Irony and otherness : a study of some recent South African narrative fiction

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study considers the relation between irony and otherness. Chapter 2 shows that there is little agreement on the politics of irony in critical discussions. Nevertheless, irony and otherness do appear to be linked in many of these discussions. Chapter 3 offers a consideration of Emmanuel Levinas's conception of ethics in terms of his understanding of the other as face and trace. The tendency of language to foreclose on otherness by reducing it must be interrupted, while otherness must, nonetheless, be Said. The chapter concludes with an attempt to relate Levinas's conception of otherness - as the interruption of conceptualising otherness - to Paul de Man's conception of irony as permanent parabasis in terms of the tropes of prosopopoeia and catachresis. Any representation of the other must be interrupted continually as it is a prosopopoeia of otherness (in that it gives otherness a face) and therefore a catachresis (for the other has no face and must be given one). The task with which the (reading) self is faced is ironic in that it consists at once of positing and interrupting the face given to the other. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are attempts at reading the interplay of irony and otherness in selected recent South African fiction. Van Heerden's Kikoejoe, as an allegory of the refusal to narrativise otherness, is read as being caught in the double bind of irony; Matlou's Life at Home is read as a text intimating an otherness at the heart of domesticity and within the reader; and, finally, Coetzee's Age of Iron is read as a text in which confession is the nexus of the relation between irony and otherness. This study brackets the political in order to examine the relationship between irony and otherness from the vantage point of Levinas's 'conception' of the other. The task remains to consider whether it is possible to approach irony ethically, or ethics ironically, and to consider the political ramifications of the relation between irony and otherness postulated in this study.

Bibliography: pages 277-290.