatic participant or persona in the poems. In Birthday Letters, too, he steps back from his self and from his past and watches, witnesses, judges, himself from the outside. Each face the real and the reflected, the self and the other is locked into, paralysed by, and finally indistinguishable from the other.
Yet what seems hermetic and private and sealed is finally liberated by being offered for public display. What we have, in the end, is a doubling or multiplication of confessions, a confessional dialogue not simply in the sense that each party speaks to the other and functions as both confessant to and confessor of the other, but in the sense that both parties combine, speak with one voice, and position the reader as the outsider playing the necessary and functional role of their ultimate confessor. One of the primary concerns of Birthday Letters is with the nature of the language which it has at its disposal.
Birthday Letters cannot accept these as givens. The book raises huge questions — about knowledge, and responsibility and memory, and truth, and identity — but fundamental to its broaching of these is the problem of language, and language here is a barrier not a conduit. From this, we might conclude two things: How can one render the past in a language which so often in these poems proves fallible or opaque or incomprehensible?
Birthday Letters 75 forward. Hughes recognises the problem for the poet in modernity of the failure or unreliability or sheer impossibility of language. Yet there is something dispassionate about this scene-setting as though the speaker were either witnessing a life other than his own, or providing only enough detail to satisfy external enquiries.
As the opening line explains: This is just the first in a series of misprisions, misunderstandings and mistranslations — of language and hence of experience. In this poem, which should see the English and American participants united in this foreign culture by their common language, it is precisely the differences within the language which split them apart. Paradoxically, the more the poem seems to say, the less it tells.
This is the effect of Birthday Letters which seems, on the surface at least — and this is an artful effect of the strong narrative thread, the unity of themes and metaphors, the apparent simplicity of diction and directness of address — to be telling all but leaves us finally knowing little, and uncertain about quite how much has been revealed. We are blinded by the glare of exposure, of revelation. The multiple images of fire, light, flames in Platonic terms, metaphors for insight and illumination dazzle us.
The mirrors, windows and lenses promise clarity of perception but instead, in their fractured and distorted or clouded shape, merely mislead. The vivid surface notwithstanding, it is between the gaps, in the un- or under-stated that truth, perhaps, lies. Words and natural narrative, dramatic skill concealed everything in the one. The same principle works in all sorts of situations.
Birthday Letters 77 which Birthday Letters is aware of and exploits. Her silence is more ominous than any comment she might have made. I would argue that its silences tell us much more than this, that they tell us something about the impossibility of telling, that they confess the impossibility of confession.
Its own certainties or clarities are thus undermined, exposed to be phantasmagorical. This is a world of darkness and gloom, realised in onomatopoeic and assonantal lines: Again language is a weapon which is wielded at the addressee, enforcing her alienation rather than encouraging communion. Reflective, glassy, brilliantly mirroring surfaces such as these conventionally metaphors for clarity of representation and faithful mimesis are frequently shown to be fractured, shattered or otherwise distorted. Each of these metaphors reminds us of the fragility of truth and its representation, the fallibility and multiplicity of what might at first appear to be direct insight.
Hughes has talked about, and demonstrated, the need for an audience. He has talked about and demonstrated the plangent force of silence, he has confirmed that what remains unsaid is as important as, and perhaps more important than, the ostensible story. This is realised in repeated allusions throughout the poems to fire, heat, burning, to the purifying effects of self-immersion in this inflammatory material. Birthday Letters 79 gests that these represent stages in the process of self-purification. Frazer in The Golden Bough a text which was hugely formative for Hughes traces the development of two distinct theories of fire: For it is also possible to see the flames of Birthday Letters as Pentecostal.
The flames, at last, give Hughes the power of speech, endow him with a language with which he can finally communicate. Birthday Letters cannot accept that such a catharsis can come easily and thus it takes purgation alongside all of those other received characteristics of confessional writing — its referentiality, its truth value and so on — and tests its limits.
What it finds is that the kind of purification by fire which underpins so many of the poems is a necessary part of the confessional process but not its chief justification or telos. Instead, the fires which burn throughout the collection extend or attenuate or displace the confession such that it never truly reaches completion. There is no complete consumption or immolation here though, instead the process leaves traces: Surely both of these might be read as metaphors for confessional poetry and as foretelling the process of writing Birthday Letters — in each case delivering an aesthetically pleasing artefact and a transformed here toughened subject?
Most importantly, the purgation delivers something of value to its audience, the confessors. This is potentially a hugely liberating process. To be able to concede or confess that one does not know what really happened, although at first disorientating one can sense the note of despair in some of the plaintive questions in the early poems in the collection can prove finally purposive. To be able to abandon the reductive search for certainty, and the rhetoric of the law courts, and turn instead to imagination, speculation, indeterminacy offers a more satisfying, and paradoxically more faithful, representation of personal experience than strict adherence to verifiable evidence in so far as this might be attained could provide.
As Nancy Miller explains in her account of writing a memoir: Confession does not reveal some pre-textual truth — Birthday Letters is not, then, documentary evidence — it constructs multiple and shared stories. Notes 1 See Wagner for an account of the publishing history of the volume. The convention notwithstanding, recent confessional writers have resisted being labelled courageous. Blake Morrison and Robert McCrum have commented on the pressure of audience responses to their own confessional memoirs Morrison See Gill for a discussion of the relationship between confession and narcissism.
I am grateful to one of my postgraduates, Russ Hayton, for reminding me of this. Approaches to a Form, Columbus: Ohio State University Press. A Celebration of Ted Hughes, London: Poets in Boston, —, New York: Hutton eds Technologies of the Self: A Study in Magic and Religion, London: Trauma and Testimony, Ithaca and London: The Biography of a Poetry, New York: Poetry as Autobiography, Saint Paul: Rediscovering Life After a Stroke, London: Psychoanalysis and the Modern World, London: The Complete Poems, ed.
A Literary Life, New York: The Edge of Reason, emerged in Both books were eventually translated into film as well, the original novel being adapted for release in and the sequel in The Bridget Jones phenomenon did not stop there, however. The first part of the essay identifies and assesses the validity of typical criticisms of the work. The final portion of the essay evaluates the effect of this new feminist confession. Bridget, she notes, calls to mind a long line of fictional female diarists who are unable to control their lives or the trajectory of their stories.
However, she is not uncritical of it.
Rapping also takes issue with the dependence on religion within self-help, indicting the trend of advising women not to take action against wrongdoers but, instead, to call upon a Higher Power or a Greater Good Rapping In Christianity, such confessions have historically occurred through varied means: Catholicism has required confession to a priest; in Protestantism, the individual replaced the confessor as the monitor of his or her own self. It ultimately serves as an in-house confessional: Crucially, Bridget redeems herself, forgoing penance and simply justifying her own sins.
While Bridget does censure herself at many points, she is far more likely to absolve herself, to accept herself as flawed and unchanging, often using the most outlandish criteria. The confessional diary, then, offers Bridget the tantalizing possibility of personal change while also affording the space in which to record the failure, nonmaintenance, or simple rejection of it.
By denying her feelings of inadequacy for failing to measure up to conflicting standards, by demoting the self-help genre from its position of higher authority in her life, Bridget ultimately affirms the unaltered self, paradoxically choosing to enact control in her life by relinquishing it altogether. I would add that Bridget is ultimately also a poor consumer of the selfas-product.
While Bridget shops for, tries on and adopts various new-andimproved selves throughout the novel she recognizes finally that no project of improvement adequately represents her self and its needs: Fever Pitch is itself a relentless personal diary, but it is a diary of a football fan. The controversy was not limited to terminology, however. Before long, the brightest of female luminaries had issued their scorn: Instead of replaying what can certainly be read as an anticonfessional debate, attention might be focused on the ways in which confession may ultimately be associated with, rather than against, autonomy in feminist discourse.
The novel is littered with moments in which Bridget and her friends, Jude and Shazzer, strive toward feminist ideals and situate many of their behaviours within its purview. She explains that soon: Much of her frustration stems from the sense of isolation she feels after standing up for herself in the face of cruel treatment by men.
How dare you be so fraudulently flirtatious, cowardly and dysfunctional? I am not interested in emotional fuckwittage. During one gathering, for example, Bridget is startled when all of the sudden Shazzer accuses her of abandoning the feminist cause. While they throw the word around, it is not clear whether these women — and by extension, perhaps, other women? Does, for example, wanting a man make one antifeminist in a way that claiming not to need a man while wearing a push-up bra does not?
Instead of a support system, then, feminism is often depicted throughout the novel in a category similar to self-help manuals. Just as dieting and self-improvement guides espouse multiple and often contradictory patterns for living, feminism too is a loose category with open definitions, often picked at will to suit the speaker. Her diary is that of a failed feminist and the community that replaces a supposed feminist community is one that seeks a new feminism to more fully accommodate the full facets of the self.
But second wave feminists do not have a corner on the market of misrepresentation: Moreover, some third wave feminists are viewed by their forerunners as having, possibly, a bit too much fun: Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards sum up the difference between the general tone of the two generations in the context of the second wave publication Ms. Opponents of chick-lit argue that whether or not the novels are written by women and about women, whether or not they aim to confess and to unite, they still problematically retain the trappings of a male-ordered society.
The pursuit of men, beauty and a non-smudging lipstick are not, they would argue, commonly the stuff of resistance. What is 96 Leah Guenther unique about the genre of chick-lit is the method by which this disillusionment is shared. Point is not that women are retrograde ditzes, but feel that they have to be so perfect in every area that become incredibly hard on selves: Vision of someone else — Bridget — trying so hard and spectacularly failing, ending up when guests arrive in underwear with wet hair and one foot in pan of mashed potato is comic release from pressures of overreaching role models.
If women really are equal, surely allowed to laugh at selves, mark of confidence etc, etc. Such a response not only calls upon the CR ideal of self-revelation building community, but it circumvents the typical confessional paradigm normally characterized by an imbalance between the power of the confessor and the impotence of the confessant. The tenor of the response, one built on the humour, parody and ultimate irony in the novels, works to replace a system of judgement with one of shared response. Although the irony and the parody and the undeniable humour remain, chick-lit has grown into a community of writers and readers who share the goal of telling more stories about women.
Other authors have exaggerated elements of chick-lit to different ends: Revelations of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature and Culture is one such study that takes up this point in detail. Postfeminist Fiction, a collection of rebellious female writings that aimed to disrupt the status quo. Mazza has acknowledged that the term, applied as a derivative of the chick flick, has been drained of its dissident meaning.
The Undeclared War Against American Women gives the most detailed account of the cultural environment surrounding the feminist movement in the early s. Feminist Perspectives, a volume that was never published, but which had planned to emphasize multicultural alliances as much if not more than age. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Louisiana State University Press. The Edge of Reason, London: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, Amherst: Feminist Response to Pop Culture University of Illinois Press. Popular Culture and the Future of Feminism, London: These works are, in equal measure, celebrated for their extraordinary candour and criticized for their perceived exhibitionist egotism.
Television is symptomatic of what Baudrillard sees, expanding on some of the arguments of Michel Foucault, as the tyranny of the logic of production over our culture. We might expect this logic of production to have a profound impact on the act of confession within contemporary culture. Speaking, talking, endlessly communicating. It is no longer a matter of making things visible to the external eye.
It tells the story of how Eggers lost both his parents to cancer within five weeks of each other and was forced, at the age of seventeen, to bring up his nine-year-old brother, Toph. The effect of his self-presentation in the memoir meant that he became visible in other media: True to the Baudrillardian logic of production he was led to respond to the increased visibility by replaying his original act of confession by adding a forty-eight page appendix, Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, to the paperback version of his memoir in which he is even more candid about his inner self, detailing the impact of the memoir on his life after his publication.
First of all we must acknowledge that despite his absorption by contemporary television-led celebrity culture Eggers also plays a uniquely powerful role on the American literary scene. Part of their value is the way they figure as a kind of brand that links the work of a number of contemporary writers in the US and the UK, many of whom contribute to the journal: There is undoubtedly a sense that this informal collective, spearheaded by Eggers, heralds a new departure in American writing perhaps even American culture in a wider sense, if we consider the parallel developments in film.
It is printed upside-down and separated from the original material by a paper cover, a device that underlines its status as separate, self-contained text adjoined to the main one. Moreover, it might be argued that its predisposition towards irony not only makes the work feel like a throwback to a previous literary age but actually severely limits its potential to figure as a departure for modern confessional writing.
Modern Confessional Writing: New Critical Essays
Because television-led media culture is now dominated by the ironic mode which was previously the preserve of serious literary fiction, irony in writing is no longer effective as a form of social or cultural critique. Television has adopted precisely the same devices of postmodernism: Ultimately Wallace regards this as evidence of a more structural flaw in the use of irony as a cultural form, one which has become exposed by this shift to an increasingly televisual culture. Its approach to televisual culture is thus, Wallace argues, itself an ironic one: This conclusion might be applied to those points in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius when it turns its ironic weaponry directly onto televisual culture.
As if to emphasize the way that the medium disfigures the real — and the parallel Dave Eggers and the memoir as self-destruction between self-expression in reality TV and the confessional memoir — it becomes clear that the interview itself has become fabricated. This is a device, this interview style. What this episode reveals is that the self is something that is constructed through its representations rather than a prior entity which exists in a coherent, complete sense which can then be represented accurately.
Modern confessional writing : new critical essays / edited by Jo Gill - Details - Trove
This, after all, is precisely why people choose to go on reality television shows like The Real World and Big Brother. For here we have to consider two points about the book. First, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is not, or at least not unambiguously, a work of fiction, but a work that purports to be fact. While it effectively does nothing we have not seen in previous waves of American postmodernism Gass, Barth, Coover, Nabokov etc. There can be no doubt, as I will argue below, that the book is generically unstable precisely because of its formal innovation.
Nevertheless, the fact that it presents itself as a fundamentally true story about a real person shifts the terms of reference. With the confessional memoir the opposite is true: To put it differently, the kind of rebellious formal experimentalism that we find in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a considerable innovation in what is a rather formally conservative form of prose writing. Genette argues that there are two main varieties of paratext: These paratexts contribute, in some cases powerfully, to the range of meanings we can draw from a main text.
But if we concentrate on the peritextual dimensions of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius we can see that rather than authorizing particular readings of the text its paratextual dimension functions as a way of shortcircuiting or warding off readings in advance. Both readings are valid; neither is completely persuasive. In the remainder of this chapter I want to consider in more depth how these paratexts serve to cast substantial doubt on the conventional understanding of the confessional prose memoir.
What we have instead, as the title neatly suggests, are two very different kinds of writing which sit together rather uneasily: The co-existence of both zones poses a challenge. Are we to read what we are presented with as essentially a heartbreaking narrative or an ingenious one? Of course the official answer, as the title suggests fulfilling its didactic function as paratext , is both.
But how can it be both? Its power comes from the sense that what we read is a genuine revelation about the distress faced by the writer, and, what is more, the representation of this figure can be accepted as a faithful portrait. The effect of metafiction — and this is why postmodern fiction has so obsessively tended to parody the nineteenth century novel — is to expose the ideologies upon which realism as a literary doctrine is founded. The realist, it suggests — and, we might add, by extension the author of the confessional memoir — has selected, interpreted and manipulated his or her material just as much as any experimental modernist or postmodernist writer.
It follows, then, that by combining the confessional with the metafictional the confessional is fatally compromised. Eggers, it seems, self-conscious to the last, is aware of this.
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Eggers continually urges his readers to observe a strict hierarchy in which the main narrative is considered as more important than the opening collection of texts. What it seems we are presented with here is an inconsequential thirty-seven page space filled with prose which floats, disembodied, signifying apparently nothing before the book proper begins.
But given its length and pertinence to what follows, it is doubtful if the reader is able to heed his advice unquestioningly.
They position the work as a whole, let us know how it should be read, or rather instil an uncertainty as to how far we should trust its attempts to direct us towards a reading. But it is also given a more literal priority when Eggers explains in Mistakes We Knew We Were Making that the Acknowledgements were written before the rest of the book, as both an organizational device and a stalling mechanism. In other words, the heartbreaking elements of the story are chiefly the result of writing, as a result of the way Eggers has presented his story, and himself, rather than because of any inherent pathos in his story.
This, of course, is the implication in all works of metafiction: In this way A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius exposes the definition of the confessional genre as writing which is distinguished by its authenticity as contradictory at best, perhaps even entirely untenable. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius suggests that there can be no more certainty about confession than there is about fiction. In fact, the resultant collapse of generic boundaries is suggested subtly but directly by the formal definitions contained in the memoir.
Eggers amplifies this kind of ironic effect when he reverses the claim on the copyright page: Any confessional text, by definition, explores self-consciousness, but Eggers takes this self-consciousness to new bounds by making his text profoundly self-conscious too. As well as his own intimate confession, it is as if the text itself is confessing, telling us what it is, baring its own devices. It is thus a work of metaconfession, a confession about confession.
By the same token we could call A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, for all its singular innovation in this genre, the most typical confessional work in literature, because it demonstrates how confession in writing is always a matter of textual effect, it can never accurately represent the real. In fact it suggests that the real self is actually fiction, always framed by the Bran Nicol discursive and textual network of representation in which we must present ourselves.
The book thus stands as a counterpart to the arguments developed in recent work in the academic study of autobiography. Over the last couple of decades the theory of autobiography has undergone a shift in how it conceives of the relationship between the human subject and the representation of this subject in writing. The function of the written form, the autobiography itself, was to exemplify what was considered a natural human goal to journey through life and arrive at a kind of self-reflective wholeness.
Now, however, as a result of the influence of thinkers in the poststructuralist tradition such as Derrida, Barthes and Foucault, whose work has taught us that the human being is subject to ideological and historical forces so that we are fragmented beings written by our socio-historical position, autobiography theory has focused on how the memoir reveals that the self is effectively a fiction which we preserve.
But rather than simply echoing this view of the self as construction A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in fact develops an interesting variation on the theme by implying that what is shown to happen to the subject in autobiographical writing may equally be thought of as a deconstruction or even a destruction.
Essentially, of course, this is saying the same thing: A more literal dramatization of the notion of confession as self-destruction can be found in the many passages in the book where Eggers writes of his paranoid fear of always being on the point of violent death — something Dave Eggers and the memoir as self-destruction which, he explains in Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, dogged him as a consequence of his self-exposure in prose: For years I feared the opening of every elevator, half-convinced that from the open doors would come a bullet, for me, shot by a man in a tan trenchcoat.
I have no idea why I feared this, expected it to happen. I even knew how I would react to this bullet coming from the elevator door, what word I would say. Its sheer complexity, then, the depth of its layers of irony and its resultant capacity to resist readings, means that A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius cannot be seen as simply a literary equivalent of the form of self-expression-as-confession which Baudrillard regards as symptomatic of the telemorphic condition of twenty-first century culture.
Its capacity to resist alternative readings i. In this mode of communicability [i. Language simply becomes a medium, an operator of visibility. The densely metafictional form of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius draws instead on the ironic power of language, and this causes it to function as, at the same time, both a seductive operator of invisibility and a demonstration that more conventional confessional memoirs use language as a medium simply to produce visibility.
Notes 1 See Maltby for an excellent and extensive argument along these lines. Wallace is by no means the first to consider the significance of irony in contemporary culture; a predisposition towards irony has been regarded, by those both appreciative and disapproving of postmodernism, as the most typical feature of postmodern culture. Confessional poetry can be regarded as more of a departure from previous ways of dealing with personal expression in poetry, as it emerged in response to the formal, modernist, poetics of restraint as voiced by the likes of T.
Eliot and John Crowe Ransome. Memories of a Wartime Childhood , which purports to be a memoir of being caught in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of three. See also Maechler Dave Eggers and the memoir as self-destruction Bibliography Baudrillard, J. Studies in Contemporary Culture 3 2. Studies in the Art of Self-Invention, Princeton: The Will to Knowledge, Volume 1, London: Maclean, New Literary History, 22 2: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. John Berryman and the Booze Talking, Dallas: A Study in Biographical Truth, London: Barthelme, Coover, Pynchon, Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.
The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton: Essays and Arguments, London: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography, Chicago and London: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, New York: They do a good job of describing suffering but they cannot define its quality. To define is to understand, while to describe is merely to observe.
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Writing three years after the Native Land Act limited the land ownership rights of Africans to demarcated reserves, essentially inaugurating the official rule of segregation that was to reach its culmination in the form of apartheid, Plaatje noted the discord evident in the responses to the Act. According to Ndebele the political agenda of liberation that obliged black writers during the latter part of the apartheid era — mainly in the s — to follow, by and large, the wider international trend of protest literature, signalled not so much the political rebellion as the imaginative impoverishment of black South African consciousness.
Generated primarily in the twentieth century among peoples fighting for national liberation and independence, protest literature aimed to tell truth to power by testifying the experience of deprivation and repression suffered by civilians and concealed by colonial occupying forces or authoritarian regimes. Thinking is secondary to seeing. Subtlety is secondary to obviousness. What is finally left and what is deeply etched in our minds is the spectacular contest between the powerless and the powerful.
Most of the time the contest ends in horror and tragedy for the powerless. The depiction of the white state oppressors as dissolute murderers and of the non-white civil society as virtuous victims, unwittingly observed the imaginative guidelines of the repressive social order without challenging its binary structure. Du Bois and Plaatje writing at the turn of the twentieth century, to Frantz Fanon and Stephen Biko writing during the anti-colonial struggle on the African continent, the idea that blacks have compounded their long period of victimization by turning it into the essence of their identity became the catalyst for a tenet of radicalism.
An outspoken supporter of Black Consciousness himself, Ndebele saw the political role of black South African writing as a potent medium in the struggle for the emancipation of the black imagination. The South African truth commission which was founded, much like previous and subsequent truth commissions, on the negotiated settlement between the past authoritarian regime the Afrikaner National Party, or NP and the resistance movement led by the African National Congress ANC , employed a unique amalgamation of three different models of confession; the religious, judicial and psychoanalytic, in order to reveal the hidden truth of the human rights violations that had taken place during the apartheid era, and promote the unity and reconciliation of the South African people.
In the case of the AC hearings, whose aim was to recover the concealed historical truth of the apartheid era from its designated perpetrators in exchange for the amnesty already agreed upon in the interim constitution, the legal equivalent of absolution was in fact gifted: Confession and the post-apartheid black consciousness Amnesty as sociopolitical absolution in turn confused the performative distinction of the legal and religious confessional rituals: Thus by demanding that perpetrators confess publicly their crimes against humanity, the AC hearings tacitly expunged a kind of compensation for the punishment such perpetrators would have suffered had they been prosecuted.
As human rights lawyer George Bizos has suggested, the largely non-white audience that witnessed the mighty of the past being cross-examined and challenged by the lawyers and commissioners of the AC hearings, achieved an emotional catharsis that would not have been available to them otherwise, considering the pact of amnesty that came with the negotiated settlement Reid and Hoffmann By using confessions to perform public shaming rituals, then, the AC hearings coupled the absolution granted to the perpetrators with the purgation of historical affect for the audience.
In more ways than one, the dilemmas of transitional justice were mastered, at least in part, through spectacular effects. Before proceeding with my analysis I want to make a brief clarification of how I employ the concept of confession in the context of the HRVC. In other words, we traditionally confess something we did whereas we testify something we witnessed or experienced from without.
Accordingly, the narratives given by victims and witnesses are understood as testimonies since the storytellers are not expected either to disclose personal secrets or embark on an investigative journey of personal incentives, but to describe events under dispute to the best of their recollection.
Released from the burden of referential accuracy the first, conscious scope of psychoanalytic confession and the exclusive dimension of both judicial and religious confessions , confessional truth in the psychoanalytic context becomes associated with intention or desire — the second, unconscious scope of psychoanalytic confession. The therapeutic value of this doubleness becomes particularly evident when the psychoanalytic confessional act is employed to address the memory of a traumatic event.
Unlike religious and judicial confession which aims to reveal the already existent but hidden truth of a past action, psychoanalytic confession is thus performed in order to construct remember a truth whose original and ever-elusive traumatic force has fractured memory. Furthermore, as Mahmood Mamdani has suggested, by choosing to define the victims of apartheid as those individuals who suffered from unlawful treatment at the hands of the apartheid regime, the TRC failed to distinguish between law what is legal and right what is legitimate and attended to the stories of only those victims who suffered a gross violation within the context of the apartheid laws Mamdani Only those victims who suffered the kind of exceptionally violent treatment — torture, rape, the murder of a loved one — that was unlawful during the apartheid era had a chance to tell their stories in the HRVC hearings, leaving the greater non-white South African population that suffered the more ordinary and systematic subjugation of the apartheid system — dislocation, abject poverty, ceaseless humiliation — largely absent from the historical memory to be constituted and publicly recognized through the hearings.
Widely known as one of the driving forces behind the anti-apartheid struggle during the twenty-seven years her husband, Nelson Mandela, was in prison, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has amassed epithets that make evident her iconic stature and commanding aura. Accusations raised against the club included abductions, assaults, torture, mutilation, murders and attempted murders of children, women and men. Having decided not to apply for amnesty for any of the crimes she was accused of, however, Mandela was not obliged to — and did not — offer a confession.
Analyses of the TRC that discuss the nine-day special investigation hearing held in depict it as a messy affair. The widespread reverence among black South Africans for Winnie Mandela, whose mythic stature persisted even after the struggle against apartheid was over, produced much controversy over holding the hearing in the first place.
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Even her black victims were so intimidated by her legacy that, according to Antjie Krog, while testifying against her they found it difficult to look in her direction Krog In assuming the form of a historiographic metafiction, the novel challenges the stable boundaries separating fact from fiction to explore the potential of their cross-fertilization. It comments on the historical memory of apartheid and the place of Winnie Mandela in it while remaining conscious of its own fictionality. Coupled with the oral quality of the narrative, the metafictional dimension of The Cry of Winnie Mandela also blurs the boundary, painstakingly set out by Walter Benjamin, between a novel and a storytelling performance and, consequently, between the reading and listening experience Benjamin