Blue Flower

Rita Barnard (University of Pennsylvania): Nadine Gordimer’s Transitions: Modernism, Realism, Rupture

This presentation constructs a framework for a reconsideration of Jump and Other Stories by reading Gordimer’s oeuvre in light of new critical discussions of the (ever-contested) relationship between realism and modernism (I pay attention in this regard to Jed Esty and Colleen Lye’s introduction to Peripheral Realisms and to Jameson’s The Antinomies or Realism).  At stake in my reflections are questions of narrative temporality: questions that seem particularly pressing in South African literary studies today. As Leon de Kock has argued in his recent Losing the Plot, post-apartheid literature has remain preoccupied with the idea of “transition,” problematic and unfixed as the term might seem. This is certainly true of Gordimer’s work. While she has been a key writer on South African spatial politics, she arguably has as much to say about temporality: the ways in which we imagine the relation between past, present, and future. This said, there might be a tension or contradiction between the way in which she holds the linear narratives of national emergence dear (we might call it the Lukacsian aspects of her work) and her interest in the experience and fictional techniques of rupture (we might call these the Benjaminian aspects of her work). I will try to illuminate, though not necessarily resolve this tension by way of close readings of key passages from Jump, as well as from an earlier text, Something Out There.

 

Susan Barrett (Bordeaux-Montaigne University): “He didn’t know how to read the signs”: Miscommunication in Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories

During the Apartheid era, communication was severely restricted on many levels; the strict racial segregation meant that interaction between Whites and Blacks was largely limited to that of master and servant, listing and banning orders hampered the sharing of political ideas and the development of opposition movements, while censorship made the overt diffusion of documents that challenged apartheid ideology virtually impossible. In such a situation, language was no longer a simple means of communication, every day words became codes for forbidden topics and what was left unsaid could be just as important as what was said. Jump and Other Stories is replete with examples of failed communication, sometimes with tragic consequences. At times the miscommunication is deliberate – the narrator in “What were you dreaming?” tells the owners of the car who give him a lift what he thinks they want to hear rather than what is actually going on in his life; in “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight” Rad deliberately hides from Vera the fact that he is interested in her only because he can use her to carry out a terrorist attack. At other times the miscommunication is accidental: in “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off” Van der Vyver’s father never told him that the rifle in the cupboard was loaded; in “Once Upon a Time” the parents do not think to explain to their son that razor wire is dangerous. The stories contain numerous phrases indicating a failure to communicate clearly: “he was given to understand” (5), “he couldn’t tell his parents” (11), “What happened? I don’t know” (33), “They live together with  no more unsaid, between them than any other couple” (56), “He never told me, or I didn’t listen” (66). Almost paradoxically, although this draws the reader’s attention to the unsaid and the potential for misunderstanding, the stories themselves function on a narrative level by not giving the reader vital information until the very end. In “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off”, for example, it is only in the very last sentence that the reader discovers that the black man who dies “was not the farmer’s boy; he was his son” (117). This first part of this paper will analyse the role of the unsaid in the plot development of the stories. The second part will consider to what extent the miscommunication in the collection is a reflection of life in Apartheid South Africa.

 

Emna Bedhiafi (University of Tunis and University of Manouba): “More than Just a Writer”: the Challenges of Historical Discourse in Jump and Other Stories

The post-apartheid new political, social, and cultural realities imposed on the South African writers a revisitation on a myriad of ideas about the system and society, and a reconsideration of some established discourses, media and truth included. In the light of the changing political trajectory in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer questions again race and social class stratification in her collection Jump and Other Stories, written simultaneously with—but on various occasions, with the gradual ending of—the apartheid regime. The new realities, and more often than not implications of the old political regime, make their poignant presence in Gordimer’s Jump anthology, thus asserting again the writer’s overt commitment to the plight of South Africa. The various historical revelations that reverberate within almost every story in the Jump collection echo Gordimer’s view that “the novel can present history as historians cannot.”[1] This paper therefore takes interest in exploring the historical moment of ending apartheid throughout Jump and Other Stories, as an attempt to display the various challenges of interpreting the historical discourse under the political, social and cultural changes. Based on theoretical perspectives derived from the postcolonial framework, the study will discuss Gordimer’s ambivalent idea of writing which is located in the midst of the desire to “just write well”[2] and the ethical obligation to be “more than just a writer.”[3] The challenge of reading Jump as “history from the inside” is displayed in the exploration of memory, confession, and post-truth and the topoi of self- re/de bordering and leap. Innovation at the level of form, which attempts at subverting genres, multivocality and politicising space, will also be discussed.

 

Nicolas Pierre Boileau (LERMA, Aix-Marseille University): ‘More important than anything we could ever have to say to each other when we’re alone’: The Politics of the Couple in Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories

Jump and Other Stories is marked by variations on the theme of incomprehension, both characters and readers facing a world presented as enigmatic through the simple, recurrent phrase, ‘I don’t know’. These stories stage unhappy couples, homes that are unsafe, and characters that remain oblivious to their desires and motivations. At the heart of all relationships, but perhaps more so in marriage, is the failure of language to bring people together. From a traditional point of view, the association of knowing and of coupling may offer an ironic, indirect route to the exploration of the symbolic function of the union in these stories. This resonates with the state of a Nation that was about to implement legal, if not actual, reunification. The couple is seen as a site of subjective danger (in ‘Some are Born to Sweet Delight’ or ‘Safe Houses’), characterised by misunderstanding and lack of communication (‘Home’, ‘Jump’) – often hidden behind the veil of successful sexual intercourse and open discussions of bodily matters. Even for those involved in politics, the intimate experience of the couple leads to the notion of togetherness being questioned. The gift for language is precisely what precipitates the main character’s (down)fall in ‘Jump’ – both in his public and private life. The ‘Find’ of Gordimer’s tales might well be that ‘they live together with no more unsaid…than any other couple.’ If the black and white divide persists in these South African stories, the exploration of the couple offers a political reflection of/on the different modalities by which ‘contact’ may be construed as ‘the flash of fireflies’, as Gordimer put it. This paper shall address the different ways in which the author explores repeatedly failed relationships, torn between knowing and not knowing, the said and the unsaid, falling in and out of love, home and the city, etc. This will help us address the random aspect of the interplay between the individual and the collective (as in ‘Amnesty’), whereby Gordimer’s so-called realism may be reappraised, as she suggests in ‘Adam’s Rib’, as more concerned with the real than realities.

 

Stephen Clingman (University of Massachusetts): Nadine Gordimer’s Home

The history of the home in South Africa has been a fraught and devastated one, from the beginnings of colonial settlement to the depredations of apartheid and beyond. Much of that history was in a sense about the home: who belonged; who belonged where; who had a right to belong; what the viability and inviolability of the home meant. It also concerned a dialectic between the home as the physical place of habitation and the country as home—the place of belonging (or unbelonging) for the people as a whole. As much if not more than any other South African writer, Nadine Gordimer has been drawn to the complexities and complicities of the home in both these narrow and wide respects. There is also a further dialectic in her work, between the broken and fragmented home of the present and the intimation of a more unified and just home of the future. In her own life Gordimer never lost her sense of South Africa as home; and the intricacies of home in all these guises has prompted a persistent set of motifs in her fiction. My presentation will explore some of those motifs in her work in general, and in Jump and Other Stories in particular. Via Heidegger, Adorno and Levinas, it will also explore some of the philosophical dimensions of dwelling—yet a further dialectic between the closed and open dwelling, and what that means for the political, psychological, and existential nature of the home. All of this is part of Gordimer’s fictional territory of the home—the home, as it were, of her writing.

 

Christian Gutleben (University Nice Sofia-Antipolis): Metonymy Thwarted: When the Part is Segregated from the Whole in Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories

In Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories, the sense of fragmentation and segregation is overwhelming. The very nature of the collection, with its sixteen very dissimilar stories, already foregrounds the idea of heterogeneity, but it is the structural and narratological organisation of the individual pieces that best illustrates the lack or impossibility of unity. Isolated as they are, either by free will or by political decree, the dwelling places of the various protagonists eloquently show how, in terms of spatial and hence political planning, the part is never included in the whole; in other words, they show how the principle of metonymy is systematically thwarted if not undermined. The fact that the stories are usually told in a mixed narrative and enunciative mode, the fact that they always comprise several speakers and the fact that these speakers do not generally speak the same language convey the same lack of wholeness. The failure of metonymy is then what this collection of short stories mainly emphasises and regrets and this discontent extends to the ontological field with an eco-friendly demonstration of the unacknowledged continuity and contiguity between the various human and animal species. Even the extended metatextuality practised by Gordimer might be said to partake of such metonymic disjunction since her specular comments disrupt the sense of diegetic wholeness and create isolated pockets of metafictional remarks with a clear centrifugal force directed towards the extra-diegetic reader. If the principle of metonymy is then proven malfunctioning or even impracticable in the bulk of the collection, the last story manifestly introduces the hope of metonymic inclusion and modifies then the collection’s whole teleology, presenting metonymy as the final goal and promise.

 

Françoise Král (University Paris Nanterre): A Symptomatology of an Unreconciled Nation: Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories

This paper proposes to reflect on the construction of anonymity in Nadine Gordimer’s collection of short stories Jump through a focus on instances of delayed telling, belated unveiling and partial outlining of characters. I will discuss the blurring of the lines of personhood not only through the narratorial lens of the dynamics of characterization and the building up of dramatic intensity, which is characteristic of short stories as opposed to novels, but as part of a discussion of the dual polarity – individuation vs typification – which is underpinned by an ethical and political reflexion on the difficulty inherent in conceiving of a collective ‘we’ in a post-apartheid society. The systematic use of pronouns in Jump and Other Stories contrasts with the maimed, disfigured and dismembered bodies left to rot on the road (in ‘Keeping Fit’), as though to numb the horrors of a society plagued by apartheid and apartheid-induced violence. This pronominal haziness carves out textual space for a façade of the collective ‘we’ to emerge – across gendered, racial and social lines of fragmentation. These convenient anonymities, sometimes disguised in sentences in the passive (in ‘Jump’) can be read as a symptom of an ‘unagregated society’, a juxtaposition of coexisting groups which fail to form a closely-knit social fabric and continue to resemble a quilted surface where the stitches are all too visible. ‘We’ – as the collective – requires another impetus, a surfeit of togetherness, a leap of faith which is yet to happen. Looked at in this light the pronominal divides sketch a symptomatology of the unagregated social fabric which has yet to come together as an organic whole.

 

Liliane Louvel (University of Poitiers) : Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories: “The Enigma of the Encounter” : a World out of Joint 

Jump and Other Stories, one of the many finely crafted collection of short stories Nadine Gordimer published, begins and ends with a potent image. First that of the mosaic of the hotel name LEBUVU and the reference to a film and its « series of dissolves » » focussing on « a single figure, the hero, the criminal. Himself. ». The last one is rendered through the eyes of a young expecting mother watching a rat of clouds eating at the sky, while waiting for the future. Between those two images this fantastic collection of stories unrolls its kaleisdocopic-like world moving on towards a future after having taken its reader through the turmoils of a nation torn between its violent past and present and yet on the brink of change. I will argue that in this kaleidoscopic collection former seminal stories surge up and are recaptured under another form and that the sense of place and time staging the (im)possible encounter between people separated by force of law for fifty years gives the collection a very tense rhythm tinged with irony, outrage, scepticism and wonder at the violence threatening the private lives of those living under a cruel racist rule, in a world dis-located and out of joint.

 

Hubert Malfray (Lycée Claude-Fauriel, IHRIM): Traces, Tracks and Trails : Hunting for Sense in Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories

If Nadine Gordimer’s 1991 collection of stories explores the last decade of Apartheid and its political implications, it is undoubtedly marked by the overarching presence of violence, oppression and aggressiveness – sometimes overt, sometimes subsumed. Her choice of the short story as a genre allows her to experience the multiple facets of a tension which keeps nagging at her characters and their trajectories. Dissimilar as the stories may appear, they very often stage characters who are launched in a form of hunting game, offering, as Judie Newman noted, “a script for predation” (in N. Yousaf, Apartheid Narratives). Predation is not simply a recurring motif vaguely to be found in the looming presence of animality or bodily preoccupations; if lots of characters are indeed tracked down, experiencing fear, even anxiety at the idea of being caught by others – blending the political and the sexual – the seme of predation and hunting rather turns into a fully-fledged paradigm inviting the reader to consider the collection of short stories as a network of traces: the traces, first, left by characters who are on the run, enticing the reader to discover clues, scents and hints to reach the revelation of some epiphanic truth. But tracing the characters could also be a metaphorical means of tracing identity, which, in the complex cross-cultural context of South Africa, turns out to be a real challenge: the challenge of the self, of defining one’s roots, of retrieving one’s origins, all the more so as the latter recoil from the page. It could also be a means to envisage short story writing as Gordimer’s way of negotiating with the traces, marks and scars left by History, and more particularly by the history of literature, which the writer keeps putting to the test in order to try and hunt for a new type of literary form. Such literary experimentation would provide an artistic mirror to grasp the intricacies of an entangled period of time. This analysis shall be guided, among others, by Carlo Ginzburg’s formulations about the link between story-telling/narrating and hunting, an ancestral metaphor of cognition by means of clues, ranging the stories not far from tales of detection.

 

Fiona McCann (University of Lille): A Poetics of Liminality: Nadine Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories

As Sorcha Gunne states in Space, Place, and Gendered Violence in South African Writing (Palgrave, 2014), “liminality is not a third space or a neat hybrid, but a state of transformation. It is the moment where, in the process of changing from one thing to another, both old and new states are experienced simultaneously” (32). It is not only the date of publication of Gordimer’s Jump and Other Stories (1990) that positions it as a text which can fruitfully be analysed through the prism of liminality. Although the collection was published in 1990, the year in which apartheid began to crumble and the transition began, all of the stories had been published prior to this in various literary journals and magazines. Indeed, Gordimer had clearly been interested in the politics of liminality at least from as early as 1982 when she delivered her lecture “Living in the Interregnum” at the New York Institute of the Humanities (later published in The Essential Gesture in 1988). Her evident affinity with the prison writings of Antonio Gramsci arguably led her to interrogate the dying days of apartheid long before the government was even aware of coming change. It will be my contention in this paper that Nadine Gordimer’s 1990 collection of stories develops a poetics of liminality which is characterised not only by spatial and temporal in-betweenness, but by an aesthetics built, precariously, on a “place of shifting ground” (“Living in the Interregnum”). The stories in Jump deftly interweave elements of realism and postmodernism, extreme violence and tenderness, along with political critique and aesthetic liberties. Sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes full of finesse, these stories present « liminal circumstances » which « provide a potential platform for social cohesiveness » (Gunne 36) even as they destabilise important signifiers such as “home”. I will argue that the short story genre is particularly apt for this focus on the margins, that its brevity brings into relief the central question of transition and transformation, and that the collective dimension provides many facets of liminality.

 

Mathilde Rogez (University of Toulouse): The Essential Narrative: Constructing Characters, Exploring Genres in Nadine Gordimer’s transitional collection Jump and Other Stories

Re-reading the eponymous short story which opens Nadine Gordimer’s collection Jump and Other Stories after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proves a rather eerie experience, as if the author had presciently crafted one of the many tales that the TRC would trigger years later. This paper offers to reexamine “Jump”, but also the rest of the collection, in the light of the categories Michiel Heyns later devised about this flow of narratives, dividing them between tales of – often spurious – heroism, confessional yet nostalgic fictions in which the subject berates him or herself to beg for absolution, and quasi autobiographical fictions which conversely refrain from such easy reconciliatory gestures.[4] At the start of the period of political transition, yet another variation on what Gordimer had earlier labelled an “interregnum”, she indeed navigates various ways not only of “invent[ing]” “alternate lives”, but also of exploring the modes in which these can be narrated. Alternating between narrative modes and points of view, within the collection as well as within several short stories themselves, Gordimer presents and investigates various modes of positioning oneself – in an almost Sartrean meaning of the word, albeit always tentatively – in the then already unfolding national narrative of heroism and/or unbearable guilt, simultaneously reassessing various genres of writing – the fairy tale most notably, the epic (if only according to the Nobel Prize committee[5]), but also the genre of the short story itself and its specificities. Published in the year when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for both her literary achievements and her unflinching political involvement, this collection thus allows to see how she skillfully combines a commitment to both politics and poetics – to “writing and being”, to borrow the title of her Nobel Lecture.

 

Michal Tal (Technion – Israel Institute of Technology): A Change of Clothes: Attempting to Break the Dress Code of Jump and Other Stories

Owing to its highly political context, Nadine Gordimer’s fiction has often been analyzed more at its content-related and ideological level, than at its poetic one. Thus, various commentators have called for a different reading of her work, focusing on its form and style as her poetic means of conveying this political content. This papers offers a close reading of several stories included in Jump and Other Stories, concentrating on the main imagery used by Gordimer to elucidate the movement taking place along the stories. In particular, it seeks to show how pieces of garment serve as metaphors for the paths chosen by the different protagonists and the cultural and social institutions whose conventions they practice. A focus will be placed on the various institutions referred to throughout these stories, e.g., marriage, prison, holiday, parenthood, home, religion, which are poetically hinted at by means of clothing items and accessories, ranging from trousers and a warm coat to an old doek. This use of imagery will be read bearing in mind Sandra Gilbert’s notion that costume imagery used by modernist women writers tends to be “radically revisionary in a political as well as a literary sense”. My paper will suggest that the struggle for freedom, intimacy and identity, as well as the profoundly distinct journeys each protagonist goes on in stories such as “Amnesty”, “My Father Leaves Home”, “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight”, and “Home”,  may be made clearer analyzing this rich world of imagery.

 

 

[1] Stephen Clingman, The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside. London: Allen, 1986. 1.

[2] Mike Nicol, “Gordimer: More Than Just a Writer. Interview”, Supplement to The Weekly Mail 22-28 February 1991: 11.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Michiel Heyns, “The Whole Country’s Truth: Confession and Narrative in Recent White South African Writing”, Modern Fiction Studies, 46(1), 2000, 42-66.

[5] https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1991/ and https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1991/press.html