Writing Across Borders – In Praise of Impurity

The idea of combining and possibly merging ‘ethnography’ and ‘fiction’ emanates from my research on literature’s role in the transition processes of South Africa and Argentina (Fiction and Truth in Transition : Writing the present past in South Africa and Argentina, 2012), which brought me in the end, to my own surprise, to the crossroads of Literature and Anthropology. The resulting text, an academic dissertation incorporating elements of reportage, essay and memoir, was something that evolved in the process, in accordance with my ambition to find one form that was somehow congenial with the subject matter. But it was nonetheless a compromise, where the literary in the end had to abide to the academic discipline and format. Therefore, it was a great relief to go back to writing fiction, finalizing a novel trilogy (Argentinatrilogin, 2014) and the sudden freedom from inhibitions certainly sparked my imagination. In retrospect I can clearly see how the two projects (academic and literary) are really two different forms of interrogating a common thematic. Fiction writing to me is primarily interrogation, just like academic research.

My current project is part of an experimental attempt at merging the two practices in new forms that I tentatively, for lack of a better term, call ethnographic fictions. In addition to the transdisciplinary methodological approach – writing across borders – I am interested in the ontology and epistemology of (cultural) syncretism and transgression. One of the suppressed parts of the history of South Africa, and not least the Cape, is the topic of hybridity or creolization. There is subsequently a call for alternative (creolized) histories and identities to challenge the still prevailing racialized conception of society. This legacy from colonialism and apartheid clearly also resonates with divisions and identity politics in post-apartheid South Africa – and in other parts of the world, not least Europe.

Xenophobia, as opposed to cosmopolitanism, also points to a third angle to the theme Crossing Borders; the literal crossing of national borders, that is, migration. How is the influx of migrants from other African countries reflected in South African cultural production? What are the new lines of conflict in the post-transition South Africa? These are concrete questions that I intend to explore by ethnographic and literary means.

Project leader(s):
  • Oscar Hemer (Malmö University)

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