Indecent exposure – writing violence and resistance today
Today in South Africa the rainbow is gone. We live in a society scarred by history, crippled by a lack of transformation, subjugated by the spectacle of global capitalism and marked by inequality, alienation and the reinvention of difference. These tensions are exemplified in the waves of student protest that have engulfed universities across the country in recent years.
My paper asks what forms do we create in crisis, from crisis? The question for me as a writer, as a writing teacher and as a creative practitioner working within the university, is can we find a way to write that is equal to this moment – a writing that can capture and confront the present, with its new urgencies and particular forms of violence, including violence done to the body and to language?
In March last year at Yale University’s Workshop in African Intellectual History, Achille Mbembe critiqued the current student movements as embracing a “politics of viscerality” that he claims curtails criticality and delimits the possibilities of intersubjectivity. I answer Mbembe’s critique with a poetics of viscerality. Language, I argue has the amazing capacity to ingest the violence it meets and, rather than merely record it, to expel it sonically and viscerally.
Working from the prose, poetry and hybrid practices of a range of renegade and revolutionary writers from the global South and African diaspora, including Sony Lab’ou Tansi, Cecilia Vicuña, Raúl Zurita, Daniel Borzutzky, Lesego Rampolokeng, Claudia Rankine, Valerie Mejer Caso, Mishka Hoosen and more, while at the same time interrogating my own creative practice, I ask how can we, as writers, harness and channel the liberatory and celebratory energies of the recent protests? How do we draw from our history of writing as protest and invent in the present to interrogate, reject, embrace, deface and bear out, on the page, our current pain and anger and to transcend the intimate and public wreckages of our present moment?
Keywords: Poetics, viscerality, student movements, creative practices