Original Research

The compulsion to confess

S. van Zyl, J. Sey
Literator | Vol 17, No 3 | a623 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v17i3.623 | © 1996 S. van Zyl, J. Sey | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 May 1996 | Published: 02 May 1996

About the author(s)

S. van Zyl, Dept. of Applied Language Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
J. Sey, Department of English, Vista University, Soweto Campus, Bertsham, South Africa

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This paper draws on the work of Michel Foucault in order to sketch a preliminary genealogy of the practice of confession in the twentieth century. The essay argues that confession has undergone major transformations, not only from a chiefly religious to a secular practice, hut to a form of psychologised self-knowledge productively typical of knowledge itself in post-Kantian modernity. In other words, we argue that confession has become diffused through knowledge practices such that it becomes imperative to confess to a particular style or use of language in the pursuit of such knowledge. The confession of a style in language thus becomes a prerequisite for such knowledge, or the inability to arrive at it. We investigate the phenomenon in the examples of the ‘factional’ literature of Norman Mailer, and the human science of ethnography.


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Crossref Citations

1. ‘Signs of the times’: confession and the semiotic production of inner truth
E. Summerson Carr
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute  vol: 19  issue: 1  first page: 34  year: 2013  
doi: 10.1111/1467-9655.12002