April 27, 2012

Policing the Police and the Body in South African Science Fiction and Crime Fiction

Anne Kuenzie, Advisor: Mike Reynolds

The roots of South Africa’s history are tangled and deep. The trope of physical disfigurement is present throughout apartheid literature as well as post-apartheid literature, but reads much differently in South African science fiction and crime fiction. Critical literature on South Africa seems only to grasp a concept of the disfigured body as a literal embodiment of apartheid violence. Instead, I chose to focus on disability studies as a tool to think about how trauma and stigma are deployed for richer, more nuanced metaphorical resonance. If critical literature saw the disfigured body as a literal embodiment of apartheid violence, why does the metaphor continue to resonate in almost every novel published in South Africa?

The metaphors of physical disfigurement and disease continue with the advent of new genres in South African fiction; however, the metaphor has shifted to a more direct link between the people and the state represented by the police. The police become the spreaders of disease and deliverers of punishment in these new genres, creating interesting tensions in the relationship between the government and its people. Police represent old and new concerns, inequality and the body as a site where the state has made its mark which is borne out in new tropes. Popular imagination in science fiction and crime fiction ends up punishing the criminals in the fiction of South Africa because the justice system has failed to adequately police the state. Tropes of physical disfigurement and disease express more plasticity in newly emerging genres and popular national literature in South Africa. My project examines the need for different tools for seeing how South African readers engage the associative possibilities of genre. This paper explores how these various tropes function in genre as plastic devices which have distinct ties to South African history but bend to fit the moment. If we read this manner, our assumptions and understanding of South African science fiction and crime fiction will shift.