huma seminar at uct this thursday

humaHUMA Seminar Series

“’Then you are a man, my son’: Kipling and the Zuma Rape Trial” presented by Lucy Graham (UWC)

When: Thursday, 30 July 2015

Time: 13h00 – 14h30

Venue: HUMA Seminar Room, 4th Floor, The Neville Alexander Building (formerly known as the Humanities Building), University Avenue, Upper Campus, UCT

One of the strangest incidents during the Jacob Zuma rape trial was surely the moment when Judge Willem van der Merwe, handing down his verdict that exonerated Zuma, addressed Zuma with the following words: “Had Rudyard Kipling known of this case at the time he wrote his poem, ‘If’, he might have added the following: ‘And, if you can control your body and your sexual urges, then you are a man, my son’”.

It is now nine years since the Zuma rape trial, and yet this allusion to Kipling’s famous poem has been passed over by other commentators on the trial. Of what exactly is Kipling a spectre as he appeared in the judge’s verdict, and how do we read the judge’s strange politics of (dis)affinity that arises out of his rescripting of Kipling: his insistence on the developmental and racialised difference of boyhood and manhood, while at the same time his possible consolidation of a more absolute difference based on gender? How was discourse and performativity during and around the Zuma rape trial related to the history of “Zuluness”, and to the reception of narratives of intraracial sexual violence by the ANC? What significance does an analysis of the Zuma rape trial that takes into account colonial history have for contemporary South Africa, and specifically for the UCT: Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town? In this paper I am interested in the ways in which spectres of colonial patriarchy continue to haunt the South African present.

a nightmare

Just dreamed I was working at a mattress abattoir/factory in some long ago time and place. The mattresses were somehow living organisms. I had to use a guillotine and also sometimes a huge cleaver, if the guillotine didn’t slice all the way through, and chop them cleanly and very systematically, blood pooling on the rushes underfoot. Every blow I dealt nauseated me to tears. There was a foreman forcing me to speed up all the time. There was nothing else to the dream but this enforced, repetitive violence, and all I could do to try to make it better was to do the awful hacking with more precision.

But what does it mean?

Myself, I think it has to do with being inescapably forced to inhabit the violent, corporate machine of colonialism… I’m working on knowledge production about Africa by missionaries and scientists, through looking at archival objects, which are objects but also subjects, violently wrenched from their contexts. The mattress here symbolises something… maybe related to peace of mind, restfulness, not being awake or aware… I don’t know. Whatever it is, it is being violently ruptured. I think this could be about being forced to make one’s bed to lie in, as a researcher and writer inserted into the chain of murderous history, unable to escape perpetuating it even as I try to undo it, still half asleep.

rilke – from the first duino elegy

rilkeIsn’t it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved and,
quivering, endured: as the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension,
so that gathered in the snap of release it can be more than itself?
For there is no place where we can remain.

Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened:
until the gigantic call lifted them off the ground;
yet they kept on, impossibly, kneeling and didn’t notice at all: so complete was their listening.
Not that you could endure God’s voice – far from it.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence…

Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things in terms of a human future;
no longer to be what one was in infinitely anxious hands;
to leave even one’s own first name behind,
forgetting it as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one’s desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away in every direction.
And being dead is hard work and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel a trace of eternity.
Though the living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which
they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever,
and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.