Issue 136, October 2016

South African Papers


Why read Ivan Vladislavic? The papers gathered together in this special section of Thesis Eleven offer some clues to the curious, or to those watching the detectives. Vladislavic is one of the premier writers in and of South Africa, which is to say something, as this is a rich and vibrant field. Some of this writing and its intelligence gets out, some does not. South Africa is a peculiar case of modernity, not least because of the experience of apartheid, because of that which precedes and follows it. This may mean that its literature and art is less than fully appreciated elsewhere. For us two, as readers, this is writing which entices and snares the reader, turning us into analysts of these texts, which by no means follow a pattern or single method. Captivated by this writing, we have set ourselves the task of sharing it with readers of Thesis Eleven, and of looking under the plank, to see how it works, what holds it up.

From the introduction by Beilharz and Supski

136Introduction to Special Section on Ivan Vladislavić

Ivan Vladislavić – Writing sideways

Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski


Finding Ivan Vladislavić – Writing the city

Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski

Abstract: The work of Ivan Vladislavić is well established in his native South Africa, and increasingly recognized on the larger world stage of writing, editing and publishing. If his work nevertheless eludes scrutiny in some quarters, this may also have to do with its nature, and not only with its origin. The works differ and vary; there is no formula or project which proceeds neatly by sequence. No single work can be second-guessed from any other. This is a project full of surprises, connecting variously to art, photography, architecture and to urban studies, setting to work images and practices at once realist and surreal, absurdist and layering, and given to time and place and the universal. How then do we read it, and how does he write? For the purposes of this paper, we explain and locate our enthusiasm with reference to two works, The Restless Supermarket (2001) and Portrait with Keys (2006). We seek to identify some key tropes about place and place-writing and cities and city-writing with reference to Johannesburg and the way in which Vladislavić plays his subjects and his readers, placing not only fiction (or realism) under question but placing writing itself closer to the editor’s deletion mark. This may be, we suggest, a kind of writing sideways.

Download supplement Portrait with Keys Index


Ivan Vladislavić – A tale in two cities

Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski

On first looking into Godot

Ivan Vladislavić

Unlocking social puzzles: Colony, crime and chronicle: An Interview with Charles van Onselen

Charles van Onselen and Peter Vale

Abstract: In this wide-ranging interview, the historian Charles van Onselen discusses his recent book, Showdown at the Red Lion: The Life and Times of Jack McLoughlin, 1959–1910 against the backdrop of his previous work. He explores social formation and the consolidation of state-power in southern Africa through the empirical optic of social banditry and the role of individual outliers. The theoretical framing is drawn from historical sociology. The role of political authority across the Indian Ocean, particularly in Australia, is also considered, as is the rise of technology, the role of the Irish and the place of masculinity in the project of Empire building. The exchange also touches briefly on civil-military relations in contemporary Africa and on inter-disciplinarity in graduate studies.


The issue of identity is the common denominator of the three papers brought together in the current issue of Thesis Eleven. Under examination are the symbolic and normative role of Europe and, more specifically, the European Union for Ukrainian self- perceptions; the shifting role of an old marker of Ukrainian identity, the Ukrainian language; and the potential of a scholarly genre, literary history, for anchoring the pluralism of the Euromaidan in contemporary Ukrainian national identity.

From the introduction by Pavlyshyn

Introduction: Special section on Ukraine

Marko Pavlyshyn


Ukraine and Europe: Reshuffling the boundaries of order

Kataryna Wolczuk

Abstract: This article applies the concept of the boundary of order to examine the multi-faceted and complex relations between the EU and Ukraine. The focus is on geopolitical, institutional/legal and cultural boundaries in order to conceptualize the EU’s reluctant engagement with Ukraine. Yet, notwithstanding the EU’s refusal to offer Ukraine membership, it softened the legal boundary to placate Ukraine’s demand for inclusion. Furthermore, the cultural boundary has become blurred through references to Europe as a discursive benchmark of ‘normality’ in Ukraine, and Ukraine’s Europeanness as evidenced in its support for so-called European values. Overall, it is argued that different boundaries are subject to conflicting dynamics and that Russia has, inadvertently, contributed to a diminution of the boundaries between the EU and Ukraine.


Literary history as provocation of national identity, national identity as provocation of literary history: The case of Ukraine

Marko Pavlyshyn

Abstract: Empirical research into political sentiments gives force to the proposition that, in the context of the 2013–14 Euromaidan and subsequent war, Ukrainian national identity, for most of its history predominantly ethno-cultural, has undergone changes justifying its qualification as ‘civic’. In this article I discuss the ethno-cultural orientation, conventional during the 19th and 20th centuries, of Ukrainian literary history, a scholarly genre that has a tradition of promoting the cause of Ukrainian nation-building; I identify contemporary examples of discourses in the literary sphere – literary works themselves, literary anthologies and the public statements and debates of writers – that embody or applaud civic identities akin to those in evidence on the Euromaidan; and I reflect upon the values, inclusive and multicultural, that a Ukrainian national literary history rhetorically in harmony with post-Euromaidan sentiment would evince.


Language and identity in Ukraine after Euromaidan

Volodymyr Kulyk

Abstract: Language has traditionally been an important marker of Ukrainian identity which, due to a lack of independent statehood, has been ethnic rather than civic. The contradictory policies of the Soviet regime produced a large discrepancy between ethnocultural identity and language use. In independent Ukraine this discrepancy persisted, as increased identification with the Ukrainian nation was not accompanied by a commensurate increase in the use of the Ukrainian language, even though the latter was predominantly valued as a symbol of nationhood. The Euromaidan and the subsequent Russian aggression further detached language use from national identity, as many Russian speakers came to identify strongly with the inclusive Ukrainian nation without abandoning their accustomed language or even adding Ukrainian as an active part of their communicative repertoire. The post-Maidan leadership refrained from an active promotion of Ukrainian for fear of provoking alienation among Russian speakers, but this policy exacerbates the disadvantaged position of the titular language in various domains and causes discontent among those viewing it as a crucial component of national identity.


The responsibility for social hope

Marcus Morgan

Abstract: Since representations of social life are rarely separate in their effects from the worlds they aspire to depict, this article argues that as producers of such representations, sociologists are automatically responsible for considering the performative consequences of their work. In particular, it suggests that sociologists have an ongoing normative responsibility to draw out emergent strands of social hope from their empirical analyses. Through a comparison of Rorty, Levitas, and Unger’s different theorizations of social hope, the article argues for a pragmatic model of social hope that is rooted in empirical conceptions of the past and present, but, alive to the transcendent possibilities of the emerging future, refuses to be entirely determined by these conceptions.


Inhabiting grey space and unravelling bodily outlines: Engaging with Julie Mehretu’s lined abs-tractions

Heidi Bickis

Abstract: This paper examines the competing ‘languages’ of line in Julie Mehretu’s series, Grey Area (2007–9) and elaborates on the implications these lines have for theories of space, bodies and, in particular, the relationship between the two. Grey Area explores what Mehretu describes as a grey and in-between space. The series is composed of seven large abstract canvases covered in an assortment of gestural tracings and neatly traced rational lines (e.g. architectural lines). The juxtaposition of these competing linely narratives not only creates a grey space visually, but compels viewers to stretch their bodies across the canvases and between the lined layers thus, facilitating a brief inhabitance of grey space. Building from this analysis, the paper reflects on the relevance of the lines and the stretching they elicit for examining the complexities of contemporary modes of inhabitation that often extend across multiple geographical sites and temporal modes. Thus, engaging with Mehretu’s lined abstractions draws attention to the importance of space in the production of bodily boundaries, what I call geographical and temporal bodily outlines. In addition to contributing to body-space theories, the paper also demonstrates the valuable insights gained by attending to the unique social-aesthetic analyses of visual art and artists.


Gramsci’s political thought and the contemporary crisis of politics

Loris Caruso

Abstract: In the context of the worsening economic crisis analogies tend to be drawn between the economic and political crisis in Europe of the 1920s and 1930s and the current situation. Now as then, it is argued, there is the risk that a systemic economic crisis and the crisis of representative politics will in turn lead to authoritarian outcomes. Rarer, however, is the idea that the current political and economic crisis may lead to a “progressive” outcome. This article examines both options under the light of the thinking of one of the most important interpreters of political crisis and change in the 1920s and 1930s: Antonio Gramsci. One of the central arguments in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks is the crisis of parliamentarism and democratic politics. Gramsci did not limit his analysis to the crisis however. His theoretical undertaking also consisted in the attempt to imagine the conditions for moving beyond the democratic crisis in a progressive manner. What emerges is an existing continuity between the Gramscian categories of Cesarism-Bonapartism, economic-corporative State, hegemonic crisis and contemporary politics, particularly with reference to phenomena such as populism, technocracy and neo-liberalism; the utility of the conceptual category of Passive Revolution to comprehend the current forms of exerting power and building social consent; the potential fruitfulness of Gramsci’s schemata on counter-hegemonies, to understand the changes in the party-organization and the possibilities of building counter-hegemonies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s