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Prison and Garden: Cape Town, Natural History and the Literary Imagination

By Hedley Lewis Twidle


This work considers literary treatments of the colonial encounter at the Cape of Good Hope, adopting a local focus on the Peninsula itself to explore the relationship between specific archives – the records of the Dutch East India Company, travel and natural history writing, the Bleek and Lloyd Collection – and the contemporary fictions and poetries of writers like André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Jeremy Cronin, Antjie Krog, Dan Sleigh, Stephen Watson, Zoë Wicomb and, in particular, J. M. Coetzee. Although it would hardly claim to be a literary history of Cape Town, it begins by asking what it might mean to read a history of the city through its literature. \ud \ud Yet moving beyond an initial enquiry into how (and at what cost) imaginative literature brings historical records into the public domain, it is ever more concerned with the writing in and of a specific topography: with the dynamics of rendering in words a landscape celebrated for its beauty and biodiversity, and with the wider social dimensions implied (or obscured) by the phrase ‘natural history’. \ud \ud It intends to question the received wisdom that attention to the landscape, flora and fauna of the subcontinent conceals an unwillingness to deal with social and political realities, probing the limits of this now well-trodden critical model to explore the limits of what Coetzee called ‘dream topographies’: ways of imagining contested ground that have shaped writing here, and the forms in which these persist today. Throughout I hope to suggest productive rather than antagonistic relations between what might broadly be termed ‘postcolonial’ and ‘ecocritical’ ways of reading, and to ask what, if anything, a ‘sense of place’ could mean in a spatially distorted, linguistically divided city of the global South.\u

Publisher: English and Related Literature (York)
Year: 2010
OAI identifier:

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