Unquoting the Past: Authorship and Appropriation in Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness

Presented by Paige Sweet

Monday, 19 May, 2014 - 15:00

Paige Sweet is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape.

In 2008 Andrew Offenburger published an article accusing Zakes Mda of copying significant portions of his 2000 novel, The Heart of Redness, from Jeff Peires’s 1989 historical text, The Dead Will Arise. My essay argues that the terms of the debate, cast as one of plagiarism or intertextuality, pivots on a false binary that subsumes both terms to an ahistorical concept of the author and, consequently, arrives at a paradoxical conclusion. After reviewing the two key paradigms of authorship invoked here—the modern, western (Romantic) author and the (post- structuralist) scriptor that belong to plagiarism and intertextuality respectively—I then propose an alternative framework that considers the unique qualities of unmarked literary quotation. In shifting the terms of the debate I demonstrate how this reading of quotation is central to the novel’s reflection on the relationship between the past and the present, as well as the foreign and the local. I show how a critical understanding of unmarked literary quotation is essential not only for appreciating the themes and structure of The Heart of Redness, but also for advancing an alternate model of authorship. The essay is part of a larger book manuscript project which argues that current anxieties about plagiarism and illicit copying point toward an unresolved set of questions about authorship and literary reproduction. Examining several works of contemporary fiction, I show how quotation practices, and creative uses of punctuation generally, are part of a critical rejoinder to Romantic tropes and practices of textual production.

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