Aretha Phiri, "The Race for Reparation(s), the Impossibility of Repair in Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' and Antjie Krog's 'Country of My Skull'"

Demands for reparations led by African American communities for centuries of enslavement parallel calls by postcolonial African states for the reparation of socioeconomic disadvantage rooted in colonial pasts. In South Africa, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s proposal in 2011 for a one per cent reparative wealth tax on white South Africans for the socioeconomic disabling of apartheid to black South Africans recalls American Congressman John Conyers’s repeated introduction of (1989) bill HR40 ‘Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act’. Yet, notwithstanding the ubiquitous amnesia around these concerns, literary narratives of the enduring and pervasive effects of slavery and apartheid reveal a haunted, traumatized subjectivity that exceeds reparation. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) and Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull (1998), critically acclaimed and seminal texts of the African American and South African literary canon respectively, reparation is always incomplete, insufficient and finally impossible. Envisaged here in fundamentally existential terms, reparations as the symbolic annulment of suffering is destabilized by the persistent tension between healing/repair and the tacit recognition of irremediable woundedness. In a comparative, relational reading of Morrison’s Beloved and Krog’s Country of My Skull, this paper offers a literary investigation into the efficacy of overcoming legacies of racial discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage. The paper argues that these texts’ creative representations of the tension between healing/repair and irreparable woundedness articulate an ethical positioning that does not just engage chronic black ontological precarity; both problematize our understandings and advance the beginnings of reconciliation in socially transformative ways.
When Oct 22, 2018
from 04:00 PM to 05:30 PM
Where 108 Chambers
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