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Title: Perceptions of pain : Narratives of hurt and healing in contemporary African literature
Author: Norridge, Zoe Cecilia
ISNI:       0000 0004 2671 0369
Awarding Body: School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2008
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This research examines representations of pain in literature from West and Southern Africa, written in English and French. Exploring how and why African novelists tell stories of suffering in their autobiographical and fictional writing, I consider the aesthetic and ethical issues surrounding such emotive literature. Theoretical approaches to violence and pain can be found within the existing metanarratives of African literary criticism. Bearing witness to the suffering caused by the colonial project and giving voices to the powerless in pain are key features of both nationalist and feminist theory. However, in much current academic research there seems to be an emphasis on bearing witness to the violent acts of an aggressor rather than exploring the experiences of the person in pain. This theoretical emphasis is not echoed in the literary texts I study, which instead focus almost exclusively on the subjective sensations of suffering. My research asks why this is the case and questions the motivations for and impact of literary pain narratives. I begin by exploring how Yvonne Vera uses surprising bodily metaphors and other aesthetic devices to create literary worlds of pain in her novel The Stone Virgins. Next, I examine the location of pain between minds and bodies in J.M. Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K and Bessie Head's A Question of Power. Developing questions of pain and meaning, I then turn to a series of texts from Francophone West Africa which address the cultural, individual and symbolic contexts of pain associated with gendered violence. The following chapter builds on testimonial aspects of pain writing to reflect on literature describing the Rwandan genocide, reading works by Rwandan survivors alongside those by visiting African witnesses. Finally, I consider the potential impact of narratives of healing in Ayi Kwei Armah's The Healers and Antjie Krog's Country of My Skull.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available