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An analysis of the bodily spatial power relations in Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk

R Fourie


The aim of this article is to explore the power relations portrayed through the bodily spatial interaction of the characters of Milla and Agaat in Marlene van Niekerk’s 2004 novel, Agaat. This interaction is analysed according to the theory of Thirding-as- Othering posited by Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja in terms of the body in space. The body in space is interpreted through agency which is exemplified in the intimacy of the relations of these two bodies through the actions of bathing, giving birth, and the physical aspects of the process of “civilising” the child character of Agaat. Through an analysis of three sets of incidents and scenes which  illustrate the physical inhabitation of space through agency, the power relations between Milla and Agaat are exemplified and discussed. The analysis culminates in the conclusion that the relationship between Milla and  Agaat is a cyclical power play that does not come to any pure form of dominance or submission because of the inhabitation that they enact through each other. With agency being tantamount to inhabitation and assertion of power, Agaat has the ultimate power on the farm through Milla, as Milla’s body is othered by her illness and finally her death. Keywords: Agaat, Marlene van Niekerk, Thirding-as-Othering, spatial inhabitation, power, body in space.