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The Grammar of IdentityTransnational Fiction and the Nature of the Boundary$
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Stephen Clingman

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199278497

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278497.001.0001

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Village, Empire, Desert

Village, Empire, Desert

J. M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer

(p.205) 6 Village, Empire, Desert
The Grammar of Identity

Stephen Clingman

Oxford University Press

South Africa under apartheid presented some of the issues of this book in concentrated form: whether it was possible to construct an alternative grammar of identity; whether a closed system could be transformed. In this light, the chapter approaches three novels, occupying three iconic settings. In Gordimer's July's People it is the ‘village’, where in the context of imagined revolutionary breakdown the future is apocalyptic. In Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians it is Empire, a totality beyond which any alternative syntax has been ‘deleted’. Gordimer's The Pickup, published during the post-apartheid era, finds the desert—an existential as well as literal site, a vision of transnational possibility. These settings constitute not only topography but topology, where we understand the link between the grammar of identity and the nature of the boundary. The South African novels are significant for a wider world as we think our way towards the future.

Keywords:   Coetzee, Empire, Gordimer, grammar of identity, July's People, nature of the boundary, The Pickup, topology, Waiting for the Barbarians

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