Experiments with Truth

April 2019
6 black and white illustrations
256 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
African Articulations
ISBN: 9781847011886
Format: Hardback
James Currey
BISAC LIT004010, BIO000000, BIO002000

Experiments with Truth

Narrative Non-fiction and the Coming of Democracy in South Africa

Hedley Twidle

Unusable pasts; scandalous lives; political betrayal, confession and collaboration: reading narrative non-fiction across South Africa's unfinished transition.
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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Table of Contents

Preface: Encountering non-fiction
Introduction: Historical and theoretical approaches
Unusable Pasts: The secret history of Demetrios Tsafendas: assassin, madman, messenger
Literatures of Betrayal: Collaboration, confession and collapse in post-TRC narrative
In Search of Lost Archives: Nostalgia, heterodoxy and the work of memory
A Very Strange Relationship: Ambition, seduction and scandal in post-apartheid life writing
Some Claim to Intimacy: Political biography and the limits of the liberal imagination
In Short, There Are Problems: Literary journalism in the postcolony
Unknowable Communities: Necessary fictions and broken contracts in the heart of the country
A New More Honest Code: Memoirs of the "born frees" and the futures of non-fiction
Afterword: The extracurriculum

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