University of Sussex
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Restless collection: Ivan Vladislavic and South African literary culture

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posted on 2023-06-09, 09:08 authored by Katie Reid
This thesis explores Ivan Vladislavic’s negotiation of the call for a specifically South African ‘signatured authorship’ as his body of work travels its literary marketplaces. Identifying an accretive logic and a curatorial mode through a series of his prose-fictions, it seeks to contribute to emergent discussions about Vladislavic’s increasing visibility on the world-literary stage and the difficulties of positioning his canny reflexive texts on its terms. Between print-cultural and textualist approaches, the thesis registers the imprint in Vladislavic’s oeuvre of other roles and institutional spaces he has occupied in South African literary culture – as an editor, a parallel career begun with oppositional publishers Ravan Press in 1984, and in his longstanding engagement with the visual arts and urban studies – to investigate the ways that Vladislavic’s authorial position simultaneously evokes and displaces white, Anglo-South African literary authority. My readings, focused on acts of collecting, collector figures and collections of ‘small’ locally produced texts, thus range between the neglected pre-lives of stories collected by Vladislavic’s first book, to the multiple textual surfaces and self-references embedded across his most recent novel. Engaging the critical figure of ‘gathering’ and its crossings in the discursive institutions of literature and the archive, I open a number of interrelated concerns with writing South Africa from a site of cultural privilege, and with them, Vladislavic’s subtle and complex handling of attendant questions, of assembly, custodianship, and proprietorial relations. Tracing Vladislavic’s ‘gatherings’ and their variously accreted ‘worlds’, I argue that they are reciprocally resistant to market strategies of accommodation whilst enacting a performative and aesthetic openness to the world. My thesis therefore demonstrates a paradoxical relationship of Vladislavic’s work to unified literary spaces, the often vexed (post)national and global literary-critical categorisations, and his emergence as a South African ‘world writer’.


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