Zimbabwean Literature since 1980: Irrealist Style and Capitalist Modernization

Wimberly, Meri. Zimbabwean Literature since 1980: Irrealist Style and Capitalist Modernization. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation. 

University of Washington Abstract Zimbabwean Literature since 1980: Irrealist Style and Capitalist Modernization Meredith Bauer Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Nancy K. Ketcham Endowed Chair, Laura Chrisman Department of English This dissertation analyzes the works of three Zimbabwean writers since 1980—Dambudzo Marechera, Yvonne Vera and NoViolet Bulawayo—using the lenses of the world-systems theory of combined and uneven development and irrealist aesthetics. It draws upon the Warwick Research Collective’s (WReC’s) definition of “irrealism” as a literary style that incorporates experimental and non-representational techniques, sometimes alongside realist techniques. Marechera, Vera and Bulawayo use irrealism to engage with political economy, more specifically the uneven nature of capitalist modernization. The Marxian theory of “combined and uneven development” is based on the contributions of Lenin and Trotsky to understanding world-systems. Lenin observed transnational unevenness, specifically between the core national powers and the peripheral countries they dominate. Trotsky observed that during transitional periods, archaic and modern social formations often combined in unpredictable ways. Trotsky also emphasized that the capitalist system had become hegemonic across the globe. Following these contributions, Deckard et al argue that capitalist development “does not smooth away but rather produces unevenness, systematically and as a matter of course” (12). Modernity is composed of inconsistencies between the archaic and the contemporary and conflict between core and various layered peripheries.

Marechera, Vera and Bulawayo deploy irrealist techniques to “show us what it feels like to live on a given ground” within the systemic crises of postcoloniality, civil war, post-independence authoritarianism and economic failure, as indicators of world-system combined unevenness (Lazarus 133-134). Marechera developed a Menippean satirical project that manifested in both writing and performance, to respond to power hierarchies as embedded within opposition groups and revolutionary politics both in Zimbabwe and in the UK. Vera wrote feminist revisionist historiographical fiction as a response to the layered peripheralization of certain groups—women, the poor, and Ndebele communities in Matabeleland. Bulawayo has exhibited less interest in specifying the historical context for her work than either of her predecessors. Although she deploys irrealist techniques, Bulawayo’s creative choices are imbricated in the literary market particular to the US, a core market in the world-literary system.

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