Whose Trauma? Discursive Practices in Saartjie Baartman’s Literary Afterlives
After a brief contextualization of the figure of Sartjie Baartman – the Khoisan woman displayed in London and Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century as the “Hottentot Venus” – this contribution addresses the issue of contemporary discursive practices making use of Baartman’s icon. Starting from Thabo Mbeki’s speech at the ‘funeral’ of Saartjie Baartman as an introduction, the article focuses on the analysis of two very different novels, Zoë Wicomb’s "David’s Story" (2000) and Barbara Chase-Riboud’s "Hottentot Venus. A Novel" (2003). Their very dissimilarity can tell us much on the discursive practices concerning Baartman’s figure; yet, the two works permit comparison because they share the same wish to shed light on the relationship between past and present by means of an overall structural complexity. Both novels make use of the postmodern features of a multi-voiced and multi-layered narration, and avoid granting authority to a single version of history. Moreover, both "David’s Story" and "Hottentot Venus" engage in a narrative relating to individual and collective trauma; that is why the article briefly introduces the ongoing discussion focused on the application of Western trauma theories to the South African historical and political situation. The literary investigation provided here takes into consideration the aesthetic aspect of both books; I contend that Chase-Riboud’s narrative is unsatisfactory as a novel, and that its literary weakness diminishes the strength of its socio-political stances.
Prospero. Rivista di letterature e culture straniere
EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Giuliana Iannaccaro, "Whose Trauma? Discursive Practices in Saartjie Baartman’s Literary Afterlives" in: "Prospero. Rivista di letterature e culture straniere 20 - Memoria senza perdono. Dinamiche, retoriche e paradossi nelle rappresentazioni letterarie del trauma", a cura di Marilena Parlati, Trieste, EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2015, pp. 37-61