Lucy Valerie Graham
D.Phil. (University of Oxford)
State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature
This dissertation is a study of South African literature through the prism of narratives of sexual violence.
What the thesis seeks to unravel is the fact that, while most incidents of rape in South African are not interracial, narratives of interracial rape have (until recently) dominated the national imaginary. South African literature has again and again circled back to “black peril” representations (portrayals of the rape of colonising women by colonised men) and “white peril” representations (portrayals of the rape of colonised women by colonising men). Taking an historical and comparative perspective in discussion of South African narratives of sexual violation from colonial times until the present day, the dissertation draws together as theoretical underpinnnings Michel Foucault’s account of sexuality and his theory of biopolitics, as well as Judith Butler’s speculations on race and cultural melancholia, placing these into conversation with the work of South African writers. The study examines the multifarious ways in which race, gender, and class work together in the literary texts under examination, and where relevant the production, dissemination and reception of the selected literary texts are examined. This thesis argues for an ethically responsible and dialectical approach that recognizes high levels of sexual violence in South Africa, while parsing the racialised inferences and assumptions implicit in representations of sexual violence.