Written under the Skin

January 2019
189 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
African Articulations
ISBN: 9781847012210
Format: Hardback
James Currey
BISAC LIT004010, SOC056000, SOC031000

Written under the Skin

Blood and Intergenerational Memory in South Africa

Carli Coetzee

The author uses the image of blood under the skin as a way of understanding cultural and literary forms in contemporary South Africa. Chapters deal with the bloodied histories of apartheid and blood as trope for talking about change.
In this book the author argues that a younger generation of South Africans is developing important and innovative ways of understanding South African pasts, and that challenge the narratives that have over the last decades been informed by notions of forgiveness and reconciliation. The author uses the image of history-rich blood to explore these approaches to intergenerational memory. Blood under the skin is a carrier of embodied and gendered histories and using this image, the chapters revisit older archives, as well as analyse contemporary South African cultural and literary forms.
The emphasis on blood challenges the privileged status skin has had as explanatory category in thinking about identity, and instead emphasises intergenerational transfer and continuity. The argument is that a younger generation is disputing and debating the terms through which to understand contemporary South Africa, as well as for interpreting the legacies of the past that remain under the visible layer of skin. The chapters each concern blood: Mandela's prison cell as laboratory for producing bloodless freedom; the kinship relations created and resisted in accounts of Eugene de Kock in prison; Ruth First's concern with information leaks in her accounts of her time in prison; the first human-to-human heart transplant and its relation to racialised attempts to salvage white identity; the #Fallist moment; Abantu book festival; and activist scholarship and creative art works that use blood as trope for thinking about change and continuity.

Carli Coetzee is Editor of the Journal of African Cultural Studies. Her publications include: Accented Futures: Language Activism and the Ending of Apartheid (Wits University Press, 2013) and the edited collection Afropolitanism: Reboot (Routledge, 2017). She co-edited The Handbook of African Literature (Routledge, 2019) with Moradewun Adejunmobi and Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa(Oxford University Press, 1998) with Sarah Nuttall. Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Swaziland): Wits University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Piercing the skin of the present
PART 1 Reading Mandela's Blood: The transition, and the cell as portal into bloodless time
He must not circulate: Eugene de Kock's blood relations and his prison visitors
Ruth First's red suitcase: In and out of the strongroom of memory
A life transplanted and deleted: Hamilton Naki and his archivists
PART 2 "Show them what cleaning is": This time it's for Mama
Who can see this bleeding?: Women's blood and men's blood in these #Fallist times
The bloody fingerprint: We must document


This could be the book that weans us from our smug assertion that bodies speak to us, that we can read histories and anxieties from torso and limbs. Coetzee insists that we read what is within the body - what's beneath the skin and what flows through it - to understand the complexities of post-apartheid South Africa. Blood and feces and the whereabouts of corpses do not speak to us either, but in Coetzee's skillful reckoning they speak to each other not to construct anything so simple as a body politic but the frayed and fraught relationships that constitute how we learn about the world. LUISE WHITE, Professor of History, University of Florida

Carli Coetzee has made a name for herself by showing - not telling - her readers what reconciliation after apartheid should mean. It should mean nudging South Africans away from the dangerous assumptions that negotiating the past means leaving unchallenged old patterns of privilege, that the work of translation should always benefit English and its primary speakers, and, in her latest book, that skin-deep is sufficient depth for reckoning with the past. Written under the Skin is about blood and South Africa's bloody past. It is also about the transfusion of memory across generations. The book challenges the discourse of newness that has marked South Africa since the formal end of apartheid in 1994, by showing the violence done and masked by such a discourse. Written under the Skin calls for new ways of reading South African history. It proposes protocols of care - cautious, ethical, vigilant - to guide these new ways of reading. There is in this book a moral urgency and an ethical injunction that demand our attention. We dare not ignore this book. JACOB S. T. DLAMINI, Assistant Professor of History, Princeton University

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