Written Under the Skin

Blood and intergenerational memory in South Africa

Author(s):
  • Publication Date: February 2019
  • Dimensions and Pages: 234 x 156mm; 190pp
  • Paperback EAN: 9781776143269
  • Rights: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Swaziland
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): R320.00

Carli Coetzee has made a name for herself by showing – not telling – her readers what reconciliation after apartheid should mean. It should mean nudging South Africans away from the dangerous assumptions that negotiating the past means leaving unchallenged old patterns of privilege, that the work of translation should always benefit English and its primary speakers, and, in her latest book, that skin-deep is sufficient depth for reckoning with the past. Written under the Skin is about blood and South Africa’s bloody past. It is also about the transfusion of memory across generations. The book challenges the discourse of newness that has marked South Africa since the formal end of apartheid in 1994, by showing the violence done and masked by such a discourse. Written under the Skin calls for new ways of reading South African history. It proposes protocols of care – cautious, ethical, vigilant – to guide these new ways of reading. There is in this book a moral urgency and an ethical injunction that demand our attention. We dare not ignore this book. Jacob S. T. Dlamini, Assistant Professor of History, Princeton University

Coetzee presents, pulls in different directions and pulses her critical analyses of varying kinds of blood and bloodlines while ploughing through numerous South Africa texts towards some understanding. Reading the quintessentially cryptic blood requires piercing the skin. Blood reveals more than skin ever will. Coetzee suggests we read in depth the complex politics of blood and bloodlines in order to understand humanity and to heal. – Makhosazana Xaba, poet and author of Running and Other Stories

This could be the book that weans us from our smug assertion that bodies speak to us, that we can read histories and anxieties from torso and limbs.  Coetzee insists that we read what is within the body – what’s beneath the skin and what flows through it – to understand the complexities of post-apartheid South Africa.  Blood and faeces and the whereabouts of corpses do not speak to us either, but in Coetzee’s skillful reckoning they speak to each other not to construct anything so simple as a body politic but the frayed and fraught relationships that constitute how we learn about the world. – Luise White, Professor of History, University of Florida

A younger generation of South Africans are developing important and innovative ways of understanding South Africa’s past, challenging narratives that have, over the last decades, been informed by notions of forgiveness and reconciliation. Carli Coetzee uses the image of history-rich blood to explore these approaches to intergenerational memory. In this book, she revisits older archives and analyses contemporary South African cultural and literary forms.

The emphasis on blood challenges the privileged status skin has had as an explanatory category in thinking about identity. Instead, Coetzee emphasises intergenerational transfer and continuity. She argues that a younger generation is contesting the terms through which to understand contemporary South Africa and interpreting the legacies of the past that remain under the visible layer of skin. The chapters each concern blood: Mandela’s prison cell as laboratory for producing bloodless freedom, the kinship relations created and resisted in accounts of Eugene de Kock in prison, Ruth First’s concern with information leaks in her accounts of her time in prison, the first human-to-human heart transplant and its relation to racialised attempts to salvage white identity, the #Fallist moment, the Abantu Book Festival, and activist scholarship and creative art works that use blood as a trope for thinking about change and continuity.

Preface
Introduction: Piercing the Skin of the Present

PART I
Chapter 1 Reading Mandela’s Blood: The Transition, and the Cell as Portal into Bloodless Time
Chapter 2 He Must Not Circulate: Eugene de Kock’s Blood Relations and his Prison Visitors
Chapter 3 Ruth First’s Red Suitcase: In and Out of the Strongroom of Memory
Chapter 4 A Life Transplanted and Deleted: Hamilton Naki and his Archivists

PART II
Chapter 5 Show them what cleaning is’: This Time It’s for Mama
Chapter 6 Who Can See this Bleeding? Women’s Blood and Men’s Blood in these #Fallist Times
Chapter 7 The Bloody Fingerprint: We Must Document

Bibliography
Index

Carli Coetzee is the editor of the Journal of African Cultural Studies and a research associate at the School of Literature, Language and Media at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She teaches at SOAS, University of London. Her publications include Accented Futures: Language Activism and the Ending of Apartheid (Wits University Press, 2013).

Carli Coetzee has made a name for herself by showing – not telling – her readers what reconciliation after apartheid should mean. It should mean nudging South Africans away from the dangerous assumptions that negotiating the past means leaving unchallenged old patterns of privilege, that the work of translation should always benefit English and its primary speakers, and, in her latest book, that skin-deep is sufficient depth for reckoning with the past. Written under the Skin is about blood and South Africa’s bloody past. It is also about the transfusion of memory across generations. The book challenges the discourse of newness that has marked South Africa since the formal end of apartheid in 1994, by showing the violence done and masked by such a discourse. Written under the Skin calls for new ways of reading South African history. It proposes protocols of care – cautious, ethical, vigilant – to guide these new ways of reading. There is in this book a moral urgency and an ethical injunction that demand our attention. We dare not ignore this book. Jacob S. T. Dlamini, Assistant Professor of History, Princeton University

Coetzee presents, pulls in different directions and pulses her critical analyses of varying kinds of blood and bloodlines while ploughing through numerous South Africa texts towards some understanding. Reading the quintessentially cryptic blood requires piercing the skin. Blood reveals more than skin ever will. Coetzee suggests we read in depth the complex politics of blood and bloodlines in order to understand humanity and to heal. – Makhosazana Xaba, poet and author of Running and Other Stories

This could be the book that weans us from our smug assertion that bodies speak to us, that we can read histories and anxieties from torso and limbs.  Coetzee insists that we read what is within the body – what’s beneath the skin and what flows through it – to understand the complexities of post-apartheid South Africa.  Blood and feces and the whereabouts of corpses do not speak to us either, but in Coetzee’s skillful reckoning they speak to each other not to construct anything so simple as a body politic but the frayed and fraught relationships that constitute how we learn about the world. – Luise White, Professor of History, University of Florida

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