Original Research

Envisioning dystopia: Eben Venter’s Art of Darkness

Harry Sewlall
Literator | Vol 37, No 1 | a1238 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v37i1.1238 | © 2016 Harry Sewlall | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 August 2015 | Published: 29 August 2016

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Harry Sewlall, Department of English, University of Venda, South Africa


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Abstract

Since the publication of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, published in serial form in 1899, there were several texts that purported to ‘rewrite’ the Conrad text. Often the relationship with the master text was remote, if not tenuous. Another rewriting of Conrad’s text came with the publication of Eben Venter’s Trencherman, first published under the Afrikaans title Horrelpoot. This text studiously mimicked the master text not only by using excerpts from it as epigraphs to each chapter, but overtly and covertly wove images and words from the Urtext into its narrative. The questions confronting a reader like myself, who is not conversant with Afrikaans, were whether this was an act of plagiarism or an exercise in intertextuality; or whether this was an act of sensationalism designed to promote sales. These questions formed the basis of an intertextual exploration of both texts. What followed was a close reading of Conrad’s text, side-by-side with Trencherman to identify their intertextual links. The theoretical basis was provided by Kristeva and Barthes. The investigation confirmed that Trencherman was indeed an exercise in intertextuality, not simply qua intertextuality but rather as a dialogical engagement with the Conradian master text. The conclusion arrived at was that Trencherman validated itself as an intertextual response to deconstruct the Conrad text and to transpose its scenario to a dystopian, post-democratic South Africa.

Keywords

Eben Venter, Trencherman, dystopia, Conrad, Heart of Darkness, intertextuality

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