Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Greg Forter


The essay brings together Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story with Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” and (less centrally) Julia Kristeva’s work on “Women’s Time.” I argue that, while Derek Attridge claims that the novel’s modernism emerges from its interrogation of historical crisis, David’s Story is modernist because of its experimentation with nonlinear narrative and an engagement with modern intertexts such as Heart of Darkness and Ulysses. Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” illuminates the structure of Wicomb’s novel, which creates what Benjamin calls a “constellation” of stories that are non-causally yet historically related to each other. In this way, she recovers the residues of female subjectivity repressed by the anti-apartheid struggle without simply reincorporating women as “subjects” of homogeneous history. By placing the novel within the vein of modernism alongside Joseph Conrad and James Joyce, Wicomb engages the linguistic revolutions that emphasize the power of language to free us rather than entrap us. To use and imagine language as emancipatory puts the novel at odds with the oppressive historical forces that are actively trying to silence the narrator’s stories and that rely on poststructuralist notions of language (self-deleting text) to maintain order. The importance of my analysis is that it considers a different approach to “doing” history. It offers a new model for historical understanding that would enable us to keep faith with those that history has oppressed or forgotten and in so doing would free us from histories predicated on the myth of progress.


© 2015, Kaelie Rianne Giffel