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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


STANDER, Danie. A critique of normative constructions of age in four intertextually connected texts: Alba Bouwer's Stories van Rivierplaas, Reza de Wet's Diepe Grond and African Gothic, and Etienne Kallos's Eersgeborene . Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.1, pp.38-52. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article explores the intertextual relationship between a cluster of texts by three South African authors from three generations: a collection of children's stories, Stories van Rivierplaas ["Stories of River Farm"] (1955-6) by Alba Bouwer, Diepe Grond ["Deep Ground"] (1985) a play by Reza de Wet as well as De Wet's own English translation and reworking of Diepe Grond as African Gothic (2003), and Eersgeborene ["Firstborn"] (2009) a short film by Etienne Kallos. While between the three authors, it is only Bouwer's work that can be classified as children's fiction, De Wet and Kallos not only adapt and appropriate her texts but also thematise childhood in theirs. To discuss Bouwer, De Wet and Kallos's critique of normative constructions of aged subjectivity, I draw on Maria Nikolajeva's concept "aetonormativity", an age based norm and the specific assumption that adults and adult experiences are normative while the experiences of a child should be classified as deviant (2010:8). As such I read aetonormativity as a kind of performativity as Judith Butler defines it, that is, a subject position which is posited by means of social mechanisms as an ontological essence, while there are no universal consensus or proof of its reality (1999:viii). Narrowly defined definitions of maturity are exposed in various ways in the works of Bouwer, De Wet and Kallos. The narrative mode in Stories van Rivierplaas is heterodiegetic, but the plot and chronotope are still focalised by way of free-indirect discourse, through the point of view of the child protagonist, Alie. Consequently, the child's field of experience and worldview serve as the text's epistemological basis and the normative adult voices of her parents and other authority figures are subordinated to her own rhapsodic and sensual conceptions of life. In De Wet's adaptation of Stories van Rivierplaas, Diepe Grond, she intensifies this worldview by depicting Bouwer's child characters as grownups who entirely reject their parents' exemplary codes of conduct by still behaving and speaking like children and only act as adults when they parody their parents, subversively. In this way their parents' expression of maturity is reduced to personae in the etymological Latin origin of the word: theatre masks. De Wet theatricalises the Afrikaner nationalist aetonormativity that Bouwer questions by means of metatheatre: De Wet's Alie is an adult, but she acts like a child who imitates adults from time to time. Twenty years after Diepe Grond's première De Wet translates and rewrites it as African Gothic. In this version she emphasises, by means of changes in the plot and altered narrative strategies, the stealthy and violent ways with which some women empower themselves within a system that rob them of equal agency. De Wet portrays the child again as the neglected, underestimated and masterful social actor who is able to copy the powerplay of adults and to beat them at their own game. In Eersgeborene Etienne Kallos takes the gender and sexual dimensions of the adults in Bouwer and De Wet's texts under closer scrutiny. The counterparts in Diepe Grond of Alie and Hennie in Rivierplaas,Soekie and Frikkie, and of Sussie and Frikkie in African Gothic become two sons, Kleinbasie and Frikkie. While Alie in Rivierplaas,Soekie in Diepe Grond and Sussie in African Gothic imitate a parent of the same gender, Kleinbasie cross-dresses as his mother, explicating the same performative dimensions of aeto- and gendernormativity. Eersgeborene also highlights the patronising and the pathological infantilisation of homosexuality by means of the mother character's description of it, in the film, as part of the "the things of a child". In line with the analysed texts' thematic preoccupation with childhood and parenthood the metaphor of motherhood is used to construct a genetic lens with which the texts are read as giving birth to each other, stressing as such their filial rather than embattled relationship.

Keywords : Alba Bouwer; Reza de Wet; Etienne Kallos; adaptation; translation; aetonormativity; performativity; patriarchy; gender theory; children's fiction; autofiction; autobiograhy.

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