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Experiments with Truth: Narrative Non-Fiction and the Coming of Democracy in South Africa

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Over the last decades, South Africa has seen an outpouring of life writing and narrative non-fiction. Authors like Panashe Chigumadzi, Jacob Dlamini, Mark Gevisser, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Antjie Krog, Sisonke Msimang, Njabulo Ndebele, Jonny Steinberg and Ivan Vladislavic have produced a compelling and often controversial body of work, exploring the country's ongoing poli Over the last decades, South Africa has seen an outpouring of life writing and narrative non-fiction. Authors like Panashe Chigumadzi, Jacob Dlamini, Mark Gevisser, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Antjie Krog, Sisonke Msimang, Njabulo Ndebele, Jonny Steinberg and Ivan Vladislavic have produced a compelling and often controversial body of work, exploring the country's ongoing political and social transition with great ambition, texture and risk. Experiments with Truth is the first book-length account of non-fiction in South African literature. It reads the country's transition as refracted through an array of documentary modes that are simultaneously refashioned and blurred into each other: long-form analytic journalism and reportage; experiments in oral history, microhistory and archival reconstruction; life-writing, memoir and the essay. It traces the strange and ethically complex process by which real people, places and events are shuffled, patterned and plotted in long-form prose narrative. While holding in mind the imperatives of testimony and witness so important to the struggle for liberation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the case studies here are increasingly drawn to a post-TRC aesthetic: works that engage with difficult, inappropriate or unusable elements of the past, and the unfinished project of social reconstruction in South Africa. The author examines non-fictions that are speculative, formally innovative and sometimes experimental, rather than informational or narrowly journalistic; that explore difficult subjects like collaboration, complicity, confession - and have embedded within them their own reflections on the problems of narrating within a scene of unresolved difference. In this way, southern African materials are placed in a global context, and in dialogue with other important non-fictional traditions that have emerged at moments of social rupture and transition. Hedley Twidle is Senior Lecturer in twentieth-century, southern African and postcolonial literatures in the English Department at the University of Cape Town and he also publishes regularly in the press.


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Over the last decades, South Africa has seen an outpouring of life writing and narrative non-fiction. Authors like Panashe Chigumadzi, Jacob Dlamini, Mark Gevisser, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Antjie Krog, Sisonke Msimang, Njabulo Ndebele, Jonny Steinberg and Ivan Vladislavic have produced a compelling and often controversial body of work, exploring the country's ongoing poli Over the last decades, South Africa has seen an outpouring of life writing and narrative non-fiction. Authors like Panashe Chigumadzi, Jacob Dlamini, Mark Gevisser, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Antjie Krog, Sisonke Msimang, Njabulo Ndebele, Jonny Steinberg and Ivan Vladislavic have produced a compelling and often controversial body of work, exploring the country's ongoing political and social transition with great ambition, texture and risk. Experiments with Truth is the first book-length account of non-fiction in South African literature. It reads the country's transition as refracted through an array of documentary modes that are simultaneously refashioned and blurred into each other: long-form analytic journalism and reportage; experiments in oral history, microhistory and archival reconstruction; life-writing, memoir and the essay. It traces the strange and ethically complex process by which real people, places and events are shuffled, patterned and plotted in long-form prose narrative. While holding in mind the imperatives of testimony and witness so important to the struggle for liberation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the case studies here are increasingly drawn to a post-TRC aesthetic: works that engage with difficult, inappropriate or unusable elements of the past, and the unfinished project of social reconstruction in South Africa. The author examines non-fictions that are speculative, formally innovative and sometimes experimental, rather than informational or narrowly journalistic; that explore difficult subjects like collaboration, complicity, confession - and have embedded within them their own reflections on the problems of narrating within a scene of unresolved difference. In this way, southern African materials are placed in a global context, and in dialogue with other important non-fictional traditions that have emerged at moments of social rupture and transition. Hedley Twidle is Senior Lecturer in twentieth-century, southern African and postcolonial literatures in the English Department at the University of Cape Town and he also publishes regularly in the press.

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