Zoe Wicomb and the Translocal: Scotland and South Africa

13-14 September 2012, University of York

Shaun Irlam

Shaun Irlam is Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at SUNY Buffalo. He grew up in South Africa and holds an M.A. in English literature from the University of Cape Town. Shaun Irlam moved to the United States in 1985 and completed a Ph.D in Comparative Literature at the Humanities Center of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He began teaching Comparative Literature for the University at Buffalo in 1993. In 1999, his first book, Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-century Britain appeared from Stanford University Press. He has also published on the 18th century Anglo-Caribbean poet, James Grainger. More recent articles have examined post-apartheid South African literature and nationhood, the novels of J.M. Coetzee, and autobiography in Burundi. His primary field of teaching at present is post-colonial African literature. In recent years his research and teaching have focused on the Great Lakes region in central Africa.
Prof. Irlam is currently working on a book that explores the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. His research focuses on genocide and representation through literature and film in the context of Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo. He has also been Director of the UB Study Abroad Program to Africa since 2001 and takes groups of students to study in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda each summer. He has lived in the United States for 27 years, where he’s still trying to make sense of American culture!

Roamin’ the Gloamin’: Scottish Ghosts in Griqualand 

“in the twilight … things grew wonderfully strange as the colours of the sky leaked into one another” ~~~ David’s Story 48

“’Tis Fancy’s Land to which thou sett’st thy feet” ~~Wm. Collins, “Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands”

Zoë Wicomb’s novel, David’s Story ironically replays, or re-sites, a geography of the imagination that once umpired the boundaries between England and its Celtic peripheries, particularly the Scottish Highlands. On this atlas of the imagination, during a period of internal colonialism leading to the Union with Scotland in 1707, and entrenched during subsequent Jacobite rebellions, most notably in 1745, London played citadel of Reason to the mysterious, mist-swathed Celtic margins of the British isles, “Fancy’s Land,” designated the last refuge of primitive cultures. Examples are legion in eighteenth-century literature. As the imperial reach of Europe expanded during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these atavistic and “anachronistic spaces” (to borrow Anne McClintock’s phrase) were later adopted by Orientalist and colonialistic discourses to frame moral Others, religious Others, racial Others; one thinks respectively of those stock characters of the European imperial imagination: the noble Savage, the fakir, the dervish, the cannibal and the Hottentot. As colonial accounts of the Griqua reveal, the yellowed old map of Fancy is exported to the Cape Colony by Scottish settlers to delineate cultural boundaries between Caledonia and Griqualand. In an uncanny repetition and displacement of that antique cartography, as the empire writes defiantly back to the centre in the idioms of parody, satire and irony, David’s Story reveals that this hoary old document has been hijacked by Wicomb’s prose. In David’s Story, Wicomb manages a double displacement of the settler narrative, through perspectives of both race and gender, as she reclaims and celebrates the hallmarks of the putative “anachronistic space.”


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Zoe Wicomb and the Translocal

September 13th, 2012
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