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Present Imperfect Contemporary South African Writing by Andrew (Reader in Global Anglophone Literature and Theory, Department of English, Queen Mary University of Londo van der Vlies


Present Imperfect Contemporary South African Writing by Andrew (Reader in Global Anglophone Literature and Theory, Department of English, Queen Mary University of Londo van der Vlies

Present Imperfect asks how South African writers have responded to the end of apartheid, to the hopes that attended the birth of the 'new' nation in 1994, and to the inevitable disappointments that have followed. The first full-length study of affect in South Africa's literature, it understands 'disappointment' both as a description of bad feeling and as naming a missed appointment with all that was promised by the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid Struggle (a dis-appointment). Attending to contemporary writers' treatment of temporality, genre, and form, it considers a range of negative feelings that are also experiences of temporal disjuncture-including stasis, impasse, boredom, disaffection, and nostalgia. Present Imperfect offers close readings of work by a range of writers - some known to international Anglophone readers including J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Ivan Vladislavic, and Zoe Wicomb, some slightly less well-known including Afrikaans-language novelists Marlene van Niekerk and Ingrid Winterbach, and others from a new generation including Songeziwe Mahlangu and Masande Ntshanga. It addresses key questions in South African studies about the evolving character of the historical period in which the country now finds itself. It is also alert to wider critical and theoretical conversations, looking outward to make a case for the place of South African writing in global conversations, and mobilizing readings of writing marked in various ways as 'South African' in order to complicate the contours of World Literature as category, discipline, and pedagogy. It is thus also a book about the discontents of neoliberalism, the political energies of reading, and the fates of literature in our troubled present.


Present Imperfect reads postapartheid fiction for traces of an unanticipated struggle: to recalibrate unmet expectations and grapple with bad feelings of disappointment, nostalgia, even boredom. A deeply informed and inventive critic, Van der Vlies offers a stirring, necessary account of reading, the novel, and the literary as a fragile yet life-sustaining space where glimmers of alternative possibility may dwell and take hold. * Jennifer Wenzel, Columbia University * Twenty years after the transition to democracy in South Africa, there is a pressing need in the literary field to assess the state and condition of recent writing in that country. At the leading edge of work answering this need comes Present Imperfect. Thoughtful, searching (in every sense), astute, and extraordinarily attentive both to the works under discussion and to the wider critical and theoretical conversations they invite, it is an enjoyable as well as an illuminating and enriching guide, and the first full-length study of affect in South African literature-an achievement in itself. * Stephen Clingman, Distinguished Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst * In Present Imperfect, Andrew van der Vlies provides an insightful, absorbing and theoretically astute investigation of the status of contemporary South African literature, adopting as a revealing lens through which to examine this body of remarkable writing the idea of < disappointment> , an affective response to the failure of the New South Africa to live up to the hopes with which it was born and a marker of the distinctive temporality of this phase in the country's history. * Derek Attridge, Professor Emeritus, University of York * Focusing on the disappointments that emerge when the dream of freedom flounders or collapses, Van der Vlies provides an expansive and comparative study of the troubled relationship between affect, time, and the tragic and brilliantly demonstrates how disappointment enables new structures of feelings and a new language for fiction. Present Imperfect is one of the most lucid and original reflections on South African writing after Apartheid. * Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English, Princeton University * Present Imperfect gives the study of South African literature a shot in the arm with a productiove dose of affect theory (the latest trend of interpreting culture and politics through non-linguistic, non-conscious registers by focusing on the body's visceral knowledge). * Jan Wilm, Times Literary Supplement *

About the Author

Andrew van der Vlies is Reader in Global Anglophone Literature and Theory in the Department of English at Queen Mary University of London and Extraordinary Associate Professor at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Born and raised in South Africa, he was educated at Rhodes University and completed his doctorate at the University of Oxford. He is the author of South African Textual Cultures, editor of Print, Text, and Book Cultures in South Africa and of the journal Safundi, and contributor to a number of important collections about South African and African literature and culture.

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Book Info

Publication date

15th June 2017


Andrew (Reader in Global Anglophone Literature and Theory, Department of English, Queen Mary University of Londo van der Vlies

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Oxford University Press


272 pages


Literary theory

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Fiction in translation
African history



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